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.”
His mind, amazing reactions and a will to simply just say no.
The gritty Dowden, who averages over 15 points a night, finished with 12, but every single one came after this one was decided.
His first hoop was a 3-point play with 1:43 to play in the third quarter.
A guest at press row last night was Newburyport High coach and local hoop fanatic Tom L’Italien.
“I really don’t see these teams at all, but one thing I can tell for sure is that No. 25 plays some sick defense,” L’Italien said halfway through the third quarter.
“Joel is a special, special kid, and one incredible athlete,” said Nault. “I think you saw what we’ve known here for a long time.”
Odds and ends
The 3,000 fans gathered for this one packed the place early. I walked up to the game at 6:50, and there were no lines, nobody waiting to get in for the 7 p.m. tip. ...
Central Catholic legendary coach Dick Licare, who was in town to visit with his parents, took in the game but wasn’t taking a rooting interest. Licare remains close with both of his former guards, Nault and Fazio. ...
Aaron Hall’s contribution up front continues to be a major story line for the Raiders in the postseason. “Ten games ago, he wasn’t even playing,” said Nault of the 6-foot-6 junior. “
You can see he’s relishing the time he’s getting out there. And he’s really making a difference.” ...
Nault was adamant that both big men, Nick Cambio (hip) and Doug Gemmell (concussion symptoms) will not be back this year. “They both remain a very important part of this team, helping out in practice,” said Nault. ...
Saturday’s game at Tsongas Arena has not been scheduled for a time yet, but most likely will be the closer on the day-long card.