EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 6, 2013

Comei lays it on line for Hillies

Sacrificing his body, Comei lends Hillies a heart

Hector Longo
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — In a play, Nick Comei allowed the world to see his value on the basketball court.

Unfortunately, it’s cost him two or three weeks.

“I can’t wait to get him back, too,” said coach Mike Trovato, he of the three-game win streaking Hillies. “The way we are playing right now, he’s going to be even more valuable to us.”

The senior Comei suffered a broken nose and a concussion on the same play, during the fourth quarter of a pre-Christmas loss to St. John’s Prep.

He stripped his man for the ball, then collided face-to-face as both scurried for the loose ball. Even after he was hurt, Comei flung his body to the hardwood on a dive after the loose ball.

“He understood how huge a point it was in the game, and how important that basketball was to us,” said Trovato, noting the Hillies were in the middle of a frenetic run, slicing the Prep lead from 20 to 7. “Unfortunately, the ball deflected right to a Prep player for a layup, and we lost Nick because of the injuries.

“But let me tell you, this was a kid with a broken nose and a concussion, who came to school the next day. Talk about setting the example.”

Comei, who hasn’t yet passed the impact test, is itching to return to the lineup.

“I’m dying to get back,” said Comei. “I love basketball. I just love to compete.”

Of course, baseball remains the No. 1 sport for the gritty, all-conference shortstop/pitcher Comei.

As he lays his body on the line on the court, Comei continues to land a college spot to continue his diamond career. Both WPI and Merrimack are high on his list.

Hillies suddenly sizzling

Obviously, Mike Trovato’s Hillies have amped up the intensity, now that they are picking on teams more their own size.

After an 0-6 start against the likes of Lowell, North Andover, St. John’s Prep, Central and others, the Hillies have ripped off three straight wins. Suddenly, dependable Anthony Dionne has accepted his leadership role. Freshman guard Saul Phiri continues to demonstrate flashes of brilliance in his play, and Matt Jameson’s 8-triple, 28-point Friday night against Tewksbury had to send a message about leaving him alone to the rest of the conference.

Most importantly, the Hillies come to the Mansfield barn and play hard.

“We’re looking strong, coming together as a team,” said Comei. “We started against a pretty rough schedule, and now it changes. I really think we have all the pieces to win the MVC small.”

Reading between the lines

If I had to pick a favorite point of the young season so far, it would be Friday night at Crozier Fieldhouse at the Lawrence-North Andover game. Let’s set the scene. As one sage courtsider at Crozier noted, first-year Lawrence High coach Raymond Nunez spends much of the game, “inside the lines, the volleyball court lines, that is.”

So at one point, Nunez and an official got into it pretty good about him being on the court.

The official “sternly” warned Nunez about it. And the coach, in perfect conference fashion, paid about as much heed to it as my son did last month to my warnings that Christmas might not happen if he didn’t smarten up.

This is the MVC baby, and Raymond knows it. This is the league of Paul Neal, Rick Nault, David Fazio et al, where the coaches dictate and the officials cower.

Coaches’ box? Come on, man.

Good for you holding your ground, Raymond. It was a veteran move for the rookie.

Great to see DC

At one point Friday night, we got a look at some vintage Derek Collins as the senior buried Lawrence with back-to-back threes in the third quarter on his way to an 18-point night. The senior spent much of the night stretching out some nasty leg cramps, and there is the nightly back pain he continues to deal with as well.

“Missing all of last year has really got me focused on this year,” said Collins. “You only get one senior year, and I’ve seen how fast it all can just get taken away from you. I’m playing every game like it’s my last.”

Collins still hopes to play college ball and has high hopes for the Knights this year, but with his back, he understands it’s a one-day-at-a-time thing. The attitude is refreshing, an athlete who cherishes each night in the spotlight. Give it up for Derek. The kid knows how fortunate he is.

Best wishes to get well, coach

I admit there was a bit of a pall at Crozier Fieldhouse with Mike McVeigh not on the sidelines for the Knights.

He missed the game with the flu, as his son, John, said, mainly precautionary. Still, you wonder. But then I figured McVeigh will be OK. How?

With Lawrence making a furious charge, Knight senior Chris Bardwell missed a breakaway dunk — about the only thing the kid has done wrong in a North Andover uniform.

I asked John, who was texting play by play to his dad, if he mentioned the missed dunk.

He said, “Absolutely.”

If the coach can take that news, my guess is that he is going to be just fine.

So, please be well, Mike. The game misses you already.

A mere stumble

“Stumble is probably a pretty good word for it,” said Andover High coach David Fazio, when describing Friday night’s tough loss at Lowell. “I mean, we held them to 50 and played good defense. We just didn’t score the basketball. We had a lot of good looks. Man, that gym (Riddick Fieldhouse) is just so tough to shoot in. It always has been.”

Fazio isn’t about to balk at his team’s 5-2 start, without injured starters Reid Bryant and Connor Merinder.

“Overall, I love this team. Our guys are just worried about being the best team they can be, nothing else,” said Fazio. “They’re not waiting on what is going on or what might happen. They’re just going out and getting better every day.”

The news on the big fella Merinder is that he’ll see the doctor this week about his injured wrist and a potential return. Bryant continues in physical therapy as he makes his way back from knee issues.

“We know we’re going to get better,” said Fazio. “Both of them will be a tremendous lift if and when they do return.”

Lancers forge ahead

Who would have considered Londonderry as the top area threat in New Hampshire Division 1 this winter?

The answer is probably nobody, and would have been even less had it be known that the lone returning starter, Drew Coveney, would be lost for the year with a torn meniscus.

But here in January, the Lancers stand in the playoff mix at 2-2, with Pinkerton (1-2), Salem (0-3) and Timberlane (0-4) all trying to get into the race.

“Some of the young guys have really done an incredible job picking things up. Guys like Cody Ball, Max Coleman, Brendan Enwright, Chris Corey, Taylor Simpson and others,” said coach Jeff Gustavson. “Guys are starting to show how capable they are out there. We have good players. Our goal remains the playoffs, and 8 or 10 wins is possible.”

The real deal

Speaking of young guns coming alive early, the preseason chatter about Pelham’s fab frosh Keith Brown has been absolutely warranted.

“Buster” Brown has tap-danced his way to 16 points a night in the early going for the Pythons, who are off to a 3-2 start in Division 2 play.

“He’s playing better than I thought he would at this point,” said Pythons coach Matt Regan.

“And a guy like (junior) Ryan Frank is progressing faster than I thought he would. We’re playing a five-guard lineup, and we’ve been able to hold our own rebounding.

“Our best two shooters are playing the 4 and 5 in Alex Newton and Brown. That goes a long way in us helping to spread teams out. And right now, Brown is averaging 10 rebounds a game, too.”

Of course, junior Jake Vaiknoras remains the lynch pin.

“He’s the guy everyone in our lineup looks to for leadership,” said Regan.

The Pythons have an interesting coming up Friday night when they host Goffstown.

“They throw up 40-50 threes a night,” said Regan. “They let it fly. So that one should be a good one.”

Strange twist

It was a weird week for Whittier Tech, which dropped a shocker to previously winless Chelsea then took care of business with rugged CAC foe Shawsheen Tech.

“When you return to very talented guys like Ryan (Grant) and Justin (Reyes), it’s a very fragile thing. The experience, talent, pressure, expectations are on them,” said Whittier Tech coach Tom Sipsey. “You have to keep your composure and your focus. I’m not sure we have done that.

“But I have faith in our seniors that we are going to turn this thing around. And we’d rather have these things happen now rather than in February.”

Sipsey can be confident that the Cats will find their best stride when it matters.

Along with the blue-chippers, he’s got a pair of savvy four-year, multi-sport seniors in Andrew Wells and Nathan Frongillo, who have answered every call.

“These guys just have to realize this thing can be all over in two months,” said Sipsey.

Another key would be the return of sophomore star Gage Alicea, who has been out with an illness for an extended period.

“He’s inactive, and we are waiting for the doctor’s clearance,” said Sipsey. “When he comes back, it’s a huge addition defensively.”

Prep on a roll

St. John’s Prep, aka the Merrimack Valley traveling all-stars, opened some eyes on Friday night with a victory over BC High.

The Eagles moved to 8-0 behind a 23 point night from Atkinson’s Ben Judson, who is only a sophomore.

North Andover has made a huge contribution to the Prep this year, especially in the backcourt.

Tyler Dooley returns on the point, a savvy senior who can score when he has to.

His running mate, Drex Costello, oozed toughness this week when he dislocated a finger in practice Thursday, then after being told he’d be out, returned to the lineup on Friday night and scored 15 against BC High.

Junior Max Burt might be the most consistent Eagle through the early going, averaging 11 a game in the swing spot. Meanwhile, the big man, Alex Butterbrodt, another North Andover guy, continues to eat space in the paint while waging war on the glass.