EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2013

Hammel, Rangers fire Friday night warning shot

Boys Basketball
Hector Longo

---- — Tuesday night, Methuen’s Cooper Hammel struggles, fouls out and is shut out in a loss to Haverhill.

Friday night, the 6-foot-3 Ranger guard erupts for 25 and shoots heavily-favored Lawrence right out of the gym in a stunning performance.

Who can explain sophomores?

Anyhow, the victory could be considered a turning point in the 3-7 season for Methuen, a team featuring 10 underclassmen and five prominent sophomore returners.

“It was a great learning experience for our young kids,” said Ranger coach Matt Curran. “We got a little frustrated at one point after taking the big lead. But (senior) Nathan Bueno really helped to keep them together. Even I lost it on them at one point, but he just said, ‘Coach, we’ve got this,’ and they really hung tough.”

For Hammel, it was yet another eye-opener, one that should have people taking note, not just about him, but the entire squad.

“Cooper Hammel is the kid everyone is talking about, putting up games like last night,” said Curran. “And they’re also talking about Tim Galloway-Burke, just because he’s so big and played for us.

“Cooper is so streaky. The other night in practice, he took 50 jumpers and made 40 of them. To see him come back last night is a good sign, from my standpoint and his.”

Hammel, who averages 15.6 points a night, has clearly developed the right mentality in the early going, as it comes to handling adversity.

“As a team, this one says no matter who we play don’t back down,”Even coming after a tough loss vs. Haverhill, we struggled but we’re going to keep coming back. Going in last night I had to forget about Haverhill. I know what I’m capable of. I just put all that in the past and moved forward.”

You have to give Curran credit for one thing this year. When Methuen was bounced from MVC 2 up to MVC 1, there were no complaints publicly out of Ranger Road.

Nobody wants to slug it out twice a year with Central, Andover, Lawrence, Lowell and North Andover. But Curran took his medicine without a quiver.

“It would have been nice to have one more year with these kids in the small, but at least now these kids know how tough this division is,” said Curran. “It’s a battle every night.”

No secret pact

There was no secret pact or vow of omerta by the Hammel brothers to light it up on Friday night.

But while Cooper Hammel was out raining triples on Lawrence, big brother Lucas Hammel lit up Lowell for a season-best 16 points in a 70-49 throttling.

“He did a good job on the ball in the first half, then it the second he took it strong to the basket,” said Raider junior Tyler Nelson. “He had to have a dozen in the second half.”

Hammel, one of the smoothest ball distributors this region has, adds yet another dimension for the already-loaded 10-1 Raiders with his offense.

“He opens things up,” said Nelson. “That makes five guys on the court — Doug Gemmell, Nick Cambio, myself and Joel Berroa ­— that can score when we’re out there together. That’s pretty tough.”

Speaking of “Baby Face,” he lit Lowell up for 21 to pump the season average up to 15.3 a night.

Nelson also got a bit more good news when Dartmouth made a substantial offer to him.

“They told me they have two spots open for the Class of 2014, so it’s kind of an offer if I qualify academically,” said Nelson, who has been offered already by Greg Herenda at UMass Lowell. “It’s nice, and it’s another option. It’s great for the confidence, but I have to keep playing and keep all my options open right now.”

It’s the kids, folks

So much has been said so far about the Greater Lawrence Boys Christmas Tournament losing its luster.

To me, the biggest factor is getting the students from each school involved.

They add the passion and excitement to the games. The Central Crazies, the Crozier Crazies, those members of Andover’s Haak’s Nest (if that’s still what it’s called).

If you have the key games at the proper dates and times, the kids will come back. You can’t have Andover and North Andover squaring off on a Thursday night, before Christmas, at 6 p.m. and expect kids to show up.

I make this point because of the great atmosphere at Dunn Gym Friday night, where two sections of stands were filled by students following the Warriors and Knights.

The place rocked because of it. No lack of passion there. Just outstanding fans getting into a wholesome, exciting sporting event.

“We have a great senior class, and they love to root for the seven seniors on this team,” said Warrior Chris Dunn. “The entire school community in Andover supports this team. It’s an incredible place to play home games. There’s nothing else like it in high school basketbal.”

Hey, it takes two to tango. And the Knights’ faithful showed they travel well.

The bottom line is timing. You can’t play big Christmas tourney games before Christmas on Thursday at 6 p.m. just because it fits some administrator’s agenda.

Play the marquee games at marquee times, and things will pick up. I guarantee it.

THREE GAMES TO GET TO

Tuesday — Lawrence at Haverhill, 7 p.m.: Huge gauge game for the Hillies, who have won 6 of the last 7. Also, what’s up with Lawrence, which now stands at 6-4 after Friday’s shocker against Methuen.

Friday — Chelsea at Whittier, 5 p.m.: You have to figure that senior leaders Nate Frongillo and Andrew Wells will have the Wildcats’ minds on revenge after the Red Devils shocked Whittier earlier in the year.

Saturday — Andover at Central, 7 p.m.: It should be some kind of holiday when these two teams meet. That’s probably why this one gets pushed back to Saturday.

EAGLE-TRIBUNE FAB 5 1. Central 10-1 2. Brooks 9-1 3. Andover 9-2 4. North Andover 9-2 5. North Reading 11-0 Honorable Mention: Pelham 7-4, Whittier 10-2