SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 7, 2014

In the Paint: Supporting cast the key for Beverly


The Salem News

---- — In the Paint

Matt Jenkins

Nothing is automatic in the nightly rigors of the Northeastern Conference, especially in the top-heavy large division.

But Beverly head coach Scott Lewis carries a certain level of comfort knowing what he’ll get from senior forwards Nick Cross and John Berchoff each game. Something between 30-40 combined points, roughly 20 rebounds and just enough disruptive defense in the paint to cause headaches for opposing frontcourts is what Lewis counts on from that duo.

The veteran coach also knows that Beverly’s key for success rests in the hands of some other players, however.

A trio of seniors — Jonangel Franco, Chris Sinclair and Josh Cairns — have to play well for Beverly to contend for the large title with the likes of Lynn English, Lynn Classical and Salem standing in its way.

“They’re a huge part of the team. I think everybody knows that Cross and Berchoff will be our leading scorers the majority of nights; teams come in and try to stop those two,” Lewis said. “Those three seniors (Franco, Sinclair and Cairns) have lots of experience. They played in big games last year, so how they contribute to us will determine how we do this season.”

Franco, Sinclair and Cairns are each guards that bring distinct talents to the court.

Lewis calls on Franco to defend the opponent’s best scoring guard. Quick and strong, Franco uses his athleticism to his advantage on the defensive end. Offensively he’s at his best when he’s taking care of the ball, and Lewis is hoping to see some more scoring punch from him in the future.

“He keeps guys in front of him. He has long arms,” Lewis said. “Down the other end, we’ve been asking him to take care of the ball and distribute and now that we’re (five) games in, we want him trying to do a little more offensively. He’s thinking his role is to distribute and if other teams are laying off and if he doesn’t look to score, that can’t help us.”

Franco came into last night’s game against Peabody averaging less than four points a game, but was leading the team in assists and steals.

While Lewis would like to see a little more scoring from Franco, Sinclair and Cairns have settled in as the Panthers’ third and fourth scoring options.

Sinclair is an energy guy, the type who seems to score in bunches, and he’s at his best in transition. After scoring 14 points last night against Peabody, he’s averaging 10.4 points per game and is a more-than-capable ball handler who can get Beverly into its offense.

Cairns, meanwhile, is the player who can stretch the floor for the Panthers. Given time and space, Cairns 3-point shot is the key that can unlock the paint for Cross and Berchoff.

“Chris is like a glue guy. We put him on the other team’s point guard if Jonangel is chasing a scorer. He can knock down the three and he’s good taking it to the basket, especially in the open court. He makes us go when he’s playing well, too,” Lewis said.

“Josh is the perimeter game that we desperately need. He got a lot stronger and bigger in the offseason and he can help defensively and on the glass. He’s just a really good knock-down shooter.”

As long as Franco, Sinclair and Cairns play well and Beverly continues to get solid play off the bench from senior Zach Duguid and sophomores Kyle Coughlin and Sam Traicoff, Beverly will be a team that remains in the title chase until the very end.

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If the Pingree boys basketball team doubted that Walt Disney World is the place where dreams come true before they left for the Old Spice Classic this past holiday season, then they returned with a much different perspective.

Battling a demanding three-game stretch at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, the Highlanders reached great heights. They went 2-1 on the trip, including a victory in the championship game of their division against an El Toro (Calif.) team that is widely considered to be a top 100 team nationally.

Before landing in Orlando, Pingree coach Steve Gibbs viewed the trip as a reward to his seniors after three years of hard work. Those seniors rewarded the veteran coach with arguably the biggest win in program history with their 72-65 win over El Toro.

“You plan it 12 months or so in advance and have no idea how they might turn out in terms of who you play. What happened was, I think, by playing against three national elite teams (Mercyhurst Prep of Pennsylvania and Bartlesville of Oklahoma), we really brought the best out in ourselves,” Gibbs said.

“After soccer and football all fall, now it came to making the transition to basketball. This trip was seven days together and it was good for the kids to come together and galvanize as one unit. It really happened on this trip. It was wonderful to win the way we did, but to me probably what was more important was the memories and the experience of this team coming together.”

Senior point guard Johnnie Spears played at an elite level while on the trip, winning the MVP for his efforts.

A super-quick player who excels on the defensive end, Spears was also a superb facilitator on the trip, posting a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“We could have given (the MVP) to a bunch of guys, but he got it just because of his tenacious ability to shut down the other team’s best player and his ability to be a facilitator,” Gibbs said. “All the guys around him, he made them better. Without him there’s no shot to win those games.”

Connor Reardon and Kyle Lentini join Spears as captains for the Highlanders. Reardon and Lentini provide size and a good inside-outside presence, as both can score from both areas.

Sophomore Justin Assad also made a memorable 3-pointer on the trip, drilling one late in the win over El Toro that allowed Pingree to regain the lead.

Now, the Highlanders have to focus on the second half of their schedule and moving toward achieving their goals of winning the Eastern Independent League and a New England title.

“Winning these games, hopefully they recognize the kind of upside they potentially have,” Gibbs said. “Anything other than a league championship and a New England title could be a disappointment. There’s one team in our league — Beaver Country Day — that’s a nationally ranked-type team, but besides that we will not see teams of this caliber. It gives us that kind of expectation that winning these kinds of games, why can’t we win our last game this year?”

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In The Paint, a column on North Shore boys’ basketball, runs every Tuesday during the winter sports season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at mjenkins@salemnews.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.