Friday, March 10, 2017

Previewing the MIAA Boys' Hoops D1 Sectional Finals

Freshman point guard Chris Edgehill will try to get Franklin over the hump against St. John's (Shrewsbury).
By Matt Feld (@mattyfeld612) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

We're getting down to the nitty gritty of the MIAA boys' basketball tournament, and the next few days will see sectional championship games played across all 16 sections.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves with all that. Here's our preview of the four sectional finals in Division 1.

Division 1 South, by Matt Feld

No. 3 Needham (19-4) vs. No. 1 Mansfield (23-2)

Players to Watch:  
Needham – Thomas Shaughnessry, Jr., SG; Will Cooper, Jr., F; Matt Shaker, Sr., SG.
Mansfield – Max Boen, Sr, G; Sam Goldberg, Sr., F; Christian Weber, Sr., PG.

Date/Time/Location: March 10th, 7:45 pm, Taunton High School

If you told people before the postseason began that Mansfield would be playing in the South Sectional Finals, not many would blink an eye. On the other hand, the emergence of Needham – who knocked off upset-minded Newton South, before eliminating sectional favorite BC High – has thrown a wrench in this year's Division 1 South bracket.

The Rockets have taken off since falling to Brighton in the first round of the Comcast Tournament, winning four straight games, scoring above 65 points in all four, en route to their first sectional final appearance in program history. Thomas Shaughnessy, a 6-foot-1 guard who has showcased his dynamic capabilities as a shooter, facilitator, and defender throughout this postseason, paces Needham. Will Cooper and Matt Shaker have become threats for when Shaughnessy receives all the opposing defenses’ attention, with Cooper developing a foul line jumper to go along with Shaker’s consistency from three-point land.
Despite their recent hot stretch, one barrier still stands in the way for the Rockets in their quest to reach the TD Garden, and it's arguably their toughest to date. Mansfield enters as the most disciplined team offensively in all of Eastern Massachusetts.

Known for their lack of turnovers and shooting from three, the Hornets are undoubtedly prepared for whatever defense Needham may throw at them. Sam Goldberg has become a consistent scoring presence down low for Mansfield, while the combination of Christian Weber, Max Boen, Phil Vigeant, and Tyler Boulter present a variety of lethal threats from beyond the arc. If Needham hopes to pull off their first trip to the TD Garden in program history, then keeping the Hornets cold from long range is a must.

Coach’s Thoughts: “I think that this is all depends on how Mansfield approaches Needham’s variety of defenses that they will undoubtedly throw out there,” said one coach who saw both teams play this season. “Mansfield has a lot of terrific shooters, and has a terrific ability to find the open guy. It really depends on the shooting night that Mansfield has if they shot like they did against Bridgewater-Raynham then Needham has a great shot, otherwise Mansfield is probably the favorite.”

Feld’s Pick: Mansfield, 64-59

Division 1 North, by Matt Feld

No. 3 Central Catholic (20-5) vs. No. 1 Cambridge Ringe & Latin (21-0)

Players to Watch:

Central Catholic – Dominic Keegan, Jr., G; Bret Edwards, Jr., G Colin Bradanese, Jr. F.
Cambridge – Jakigh Dottin, Sr., PG; Dominc Carrigan, C., Sr; Daniel Rymer, F., Sr.

Date/Time/Location: March 11th, 6 pm, North Andover High School

Perhaps the most intriguing sectional final pits undefeated Cambridge up against familiar foe Central Catholic. The two met in the final game of the regular season, with the Raiders putting up a valiant effort before falling 70-61. Since that moment, the Falcons have been dealt a handful with Lawrence hanging tight until falling by only four, and Lowell, behind a monstrous performance by Alex River (37 points, 10 rebounds), hanging tight until the final buzzer.

Central Catholic appears to have a potential formula for beating the Falcons. Battle tested from two earlier postseason contests with Andover and Everett, the Raiders know how to slow the game down and turn it into a rock fight. Big men Colin Brandanese and Manny Sanchez provide challenges to Cambridge’s own size down low in Daniel Rymer and star center Dimon Carrigan.

Despite what Central Catholic may have going for them, Cambridge is still the favorite. The Falcons have post presences in Rymer and Carrigan, an experienced point guard in Jakigh Dottin, and lethal shooters on the perimeter in Kareem Octavien, Adian Keefer, and Malik Correia. Still the pressure of remaining undefeated remains and Central Catholic coach Rick Nault knows all about making the necessary adjustments a second time around. The key is the play of the Central Catholic guards. If Dominic Keegan and Bret Edwards can combine to knock down at least six three pointers to levy off the undoubted three point barrage that will come at some point from the Falcons, look for the Raiders to hang tough into the games final moments.

Coach’s Thoughts: “I think Central Catholic got a big advantage by playing Cambridge that last game of the year,” said one head coach. “Anytime you are the underdog and you get a chance to make some adjustments that is huge. I feel like both teams should be able to rebound so I don’t see a huge advantage one way or the other there, it just comes down to how well Central shoots it.”

Feld’s Pick: Central Catholic, 65-64

Division 1 Central, by Joe Parello

No. 2 St. John's of Shrewsbury (19-3) vs No. 1 Franklin (20-2)

Players to Watch: 
St. John's- Tyler Mola, Jr., PG, Alex Bradley, Sr. SG, Sean Burke, Jr. F, Cole Stairs, Sr., PF
Franklin- Connor Goldstein, Sr., SG, Connor Peterson, Jr., PF, Chris Edgehill, Fr., PG, Jalen Samuels, So., SF.

Date/Time/Location: March 10th, 5:30 pm, Worcester State University

Friday night's D1 Central final will pit two very familiar foes against each other, but these battles have all gone one way lately. The last three years, St. John's has ended Franklin's season, twice in the sectional final game and, despite what they're saying publicly, the Panthers have to feel like this is a potential breakthrough game for them.

It won't be easy though. Since dropping back-to-back games to Nashoba and Marlboro toward the beginning the of the year, St. John's has been one of the most consistently dominant teams in the state. Much of that starts with the Pioneers' veteran backcourt, led by point guard Tyler Mola and shooting guard Alex Bradley, but a large part of it comes down to SJ's size (pun sort of intended).

St. John's may not have a 6-foot-8 monster center, but the Pioneers can rotate in a number of combo forwards and power forwards who all hover around 6-4 to 6-5, and each is capable of defending, and rebounding from, multiple positions. The most versatile of the group of junior Sean Burke, who may also be the Pioneers' best defender, but Cole Stairs and junior Hunter Gorgas can give opposing teams fits on both ends of the floor as well.

Franklin, on the other hand, comes in potentially without the services of its best defender. Junior guard Paul Mahon missed the Panthers' D1 Central semifinal win over St. Peter-Marian, and probably won't play in the final against St. John's either. In the last round, Franklin received a huge boost from Connor Goldstein. The senior entered the starting lineup to replace Mahon, and scored a career-high 24 points against the Guardians, while freshman point guard Chris Edgehill continued his development as both a facilitator and spot-up shooter.

The youngster is playing well beyond his years, and should be able to keep pace with the upperclassmen-laden SJ backcourt. Down low, Franklin doesn't have the depth of St. John's, but does boast a do-it-all star in the form of power forward Connor Peterson. The 6-foot-5 junior handles the ball well for a big, has a soft touch around the rim, and is capable of rebounding with the best of them. St. John's will probably throw two or three different guys at Peterson, but he's got the talent and toughness to hang with all of them.

Finally, St. John's hasn't had to defend many players with the length, athleticism and skill of Franklin small forward Jalen Samuels. The sophomore has improved tremendously as the year has progressed and, when he's confident, can take over a game as a slasher. The Pioneers don't have any one guy tall and athletic enough to deal with the 6-3 Samuels, but look for junior stopper Steve Bucciaglia to draw the assignment in crucial situations.

Joe's Pick: St. John's, 66-65

Division 1 West, by Joe Parello

No. 2 Amherst (17-5) vs No. 1 Springfield Central (18-2)

Players to Watch:
Amherst- Meikkel Murray, Sr., SF, Meikyle Murray, Jr., SG, Will Budington, Sr., G, Tajahn Joyner, Sr. G, Seth Bella-Hunter, Sr., C.
Springfield Central- Jorge Torres, Jr., PF, Josh Pressley, Sr., G, Maickel DeJesus, Jr., G, Justin Feliciano, Jr., G, Hason Ward, So., PF/C.

Date/Time/Location: March 10th, 7:45 pm at UMass

Few teams have felt more like a certainty in their respective section than Springfield Central. The Golden Eagles have laid waste to any Western Mass foe they've come across, with only losses to Connecticut power Hillhouse and Eastern Mass power Everett on their resume. Led by juniors Jorge Torres, Maickel DeJesus and Justin Feliciano, along with the steady senior scoring hand of Josh Pressley, Central has been both the most complete and overwhelming team in the Western part of the Commonwealth.

All that said, if the Eagles look past Amherst, their season could come to an abrupt end.

Yes, Central did defeat Amherst by 23 in the only meeting between these teams this season, but that game was played before Christmas, and the Hurricanes have come a long way since then. For one thing, senior wing Meikkel Murray has grown into one of the most feared scorers in the state.

In his team's nail-biter of a sectional semifinal against Northampton, Murray put the Hurricanes on his back, scoring 36 points in a game where only his brother Meikkel also reached double-figures for Amherst. The Murray brothers will provide a unique challenge for Central, as the Golden Eagles will finally face a backcourt capable of taking their guards off the bounce, and of scoring in bunches. Amherst isn't the deepest team in the world, so if this were a seven-game series, you would have to give the clear edge to Central.

Seeing as this is a one-game scenario though, and the elder Murray is coming off a career-best scoring performance, don't be surprised to see Amherst make things interesting.

Joe's Pick:
Central, 69-62

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