By Dan Harrison
---- — It was one of the most competitive winters in Northeastern Conference boys basketball in some years due in large part to the strength of the Division 2 teams in the conference. When the D2 North seedings were released yesterday, it was no surprise that four NEC teams were in the top seven spots and all five NEC teams in the tournament received home games.
New Mission (18-2) is the top team in the D2 North bracket with Danvers coming in as the two seed at 17-3, Salem as the three seed at 16-4, Lynn Classical (13-4) as the four seed and Beverly (15-7) with the seven seed. Marblehead (11-9) is the 15 seed, but will host its first game.
Danvers head coach John Walsh spoke about the depth of D2 earlier in the week.
“Not looking forward to seeing any of those teams. I think Beverly is as good as anybody around, Classical is very tough and Salem already beat us once,” noted Walsh. “The good thing is we’ve played well enough to earn some home games. As long as we win, we should be in our gym.”
Salem skipper Tommy Doyle echoed a similar sentiment.
“There are a lot of good teams in Division 2. There’s no easy games. Every team in the tournament is pretty solid,” said Doyle. “You look at Brighton, the defending champs, and they’re 10-10, and Malden Catholic plays in a tough conference and they’re a lower seed. It’s going to be a tough bracket, but it should make for a great, great tournament.”
The Falcons will host their first game on Wednesday against the winner of the Magicians and no. 18 Chelsea (10-10) which will be played on Monday in Marblehead. Danvers will need consistent play from its consistent contributors in Peter Merry, Devan Harris, Devonn Allen, Rashad Francois, Mark McCarthy and Mike Nestor.
The Witches meanwhile host their game on Thursday against the winner of No. 14 Masco (12-8) and No. 19 Brighton (10-10). Salem has plenty of size and athleticism and could be a potential nightmare match up for anybody in the tournament. David Kazadi, Bryan Martinez-Rodriguez and Rashad Keys are all strong down low for the Witches while Jamie Dominguez, Shaky White and Kelven Perpetuo are a good trio in the back court.
The Magicians won two close games to finish out the season and are hot going into the playoffs. The momentum should carry them past Chelsea, but Marblehead will need more if it is going to have a chance against the Falcons, who smashed the Magicians 61-40 back on Feb. 14. Guards Matt Millett and Spencer Craig are heady players who are coming off strong performances in the team’s win over Concord-Carlisle.
Beverly has the potential to make a deep run but first the Panthers will need to find a way to win at home against No. 10 North Andover (12-8) on Tuesday. Beverly will need to lean on the scoring of Nick Cross and the inside game of Jon Berchoff if it wants to prevent the upset. A guy to watch could be senior Chris Sinclair who has shined at times for the Panthers when their studs were sidelined.
The Chieftains should feel good about playing the opening round on Monday in their own gym against the last placed team in the tournament, however, considering that team is Brighton, which plays in the Boston City League, Masco should have its hands full. Jake Rudolph is the team’s go-to guy offensively but he’ll need some help if the Chieftains are going to advance.
St. John’s Prep (16-4) earned the top overall seed in the Division 1 North Tournament which means it will be home games until the neutral venue stage. The Eagles will have a pretty significant layoff period though as they play the winner of no. 8 Chelmsford (13-7) and no. 9 Lowell (11-9) on Friday.
“We did get the first seed and a bye and there a pluses and minuses to that,” explained Dullea. “Anytime you can get a bye we’ll take it but the downfall is its a long time in between games. We’ve been playing our best basketball at the end of the season so I hope we can carry that over to our first game.”
The team that ousted St. John’s Prep from the playoffs last year in a most controversial manner, Andover, is on the other side of the bracket so Eagles fans won’t have to worry about tangling with the Warriors unless its in the finals.
No matter who St. John’s Prep will be playing, the onus is on the Eagles to continue to play team basketball the way they have down the stretch of the season. Head coach John Dullea has said in the past that you can tell when his team is playing at its best because the box score will be spread out.
Not having that go-to scorer can be a hindrance for some teams in the tournament, but not the Eagles.
“In the tournament teams are well coached and well prepared and their game plan is to take away the other team’s best player,” said Dullea. “One advantage we have is any one of our guys can step up any night and in the tournament that is what you need-someone the other team isn’t game planning for to step up and make some plays.”
Guards Max Burt, Ben Judson and Kareem Davis along with forwards Mike Bisson, Zach Burt and Max Butterbrodt have all lead the Eagles in scoring for a game at least once during the season.
Hamilton-Wenham (17-2) earned the second seed in the Division 4 North Tournament with St. Clement (19-1) coming in as the top team in the bracket. The Generals will play Friday at home against the winner of no. 10 Bishop Fenwick (10-10) and seventh seeded Mystic Valley (13-7) which is scheduled to be played at Mystic Valley on Tuesday.
The Generals have been sensational all winter long but even more so since getting completely healthy after working Marcus Zegarowski, Nikos Lara and Nick Loeper back into the line up after injuries earlier in the season. Zegarowski, who is just a freshman, has come on strong late and given Hamilton-Wenham a solid back court to go with forwards Jimmy Campbell and Henry Eagar.
The Generals are deep and have enough talent to beat anybody in the bracket, including top seeded St. Clement (19-1).
One of the two teams to defeat the Generals in the regular season, Manchester Essex, is also in the tournament but fortunately for H-W the Hornets are on the other side of the bracket as the fifth seed and would need to make it all the way to the finals to face coach Doug Hoak’s team.
Bishop Fenwick is led by scorers Matt Costello and Dom Luoni but have plenty of depth and role players capable of stepping up when it counts. The Crusaders also have the advantage of already playing on the big stage having defeated Triton at the TD Garden in January. That experience coupled with the team’s depth make Bishop Fenwick a scary team in D4. Unfortunately, even if the Crusaders beat Mystic Valley, a tough match up against H-W awaits.
Swampscott (4-13) is the only team in the Division 3 North Tournament after qualifying under the Sullivan rule after going .500 or better against teams in their Division or lower. The Big Blue are seeded last and will travel to face fifth seeded Lynnfield (11-9) on Tuesday.
At first glance the Big Blue appear to be the heavy under dog with just four wins but after playing in the strong NEC, Swampscott will be playing much less talented opposition. Sophomore Joey Ragusa and freshman Andre Reeves have grown up a lot in the NEC and should help the Big Blue challenge the Pioneers.