Monthly Archives: December 2018

Souderton wins 6th straight defeating Perkiomen Valley 51-27

Gabby Marinacci (22) with a trio of Souderton defenders

Souderton defense forced thirteen turnovers

(Collegeville PA) There were some good things and there were some not-so-good things.

Souderton defeated Perkiomen Valley, 51-27, on Friday afternoon in non-league action.

The Indians (7-1) are coming off a season in which they reached the state final four.

In this one Souderton took the lead early and increased it as the game went along.

SHS coach Lynn Carroll was pleased with the six straight wins. “To be 7-1 at the end of December is very nice.  We graduated three starters who are playing at the collegiate level.”

Despite the margin of victory, Coach Carroll was concerned about her team’s play in the first half.  “We settled for quick shots,” she said.  “At halftime we talked of improving our approach on offense.”

Senior Megan Walbrandt (11 points) commented on the Indians improved play in the second half.  “We played a lot more unselfishly.  We were looking for the open person by making the extra pass.  We were able to find the open cutter.”

Freshman Jennifer Beattie (3) chases down Erica Stephens (14)

Perkiomen Valley coach Kelly Sorber saw the game as a learning experience.  “I told the team afterwards that they were able to stick with a very good team for a half.  We need to string more good quarters together.”

After a game-opening three by PV’s Gabby Marinacci (14 points), Souderton turned up the defensive heat and gave the Vikings (3-7) few openings thereafter.

Souderton attacked the Perkiomen ball-handlers, forced turnovers, and started a game-long parade of scoring from close to the basket.

“Our defense was good throughout the game,” said Coach Carroll.  “We’ve built a reputation over the last few years of being a team that plays great man-to-man defense.”

Megan O’Donnell (25) keyed the Souderton fast start

The offense didn’t flow quite as smoothly as the coach would have wanted but the Indians found enough high percentage shots, led by Megan O’Donnell (8 points) to lead 16-8 after the first period.

Senior Megan Walbrandt (11 points) had seven of them in the second quarter, including a three, and the visitors had a 27-15 advantage at halftime.

“I was especially pleased with the way we played in the third quarter,” said Coach Carroll.  And who could blame her?

The Souderton offense began to turn up layups in quantity.  They had three quick ones in the first 1 ½ minutes.

What made the scoring appealing was the cutting and passing that went along with it.  “We were able to find open teammates,” recalled Megan Walbrandt.

Megan Walbrandt (12) passes to an open teammate

The Indians put six straight points together before Gabby Marinacci hit two free throws.

The next Souderton run took all the mystery out of the final outcome.  This time the “straight” points reached ten.  The Vikings were co-conspirators with four turnovers.  Curran O’Donnell (10 points) chose this three-minute segment to drain two 3’s.

The good collection of offense/defense elevated the Souderton spread to 43-17 with 2 ½ minutes to go in the 3rd period. Benches were cleared for the final minutes.

Coach Carroll: “We played so much better in the second half.  We were moving the ball around.  Our assists increased.  It is really fun to watch them when they play that way.”

Coach Sorber: “We’re young.  We have some seniors, but we have three freshmen that get some big minutes.”

Coach Carroll: “Perkiomen will continue to get better with the young talent they have.”

Souderton made nineteen field goals in the game.  Sixteen of their field goals were inside shots.  Is there a higher percentage shot than a layup?

Jennifer Beattie (3) finds a passing lane

The Vikings may have been a little tired because they played Conestoga yesterday.  “We hit fifteen 3-pointers against them,” said Coach Sorber regarding the victory.

The tenacious Indians yielded only three long ones in this afternoon’s victory.

The Vikings totaled thirteen turnovers while Souderton had only five.

Megan Walbrandt (11), Mikaela Reese (10), and Curran O’Donnell (10) paced Souderton.

Mikaela had several blocks for the Indians.

Curran O’Donnell’s three over Katie Hurd

Coach Sorber: “Souderton is a good team.  They’re very well coached.  They run their system very well. They have won districts and they’ve been to the semi’s a lot of times.  They start four seniors.”

Megan Walbrandt: “I hope we’re heading in the same direction we did last year.  I am hoping next year to play basketball in college locally.  I am interested in the health science field.”

I was impressed with the PV gymnasium.

Souderton box

Perkiomen Valley box

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Strong interior defense by Souderton

Mikaela Reese (33) tries to get by Kylie Monaco (14)

Few easy shots for the Vikings

Olivia Schneider (11) to the rim

Battle of the bigs – Souderton’s Mikaela Reese and PV’s Lily Sherman

Curran O’Donnell (22) cuts in for two

Emma Miley (20) guarded by Megan Walbrandt (12) with Mikaela Reese (33) ready to help

Hannah Alderfer (15)

Kelly Owens (34)

Souderton coach Lynn Carroll (standing)


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Pentucket stays undefeated with 57-33 win over North Reading

Angelica Hurley pressures Ali Grasso

Jess Galvin (12) guards Casey McAuliffe (10)

(West Newbury MA) The names change but the approach to defense doesn’t.

Pentucket (3-0) held North Reading (2-1) to just two points in the first quarter and went from there to a 57-33 win on Friday night.

Both teams had started the season with two wins over Cape Ann League competition.

“Pentucket is ahead of us,” said NR coach Bob Melillo afterwards.  “Their intensity level is better, and they are very good at running plays.”

On this night, the Sachems turned up layups on inbounds plays, backdoor cuts, and a full-court pass (Angelica Hurley) that led to a layup (Angelina Yacubacci) against full-court pressure.

Arielle Cleveland (16 points) tracks down a loose ball

After the first quarter (13-2) the Sachems joined the Hornets in struggling to score.  That lasted into the final quarter.  NR was within nine (31-22) as the 4th period began.

In that final quarter the Pentucket defense, which had been very good, was joined by a good-things barrage down the offensive end.  The points started flowing from in close (seven layups) and the lead reached twenty (50-30) 5 ½ minutes into the last quarter.

Arielle Cleveland led all scorers with sixteen points, including fourteen in the second half.  “Arielle is a very good basketball player,” said Coach John McNamara.  “She dominated the last portion of the game underneath at both ends.  She is only a sophomore and going to get even better.”

Lauren Sullivan paced the Hornets with eleven points.

Coach Melillo was disappointed with the way his team played.  “I thought that we would be much better than we were today,” he said.  “There were too many easy baskets and second-shot baskets.”

Julia Howse (33) blocks a shot

“North Reading is a very good team,” said Coach McNamara.  “I thought that they might be the best team in the CAL.”  Not on this night.  The Hornets never got comfortable against the hounding man-to-man coverage they faced.  Much of their movement on offense was east-to-west rather than toward the basket.

The North Reading defense was solid in the middle periods.  Sophomore Julia Howse had at least four blocks by my count.  She also made several terrific cross-court passes.  I won’t get into her skills as a shortstop on the NR softball team!

Angelina Hurley and Angelica Yacubacci each had fourteen points for Pentucket.

“We work a lot on in bounds plays,” said Coach McNamara.  “If you can get a couple of them to work in a game it’s big.”

Coach Melillo was optimistic about the future.  “We’ll get better.  I think that now the girls understand how hard they have to play for 32 minutes to compete with a team like Pentucket.”

Jess Galvin (12) looks for an opening

The Hornets were able to limit the Sachems to only three 3’s.  However, by closely defending the perimeter they opened up driving opportunities for Angelina, Angelica, and Jess Galvin.

I asked Coach McNamara about the after-effects of the overtime loss to Foxboro in the D2 state semifinals.  “The kids have gotten over the Foxboro loss.  As I coach, I don’t think I will ever get over it.”

North Reading was 16-6 last season.

Pentucket was 23-3 last season.

Coach McNamara is in his 13th season with Pentucket and currently has a remarkable 260-44 won/loss record during that time.

Good crowd in house on a warm (for December) night outside.

North Reading box

Pentucket box

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)


Tight Pentucket defense

Ali Grasso (3) guarded by Maddi Doyle

Angelina Yacubacci (22) drives past Julia Howse (33) and Mia DeNofrio (23)

Angelina Yacubacci (22) eyes defender Julia Howse (33)

Blocking out

Casey McAuliffe at the line

Scramble on the floor

Julia Howse (33) at the line

Mia DeNofrio (23) in for two


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North Reading holds off Amesbury 43-41

Last shot of the game

Lauren Sullivan (11 points) made two 3’s

(Amesbury MA) Amesbury rallied from thirteen down in the final quarter and had a shot to tie it at the buzzer.

But the shot missed, and North Reading escaped with a 43-41 win in Cape Ann League action on Tuesday night.

The ups and downs in this game were significant.

If you came early, the Indians were unstoppable and off to an 8-0 lead in the first 1 ½ minutes.

If you saw just the middle section it was all Hornets.  They drained three’s (8 of them) and took very good care of the ball.

If you looked in after NR sported a nice cushion (42-29) at the 6:41 mark of the final quarter, you saw Amesbury put pressure defense and thirteen straight points together and nearly catch the Hornets.

Flannery O’Connor (12 points) finds an opening

This certainly was a game where the good things and the things needing work were obvious for both squads.

“We needed to play that defense the whole game,” said AHS coach Gregg Dollas afterwards.

The visitors ran an excellent offense against single coverage.  They passed, they drove, they got to the basket, and drew fouls.  When the taller Amesbury defenders started to double-team in the final quarter, NR struggled and turned the ball over six times in four minutes and set up the Indians late-game run.

The Indians (1-1) got off to the electric start because scoring threat Flannery O’Connor was able to get the ball in close against light coverage.  That quickly changed and most of the rest of the game Flannery had at least two defenders and sometimes a third one nearby.

Ali Grasso (16 points) finds teammate Lauren Sullivan (4) closer to the basket

“Once we start hitting our shots, we’ll be tough to beat,” added Coach Dollas.  With Flannery so closely covered there were shots for teammates that didn’t fall this time.

North Reading (2-0) was good from long range.  The Hornets struck eight times from far out with Ali Grasso and Casey McAuliffe getting three each.

Ali paced NR with sixteen points while Casey added twelve.  Lauren Sullivan contributed eleven points.

Amesbury had twelve from Flannery and eleven from newcomer Avery Hallinan.

After the home team grabbed the quick 8-0 lead, North Reading followed with a 15-1 stretch that had them ahead, 15-9, early in the second period.

Later the Hornets put eight straight together in the third quarter when Lauren Sullivan’s full-court layup was followed by three’s from Ali Grasso and Lauren.

Mary Bullis over Kiley McCarthy (1)

But no sooner did that happen in the third quarter than Amesbury puts its own run of points together.  Mary Bullis hit a three from Alli Napoli and Flannery O’Connor drove the length of the court.  Mary Bullis finished the run by converting her own missed shot.

Typical of this game, however, NR came back with its own version of good offense and was sitting pretty (42-29) with 6:41 remaining.

It is hard to believe that the Hornets had only one point (Ali Grasso free throw) the rest of the way.

Ciara Sullivan hit a couple of jump shots and Avery Hallinan made six free throws to key Amesbury’s late-game rush.

The Indians were within a point (42-41) but came up empty in the final minute.  Ali Napoli got a shot off to the right of the lane in heavy coverage that missed to end the game.

Free throw shooting was a struggle for both teams.

The free throw shooting was not good in this one.  North Reading missed ten (11-for-21) and Amesbury eight (12-for-20).  The Indians had six misses within their thirteen-point rally in the final quarter.

Enthusiastic crowd on hand.

Alli Napoli took a heavy fall late in the game driving to the basket.  Somehow, she managed to play on.

North Reading box

Amesbury box

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Ali Grasso dribbles into space

Amesbury defense collapses on Mia DeNofrio (23)

Avery Hallinan (11) tries to pass to Flannery O’Connor (12)

Flannery O’Connor with three Hornets

Floor tussle

Mia DeNofrio shoots a free throw


Sadie Kermelewicz (4) stays with Ali Grasso (3)

Hustling Alli Napoli (21) caught Julie Howse (33) and blocked her shot

Lauren Sullivan (4) in for a layup







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Newburyport opens with a 61-49 win over Rockport

Max Gagnon was part of a very tight Newburyport defense

Casey McLaren at the front of the Newburyport defense

(Newburyport MA) The combination of two sizable runs of points and an effective full-court defense keyed Newburyport’s 61-49 win over Rockport on Tuesday night.

The Vikings (0-2) had won four of their last five previous meetings with the Clippers (1-0).

“Our bigs struggled to get going tonight,” explained Rockport coach Phil Whitley afterwards.

Some of that struggle was due to the never-ending in-your-face defense by the home team.

“The defense was good,” said NHS coach Dave Clay, “but there still are some things we need to clean up.”

Tight defense

Rockport had twenty-two turnovers (by my count).  That’s a lot of empty possessions in a 32-minute game.

“We want the defense to be a staple of the team,” said Coach Clay.

Having 6’5” Casey McLaren at the point on the full-court defense, forced inbounds passes to the sides where the Clippers could double-team.

The Vikings broke open a close game (14-13) with a run of six points in the second quarter.  A rebound basket by Jake Knowlton and two free throws apiece by Gavyn Hillier and Ezra Mendoza had RHS up, 20-13, with 3:49 left in the second quarter.

Ryan Archie (with the ball) was part of the run that gave the Clippers separation

Then junior Ryan Archie heated up.

A rebound basket by Jacob Robertson was followed by eight straight Ryan points (two three’s and two free throws).

Both of Ryan’s 3-pointers were set up by George Coryell.

Newburyport led by a point (23-22) at the half.

Rockport opened the second half with three points and then the Clippers ran thirteen points over the next 3+ minutes.

That streak sent the home team up by ten points (35-25) and Rockport didn’t have the shooting to get closer than six points (51-45) the rest of the way.

Jacob Robertson and Noah Rawson

The beauty of Newburyport’s run of thirteen points was that the scoring was done by four different players (Ryan Archie, Parker McLaren, Casey McLaren, Charlie Cahalane).

“When we moved the ball by passing instead of dribbling, we did better against their zone,” said Coach Clay.

Casey McLaren (19), Ryan Archie (14), Jacob Robertson (13), and Parker McLaren (10) were the top Newburyport scorers.

Rockport was paced by Jake Knowlton (17) and Gavyn Hillier (10).

The NHS defense was a factor in the outcome, but foul trouble was certainly a problem for Rockport as well.

Starters Jake Knowlton and Ezra Mendoza both had three fouls in the first half despite sitting out some minutes in that half.

Ezra Mendoza was gone in the third quarter

Ezra fouled out of the game in the third quarter and Jake had his 4th before that same quarter was over.

Minus a primary ball-handler and their top scorer not only limited the Vikings offense but it added to their troubles handling pressure.

Jake Knowlton had thirty points in Rockport’s 83-77 loss to Bishop Fenwick in their opener.

I was impressed, as usual, with senior Casey McLaren.  On a night when the three’s weren’t falling, he moved in for mid-range shots and drives.  His defense within the press was important for NHS.

Parker McLaren above the Rockport defense

Coach Clay: “Parker (McLaren) played well.  We need to keep him out of foul trouble.  I love it when he attacks the basket. He’s such a big guy.  Think of LeBron James in high school.  I wouldn’t want to get in his way!”

Coach Whitley: “Their defense gave us trouble and our foul trouble didn’t help.  I think we got tired in the second half.”

Serious man-to-man defense was played by George Coryell and Max Gagnon.

Good crowd in the house for the Clippers home opener.

Newburyport starts the season with six straight home games all in December.

Part of that good crowd was made up of other CAL schools scouting the two future opponents.

Newburyport box

Rockport box

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Jake Knowlton in for two

Jake Knowlton fends off Parker McLaren

Jake Knowlton block a shot

Jake Knowlton at the line

Austin Matus (13) eyes the hoop

Casey McLaren layup

Gavyn Hillier (35)

George Coryell in the air with Ezra Mendoza



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St. Bernard’s takes out Pope John XXIII 46-35 for the Division 8 title

Micah Stinson (52) signals a Super Bowl win for St. Bernard’s

The Bernardians celebrate a touchdown

(Foxboro MA) It seemed as if the teams spent more time in the end zones celebrating than they did on the rest of the field!

St. Bernard’s defeated Pope John XXIII, 46-35, in an offensive show that would require a book to describe all the details.

The game to decide the Division 8 title started at 9AM at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.

Beautiful weather (sunny/40’s) and the performances of the Bernardians (12-1) and the Tigers (12-1) made this a game to remember.

St. Bernard’s lost in the D6 Super Bowl in 2015 to Mashpee.  They had a Super Bowl win in 1997 when current head coach Tom Bingham was a line coach for the team.

Points were scored by both teams in every quarter.

In the final quarter thirty-seven points were scored, which set a new state championship/Super Bowl record (thirty points) previously done in 1982.

Greg Smith (4) of Pope John’s dives into the end zone

Even more remarkable was that those 37 points in the final period all came in just a 4 ½ minute stretch of that ten-minute final period.

“I certainly didn’t expect a shootout,” said Pope John coach Paul Sobolewski in a phone interview today.  “Both teams were good defensively.  We had only given up eighty-two points all year.”

The Bernardians took the lead, 8-6, late in the first quarter (Xavier Marty 9-yard run) and pushed it to 16-6 on QB Domenic Cuevas’ two-yard run in the second quarter.

Then the scoring fun began.

John Smith-Howell ( three touchdowns ) loose on the sidelines

Quarterback Domenic Cuevas follows blockers Ben Jacoby (57) and Xavier Marty (5)

The rest of the way, beginning with Pope John, one team would score a touchdown and the other team would respond with one of their own.

Once that pattern kicked in you had to think that the team with the last possession would win the title.

You also looked for one of the teams to not allow the other to answer with a touchdown.

But there were no big stops and for those at Gillette hoping to see yards covered and points produced the game was a delight.  The teams combined for seventeen plays that covered more than ten yards.

Battle in the air between Dom Valera (4) and Jose Davila (2)

Pope John hurt St. Bernard’s via the pass.  “Our offense is a run/pass option,” explained Coach Sobolewski.  “We wait to see how the defense is aligned before we call a play.  They were daring us to pass with eight players at times in the box.  That led to some one-on-one matchups and our offensive coordinator made some good calls against it.”

The Tigers first three touchdowns (John Smith-Howell, Roshad John, Jesus Rivera) were on passes by quarterback Anthony Mejia.

STB quarterback Domenic Cuevas had just one touchdown pass (Walter Morales) and it opened the scoring in the second half.

The Bernardians did most of their damage on the ground.  They had great success running misdirection plays.  QB Domenic Cuevas would start one way, or a back would start one way, but the actual ball carrier would be going the opposite way (usually left).  There was good blocking, but it was the scheme of offense that put the STB backs into good spaces frequently.

More good blocking for Walter Morales (three touchdowns)

“They did their homework on us for sure,” explained the PJ coach.  “We were conscious of (Walter) Morales on the buck sweep play that he has been so dominating running all year. That made their traps and counters hard to defend.  We were inexperienced along the defensive line.  You have to be fundamentally sound or those counters will hurt you.”

So both teams had weapons and they weren’t shy about using them.

I thought that Pope John was done for early in the last quarter when quarterback Anthony Mejia went down (and out of the game) in the first minute and never returned.

Roshad John (5) carries

The Tigers were prepared.  “Anthony was injured in the Eastern Mass finals,” explained Coach Sobolewski.  “It was touch-and-go as to whether he would even play in the Super Bowl.  I tip my cap to him for giving it a go.  We hadn’t used the Wildcat in a game, but we practiced it during the week.  It enabled us to get the ball directly into the hands of our best player (John Smith-Howell).”

That turned out to be a wise decision.

Even though everyone paying attention knew that John Smith-Howell would be taking the direct snap and trying to run to daylight, he did both anyhow.  During the season the speedy sophomore had fifteen touchdowns and gained 1216 yards.  He was fast and elusive and scored twice to keep the pressure on St. Bernard’s.

Brian Baez (65) holds off a defender

JSH’s first touchdown out of the Wildcat cut the Tiger’s deficit to, 32-28, with six minutes left.  But St. Bernard’s put long runs together and moved ahead by ten (38-28) with 5:23 remaining.

Credit Pope John.  Back they came with John Smith-Howell’s 2nd touchdown (2-yard run) of the last quarter and now it was, 38-35, with 2:23 to go for the title.

“Now it came down to should we kick it away,” recalled Coach Sobolewski.  “I thought that no matter what we do we’re having a tough time stopping them.  Let’s try an onsides kick.  If we don’t get it, we still have three timeouts. When the kick didn’t work we needed a big stop in the biggest moment of the game.  We just didn’t get it done.”

Domenic Cuevas (6) tries to avoid Marcus Parrara (55)

Bernardians quarterback Domenic Cuevas headed right and handed to Walter Morales going left.  Thirty-five yards later STB had a 46-35 lead with 1:57 remaining.

St. Bernard’s was able to put an end to the scoring see-saw with some solid defense including a sack by Ben Shaw and the win was secured.

Coach Sobolewski: “We didn’t want to lose but the experience should make us a better program.  We can no longer be happy just to get here.  We return 28 of 32 kids.”

Coach Sobolewski also talked about scheduling: “We currently have three open weeks next season and we need to get some really good schools on our non-league schedule.  We need to stop worrying about being undefeated and get more battle tested.  St. Bernard’s played tougher schools such as Fitchburg and Nipmuc and that probably gave them an advantage against us.”

John Smith-Howell tries to turn the corner

Coach Sobolewski credited the blocking of Brian Baez, Stephen Gaskill, Jose Davila, and Ajan Nelson as keys to the team’s long gains.

“After the game I thanked our seniors for putting Pope John back on the map,” said Coach Sobolewski.  “We restarted football last year and they were part of the foundation.”

The Super Bowl is not only a great experience for teams and their fans but also for those of us who cover these events.

Special thanks to Coach Paul Sobolewski for contacting me today to give me his take on the game.  I had another commitment right after the late-ending game and couldn’t interview anyone.

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Pope John QB Anthony Mejia down with a 4th quarter injury

Ball on the ground

Domenic Cuevas (6) chased by Ajan Nelson (51)

Domenic Valera (4) into a huge opening

Erik Flores (24) tries an onsides kick

John Smith-Howell (1) looks inside for tacklers

Malachi Reeves (63) drills quarterback Domenic Cuevas (6) as he passes

Matthew Smith (51) signals a St. Bernard’s touchdown as Ajan Nelson (51) pursues

Max Bigelow makes a leaping catch

Good blocking by St Bernard’s

QB Domenic Cuevas looks for a block from Micah Stinson (52) on Greg Smith (4)

Tyler Thibodeau (12) about to make a fumble recovery

Tyler Thibodeau (12) corners John Smith-Howell

Walter Morales (3) closed out Pope John with this 35-yard TD late in the final quarter

Sam Poindexter (19) about to meet running back Max Bigelow

Television interference






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