Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hoops for Hope League Playoffs - 7/26/11 Recap

Hoops for Hope is a very competitive summer league for boys and girls basketball teams in NH and also MA. With 3 games going on at one time it really makes for a fun atmosphere, and the games are intense and played at a fast pace. MA teams like Central Catholic, Andover and Lawrence play a faster, more physical game than most NH teams are used to, so it's a good way for the NH kids to get better.

On Tuesday night the NH Notebook was in the gym at Andover High to check out the league's playoff action. Pinkerton, Salem, Pelham and Nashua South were all in action. Here are the game recaps.

Pinkerton vs. Salem
This was a good, hard fought battle between 2 teams who will both once again be strong in 2011-2012. Pinkerton was missing some of their key guys, including Chris Light and Alex Patrikis (arguably their 2 best players). As for the Salem, the team they had out there for this game for the most part was the team they'll be going with night in and night out this winter. As a result, Salem got the win, 62-53 in a good one.

One of the biggest stories in this game was the emergence of Salem point guard Danny Salvo. Salvo saw very limited minutes last year as a junior, but it is obvious that he has gotten a lot better and is ready to make an impact for the Blue Devils this year as a senior. The 5'7" point guard is lightning quick, has a good handle, is explosive off the dribble, plays tough defense and made a number of strong drives and finishes at the rim, especially when coming off screens.

Others who played well for Salem were Jonathan Klecan, Andrew Ruffen, Joe Dube, Jack Hartman and Julio Romero. Klecan remains one of the state's best defenders, and is unselfish offensively, always looking to set up his teammates for good looks. Ruffen is a good shooter who has gotten stronger and is now able to finish inside against bigger players as well. Dube and Hartman are both very active inside players who work hard and really get after it on the boards. Hartman scored in double figures for Salem in this game as well. Romero is a physical inside player who is another strong defender. He had a nice blocked shot which ignited a 6-0 Blue Devils run, including a pair of nice finishes inside by Hartman.

Pinkerton meanwhile, played very well for a team playing without 2 of its best players. 6'0" senior point guard Kevin Colbert played very well in this game, controlling tempo and distributing the basketball while also looking for his own offense. He has improved considerably and is in good shape. He has a nice hesitation dribble which allows him to get to the basket and make plays. Colbert also hit a nice step-back three. Mark Piechowiak is another key player who returns for Pinkerton. he played well in this game, showing good quickness, toughness in the paint battling for rebounds and also stepping outside and knocking down shots. The 6'2" wing player is versatile and helped his team in a variety of ways. Justin Sandburg is a 5'10" guard who was a blur in transition with the basketball in his hands, leading the break and keeping the pressure on the defense. Another returning varsity player for Pinkerton who played well was senior guard Sean Smith, who is a tough, scrappy off-guard who played hard and also had a nice finish at the rim late in the game.The Astros also got a look at some of their younger players coming up, as incoming sophomore Andrew Lechner and freshman Luke Testa both made impacts off the bench.

Salem made a 2nd half run to push their lead to 39-24 early in the 2nd half. Ruffen made a terrific and-1 finish inside to cap the run for the Blue Devils, then Klecan found Dube for 2 on a nicely executed 2-on-1 break.

From there Pinkerton just kept on battling, as Piechowiak made a strong drive and finish, followed by a finish in transition by Colbert. The game was being played at a very fast pace, with both teams looking to outlet the ball and push it ahead on the break at every opportunity. Every time Pinkerton made a run though to cut into the lead Salem was able to come right back with a big basket or rebound to hold on. 9 points was as close as Pinkerton would get, and Salem held on for the 62-53 win.

Pelham vs. Andover
This was another good, hard fought, close battle. Andover is a good team, and Pelham nearly beat them. The Pythons jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead, and they led for most of the way. Then Andover tied it up at 33-33 early in the 2nd half, and from there it was back-and-forth the rest of the game. Andover ended up with a 57-55 win.

It was not your typical summer league basketball game. The intensity was high, and to say it was a physical game would be a severe understatement. These teams were really knocking each other around, fighting for every loose ball and rebound, with no basket coming easy. Anthony Spirou even had to leave the game when he got hit in the head by an Andover player while both of them were going after a rebound late.

Their was a nice match-up of point guards in this game, with Pelham's Derek Defranzo (pictured at top of page) going up against Ken Miyachi from Andover. Both players are small but quick, explosive, scrappy players and are both looked to by their teammates to run the show. They were matched up against each other all game, and really went at each other hard, battling tooth and nail the whole way, pressuring each other full court on defense, and making plays on offense.

Defranzo made a nice drive to the rim and finish, then he hit Brett Bailey with a nice pass on the break for 2, and Pelham went up 8-0 early. Bailey is another, tough, physical player who isn't afraid to mix it up. He also had a nice finish inside against contact. Brian Finney made a nice drive and dish for a layup, then Defranzo stopped on the drop of a dime for a nice mid-range pull-up jumper to give Pelham an 18-9 lead.

That's when Andover got back in the game, going on an 11-4 run to cut the Pelham lead to 22-20. Spirou answered back for the Pythons with a spot-up three-pointer to push the lead back up to 25-20. Junior wing Kevin Cheam then got in on the action, making a nice put-back following a missed jumper by Defranzo. Pelham led 27-24 at halftime.

The 2nd half was back-and-forth, with much intensity and both squads battling it out on every possession. Bailey made a nice finish on the break and it was all tied up at 33-33. Defranzo and Miyachi continued to battle it out in the back court.

Then Andover made a 6-0 run to take a 47-43 lead and force Pelham to call a timeout. Andover led 50-45 (their largest lead of the game) when Defranzo made a nice drive-and-dish to a teammate for a layup. Andover came right back though on the other end and converted an and-1 finish inside. Then right after that Pelham guard David Bronson (another small but tough and scrappy guard) drilled a three-pointer as Pelham refused to quit.

Defranzo made another strong drive to the basket to get to the line. Andover then led 56-52 with 10 seconds left in the game, when Defranzo pulled up from the three point line and hit a trey of his own to make it a 1 point game, 56-55 Andover with 2 seconds left. Andover was able to hold on from there for the 57-55 win.

Also playing well for Pelham was senior forward Erik Nystrom. The Pythons were playing without sophomore guard Jake Vaiknoras.

Pelham may have lost this game, but they played well enough to win it. And that's saying a lot since Andover is better than most NH teams, especially those in Division II. The Pythons are fast, they're tough, physical, they play hard and they play as a team. Right now I would say they are one of the top 3 teams in D-II along with Portsmouth and Pembroke, with Bedford and Lebanon close behind.

Nashua South vs. Dracut
South has struggled for each of the past 2 years, and the year before that they got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by West. But things definitely appear to be different this year for the Purple Panthers. I saw them play at the Exeter Team Weekend, and again at Hoops for Hope on Tuesday night. Both times I have come away VERY impressed.

In this game South was playing without their best player in Anthony Muccioli (down in Florida with Bishop Elite for AAU Nationals). Yet they were still able to not only beat Dracut, but they beat them 51-30. This was a statement win for South, as you can only imagine how much the would have won by if Muccioli had been in the lineup.

South used a VERY balanced offensive attack in this game. Dracut couldn't focus on stopping just 1 or 2 guys, because South had a handful of guys who could hurt them. They all worked very well as a team, looking for each other, making the extra pass, working the ball inside and then back out. They were effective in transition as well as in the half court. And when Dracut went to zone South had no problem executing against that either.

6'5" junior forward Jack Preston, 5'9" sophomore guard Tim Preston, 6'3" junior forward David Dunham, 6'1" senior forward Michael Dunham, 5'11" sophomore guard Yordy Tavarez, 6'4" senior forward Kevin Morrissey and 5'10" junior guard Cody Wyatt all played well for the Purple Panthers. Throw in Mucciloli and this is a team that I can see making some serious noise this winter in Division I.

Tim Preston once again proved that he is one of the best sophomores in the state, as he effectively ran the point for South. He was very good at scoring as well as well as distributing the basketball. He made a nice drive-and-dish early in the game, then was able to blow by his defender, get to the rim and finish with the left hand. Soon after that he continued to be a blur in transition with the basketball, making a strong take on the break and getting to the line.

Jack Preston then made a nice and-1 finish inside, then Tavarez made a strong drive along the baseline and finish at the rim. That made it 24-10 South, and they were then able to push their lead up to 29-14 at halftime.

Morrissey was also playing well. He's a long, athletic forward who runs the floor well and is active on the boards. Michael Dunham made a nice offensive rebound and put-back, then David Dunham made a nice offensive rebound of his own, then finished on the break off a pass from Morrissey. After battling inside the paint, David Dunham then stepped outside and drained a three-pointer. Tim Preston displayed a nifty handle and crossover dribble, and South was hitting on all cylinders in the 2nd half of this game.

David Dunham then drilled another three, as South continued to increase the lead. Tavarez and Wyatt were both playing smart, unselfish basketball and playing good defense. Jack Preston then took over down the stretch, making a pair of big time finishes. On one play he faced up from the perimeter, drove left, got right by his man and then finished at the rim against contact. Then on the next play he slammed down a dunk on the break. He is quick for a 6'5" kid and can shoot the basketball as well as dominate the paint.

From there, South cruised to the win. After the game they were pumped, knowing that they played without their best player and still beat a good team by 20 points. Watch out for this team.

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