The North Andover Youth Center Fall Ball is widely considered the region's most competitive and best run high school basketball fall league. The league is in its 10th year, and through the first five weeks of the 2014 season 'The Barn' had already had over 40 college coaches come through to scout the local talent. This was week 6, and both the New Hampshire Notebook and the Boston Herald were on hand to cover the games.
This is a good league for the NH teams to play in. Not only do you get to play against mostly MA teams who you don't have to play during the high school season, but you get to play in a league that in general plays at a higher level, faster speed and more physical than most NHIAA games which raises the level of play of the NH teams. There is no shot clock in the NA Fall Ball, but the MA kids are used to playing with one so they just naturally play a faster, more up tempo style game.
The league has 16 teams, 4 of which have NH players on the roster. On Tuesday night all 4 of those teams took the court. The schedule went:
Game 1: Londonderry vs. Lawrence
Game 2: Salem vs. Medford
Game 3: Pelham vs. Methuen
Game 4: St. John's Prep vs. Tewksbury
The night was highlighted by an overtime, comeback win by Londonderry over Lawrence, Pelham falling to Methuen in a nail-biter and in the game of the night it was St. John's Prep overcoming a tough start to run away with the win over a good Tewksbury team. Local kids who stood out included Cody Ball (Londonderry), Keith Brown (Pelham) and Ben Judson (St. John's Prep). Here's our recap of all the action.
Game 1: Londonderry 61 Lawrence 59 (OT)
This was the battle of the Lancers, as both schools share the same nickname. It was the NH Lancers vs. the MA Lancers. It was a neck and neck ball game, with Londonderry being led by their returning core players Cody Ball, Mark Corey, Jake Coleman and Joey Kwiatowski. Ball drove from the right wing and made a great move, crossing over before spinning into the lane and banking in a tough leaner off the glass. Merrimack College has been going to this league to see Ball play. The 6'2" senior combo-guard had a team-high 28 points in the win.
Then Corey (21 points) hit a tough step-back jumper from 18 feet with a hand right in his face - a good move by the 6'3" senior wing. But then Londonderry was unable to get back on defense quick enough and Lawrence converted a couple layups to take a 42-36 lead late in regulation. Londonderry tried to answer back, and Ball pushed it on the break. He didn't have numbers, it was 1-on-2. But that didn't stop ball, as he took it right at both of them, knifing his way to the rim with a nice move before laying it in.
Corey hit a 3 off the catch to help keep Londonderry in it, as they now trailed 51-46 with 4:32 left in the 2nd half. Kwiatowski finished strong in traffic, and then Londonderry picked up their defensive intensity to try and force turnovers with the clock ticking down. They did just that, picking up some deflections on Lawrence passes, and turning them over. Corey drained a clutch 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut the Lawrence lead to 55-53 with 1:15 left.
Then Londonderry had the ball, trailing 57-55 with just 22 seconds remaining. Ball had it in the post, he backed his man down, then tried to kick it out as the double team came. His pass was deflected and stolen by Lawrence. Just then Cole Brittany made the hustle play of the night. The 5'5" freshman pressured the Lawrence player who grabbed the steal, he forced a loose ball and then dove on the floor for it. While still on the floor Brittany knocked it over to ball, who went in for the easy layup to tie the game up 57-57. An outstanding hustle play by Brittany. Londonderry head coach Nate Stanton was looking on and you can bet he was pleased with that one.
Lawrence quickly turned the ball over, so Londonderry had one last chance to win it in regulation. Corey got a good look from the baseline, but his jumper rimmed out and Coleman's tip-in attempt at the buzzer was no good either. We were headed to overtime tied up 57-57.
Right off the bat in OT, Ball buried a 3 off the catch out of the right corner and it was 60-57 Londonderry. Londonderry only scored 1 more point in OT but that's all they would need. Lawrence had a chance late, but Coleman came up with a steal with just 1.9 seconds left in OT. Londonderry missed the front end of the 1-and-1, but Lawrence's last second shot from half court was no good. Londonderry wins 61-59.
Game 2: Medford 55 Salem 50
This was our first look at Salem in awhile. They have another solid team which plays hard. They really get in your face on defense and have a strong inside presence with big 6'5" junior forward Matt Vartanian, one of the state's most improved players. Jake Bosworth is a 6'0" combo-guard with good athleticism, quickness and an emerging skill set on the perimeter. Jared Gott is a long 6'2" wing with a good shooting stroke from the outside. He had a tough shooting night on Tuesday but is doing double duty with cross-country and ran 4 miles before the game so didn't have his legs. Zach Farrar is a tough, physical 6'1" forward who rebounds, defends and does the dirty work inside. Griffen Curtis is another long, athletic wing player. He's 6'3" and is only a sophomore but more than held his own out there. Dan Nugent is a 6'2" senior with a solid inside/outside game and does a little bit of everything.
Bosworth and Vartanian were playing well early as the Blue Devils jumped out to a quick 12-4 lead. Bosworth had a strong take to the rim. Then Vartanian showed good effort by going hard after an offensive rebound and then going up strong with it, finishing the put-back with 2 defenders all over him. Bosworth then drilled a 3-pointer and it was 17-6 Salem.
Vartanian made another strong move inside for 2 more, and then Bosworth made another strong drive to the rim. A Medford stepped in to try to draw the charge, but Bosworth made the bucket and got the and-1. Medford was pressing Salem full court, but the Blue Devils broke the press and Farrar finished strong through contact off a nice feed by Nugent. Gott hit a nice step-back jumper along the baseline, and Salem led 26-24 at halftime.
Gott showed good hustle going after a loose ball, but Medford opened the 2nd half on a 6-0 run to take a 30-26 lead. Again Gott showed good hustle, this time diving out of bounds for a loose ball. Again, it was Nugent finding Farrar inside with a nice extra pass for a layup on the press break. Curtis then hit a pull-up jumper with a hand in his face. Next trip down Curtis hit another smooth pull-up in the mid-range area. However Medford turned up the intensity and was playing at too fast a pace for Salem to handle, as they opened up a 50-38 lead with just 5:26 remaining in the 2nd half.
Salem was hanging tough though and kept battling back. After a layup by Gott they now trailed just 50-45 with 2:30 left to play. Medford was able to hold on from there for the 55-50 final.
Game 3: Methuen 54 Pelham 48
Pelham was playing without their second best player, 6'5" senior wing forward Ryan Cloutier. They still played a good Methuen team tough, and likely would have won if they had Cloutier in the lineup. The Pythons still put out a strong starting 5 with NHIAA D-III Preseason Player of the Year Keith Brown, the fearless and tough as nails Dylan Silvestri, sharpshooter David Rogers, speedy point guard Kyle Frank and Central Catholic transfer Ryan Rondeau.
Still, it was a competitive game with the intensity and physicality running high. Both teams were really going at each other hard on both ends of the floor. It had the feel of a regular season contest, not a fall league one. 6'1" junior guard Keith Brown hit a good turnaround jumper out of the low post, but Methuen still jumped out to a 10-3 lead early. 6'2" Ryan Rondeau hit a 3 to cut the Methuen lead to 10-7. Then Brown made a good baseline drive and finish in traffic to cut the Methuen lead to 10-9. Soon after that Brown made another strong take to the rim before hitting a tough leaner. Brown poured in a team-high 18 points.
Nick Wolfren came off the bench for Pelham and made a strong drive, spin move before hitting a leaner of his own. Brown then made another good dribble-drive move, driving strong left and finishing with his left hand. But Methuen made a run at the end of the 1st half which turned out to be the difference in the game. Methuen was hitting on all cylinders,a nd Pelham was struggling to slow down their momentum. Methuen ended the 1st half on a 15-0 run, and took a 34-17 lead at the halftime break.
Brown hit a 15-footer off the catch to start the 2nd half and put an end to the Methuen 15-0 run and start the Pelham comeback. Rogers hit a 3, and Silvestri ran the floor well, finishing strong on the break with a defender all over him for 2. Brown scored inside and then hit another 15-footer. That capped a 17-4 run by Pelham, and now the Pythons only trailed 38-34. There is no quit in this Pelham team, even with no Cloutier or with no Matt Regan on the sideline.
Rogers hit another 3, and it was 41-37 Methuen. Silvestri leaped up for a tip-in, and it was now just a 2 point game, 41-39 Methuen with 4:33 remaining. Frank hit a clutch 3 pointer to again bring Pelham to within 2, 46-44 Methuen with 2:25 left. But Methuen was able to hold on from there for the 54-48 win.
Newport, Berlin, Conant and Campbell should all have strong teams, but there's no question this Pelham squad will be the favorite in NHIAA D-III going into the season.
Game 4: St. John's Prep 64 Tewksbury 50
They saved the best game of the night for last, as St. John's Prep and Tewksbury came into this game with perfect 5-0 records in fall league play. SJP is led by the dynamic 5'9" senior guard Kareem Davis and 6'5" senior lefty guard Ben Judson (Plaistow, NH). Judson had a strong game from start to finish, playing a key role in the team's win.
Early on Judson broke his man down off the dribble, making a strong move to the rim, drawing a foul and getting to the line. However, Tewksbury would quickly take control of the game. They really buckled down on defense, playing some of the best 'D' I've seen in a long time. All 5 guys just playing tough, hard nosed defense, helping each other out and not allowing SJP to get any good looks. SJP was struggling to find offense, and with 6:00 left in the 1st half it was 18-10 Tewksbury. Soon after that the Tewksbury lead grew to 25-10.
But then St. John's Prep started to get back on track, and they got a spark from Judson who made the best pass of the night. Judson was up top, a few feet behind the arc when he somehow found an open teammate and in the blink of an eye zipped a terrific pass to him underneath for the bucket. Just a great look, and that play really seemed to get SJP going.
Then Judson ran the floor, finishing a layup on the break. On the next trip down the floor head he led the 3-on-1 break and made a good dish to Davis for a layup. That capped a 13-0 run by St. John's Prep, as they now trailed just 25-23. Judson had a team-high 16 points and Davis had 14. Judson buried a 3-pointer with just 4 seconds left in the 1st half and it was 28-26 Tewksbury at halftime.
Prep c=kept that momentum rolling in the 2nd half. Judson continued to shine, driving by his man on his way to the rim for a strong finish. Then Judson hit another 3, this time tying the game 33-33. Next trip down he pushed it hard on the break, blowing right past 2 defenders on his way to the bucket for a strong finish. Davis hit an 18-footer, plus got fouled on the shot. Prep was really playing well now, and they had a 41-35 lead with 10:00 left in regulation.
Prep continued to pull away, playing well on both ends of the floor and now had a 54-44 lead with 4:23 remaining. Judson wasn't done yet, though. He made a strong drive, took the contact and hit a leaner for an and-1. On the next trip down the floor he connected on yet another 3-pointer. That put the icing on the cake. It was now 62-47 SJP with around 3 minutes left. Both teams began pulling their starters and SJP cruised to the 64-50 win.