LAWRENCE — For years I’ve chuckled every time Ricky Nault brought up the stat line.
“8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 turnovers.”
Nault was talking about a tough night endured by young sophomore Noah Vonleh at Haverhill High, and he proudly brings it up because the defense on the now-Indiana-bound big fella was supplied by a pretty good sophomore in his own right, Joel Berroa.
These days, Noah is jet-setting with the nation’s finest, readying for the McDonald’s All-American Game.
And Berroa, as Andover fans found out yet again last night, remains an uncanny defensive stopper and difference maker.
“Joel was just a bear on (Andover all-scholastic candidate) Sam Dowden,” said Andover coach David Fazio after his team’s 61-48 loss at the hands of Berroa and the Raiders. “We tried everything, and we just couldn’t get the ball into him.”
Berroa is no stranger to Merrimack Valley Conference hoop fans. He’s played all four years on the Central varsity, playing the role of ultimate team guy.
At 6-foot-5, he scores off the dribble and hits the offensive glass harder than most any athlete in the region.
But it is the defensive end where he dominates. Berroa defends shooters, slashers and post men. He plays small guards and big forwards.
And he does it with passion, up and down, all 94 feet.
“Joel has the biggest heart on our team,” said junior teammate Tyler Nelson. “Nobody works harder and does more for our team to win. Nobody.”
Last night, the matchup within the game was Berroa on Dowden.
Dowden is the one true, proven scoring threat the Warriors can count on.
But last night, Berroa simply dictated.
“He’s so tough, because he’s so strong,” said Berroa. “I’m out there trying to play him with just my mind.”