Some bleary eyed memories from covering 18 games in 20 days
Monday, March, 17
By Hector Longo
The wildness began innocently enough with a Central Catholic boys blowout of Acton-Boxboro on Feb. 25 and ended Saturday night with a pair of Division 1 state finals.
For the record, this corner actually witnessed 18 full games live in those 20 days. From Durham, N.H., to Worcester, Mass., to a slew of points in between.
Here are some final thoughts as we close out a history-making postseason.
First on the list is the frank professionalism of veteran Andover coach Jim Tildsley after his Golden Warriors were turned away by a high-powered Northampton squad in the state finals.
Tildsley, who is now 1-3 in state title games, was asked by a reporter which of his girls, all emotional on such a tough day, would be OK to talk to.
"Any of them, it's part of the job," said Tildsley. "We knew they were good, but we told the girls they really didn't play as hard as they could, beating Westborough by 34 points (in the Central/West finals)."
That's a coach who handles the day like he and his team belong there. And why shouldn't Tildsley?
Since taking over the Andover girls program in 1995-96, the Warriors have been the measuring stick of hoop programs in the region.
Look at the numbers. In an era where both Central Catholic and Lowell have risen to the top of the heap, Tildsley's clubs have now gone an amazing 263-43 overall and 34-12 in the state tourney.
"This is our fourth team that got there, unfortunately now we're 1-3," said Tildsley. "We've had a great run for 13 years, coming here four times in 13 years," Tildsley said. "I'm a little selfish. I really want to win this game because I don't know if I'll ever get back here again. It would have been nice to win, but it's so difficult to get here as you know. You need luck. People don't understand how hard it is to get here."
Andover shows no signs of slowing down. Graduation will hurt but the system is so well-entrenched, and the Warriors have the cornerstone in standout freshman guard Natalie Gomez-Martinez.
"We have a good feeder program," said Tildsley. "Next year will be interesting, because we lose a lot to graduation. Natalie is going to be a special player, and we have an eighth-grader who should be special. That's two special guards, so I don't have to worry about guards for the next four years. I just have to get the pieces to fill in."
Central pressure would be too much for Salem
So what happens now?
As one blog responder of mine, Rick Robichaud, noted, "It's too bad the state champs from Massachusetts (Central Catholic) couldn't play the state champs from New Hampshire (Salem) with all the proceeds from the game going to the Ryan Bourque Scholarship Fund."
It can't happen now, but what if?
Could the Blue Devils hang with the Raiders?
Let's just say Salem, whose only loss of the year came to 11-12 Andover in the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tourney, would be up against it. The Devils would be undersized all over the floor and might have a tough time matching the Raiders' athleticism.
Although, there has to be something in the Southern N.H. water that nurtures the athletes' propensity for big shots. Sure, Central has Billy Marsden (Pelham), but Mike Kimball, Josh Jones and even super sixth man Kevin Sledge have made gigantic shots in key times so the Blue Devils might stay in the game.
In the end, my guess is that relentless Central pressure, coming in waves, might finally get to Salem in the end, as it did to Lowell, Charlestown, BC High and St. John's of Shrewsbury.
Pagan comes clean
This little note is for the opposing fans out there.
His four years of varsity hoop at Central Catholic now complete, red-headed point guard Wilfredo Pagan could admit there was one nickname from the heckling opposition that actually got to him.
Was it the constant "Delonte" calls, referring to his likeness to former Celtic Delonte West?
How about the more creative "Crimson Chin" chant, a reference to the mythical hero on the cartoon, "Fairly Odd Parents?"
"The one I couldn't stand was from the Lowell kids," admitted Pagan, who got the last laugh by helping carry Central all the way to a state title.
"They called me 'Ginger' and it got to me. Man, I hated that."
Time to tweak
OK, the postseason tournaments, especially in EMass, have been a gigantic hit over the years.
Two wishes, one very simple and one a bit more complex.
First, the easy one.
The time has come to shave back to three divisions in Massachusetts. Four is too many.
Since East Boston and Charlestown were slid up to Division 1, Division 2 has become much too thin.
I'd love to see 2-3-4 split into just 2-3.
North Cambridge Catholic played in Division 4. Come on, that's not right. NCC won its five tourney games by a combined 121 points.
That team could play up and down with Division 3 Bedford, Watertown and Wilmington.
Three divisions are fine for soccer and baseball and softball, why not basketball.
And now the complex. As good as the NHIAA is running championship events around the state, the time may be now to alter the system. I'm for the drastic here.
New Hampshire is a small state. I say, why not have one all-state champion?
There are currently four divisions statewide. Why not crack that into eight leagues or divisions, set up both with geographic and enrollment concerns involved?
Play league schedules, with non-league foes. Play league tournaments, and let the league champs and runners-up move on to a 16-team all-state tournament.
Play that one at UNH. Now, you're talking drama and school pride.
Suddenly, the regular season adds heat.
Let the 10 Seacoast schools simmer by playing each rival twice in the regular season. If you're Salem, wouldn't you like home-and-homes with Timberlane, Pinkerton and Londonderry instead of trips to Concord and Keene and Dover?
Make the league titles worth something. Then, the state tourney would allow for tiny Cinderellas to measure their games with the big boys.
Water under the bridge
I can't help but shake my head that prior to the school year there was a minor movement by some disgruntled parents in Salem, trying to organize against E.J. Perry.
The last time the guy lost a game in the Granite State seems like it came late in the Clinton administration.
But hey, winning's not everything.
Let's see, Perry is a tireless worker, promotes his kids, runs a classy program, never whines publicly and gets his kids into college. Salem's success is no accident.
Take a look at Lowell folks. People went after Scott Boyle and took the football job away from him, allowing him only to coach hoop.
The hoop program rocks on, playing before full houses and winning the MVC Division 1 championship. The community rallies behind Boyle's boys.
Yet the football program, without him, was in shambles last fall.
Perry deserves an awful lot of credit for persevering, yet he just deflects it onto his players. Salem is lucky to have him.
Central passion from here to California
I will never forget the sight of a near full house at the Tsongas Arena for Central-Lowell III. And the athletes delivered. What a night.
If I ever wondered about the passion of the Central Catholic alumni base, it was reinforced by this Raider tourney run.
Take ex-Raider Tom Delaney (Class of 1958) who passionately urged on the Raiders via our Eagle-Tribune live-blogging in the state finals.
At one point, Delaney went after this corner for being a tad slow on the trigger.
"I'm sitting here in Lancaster, Calif., and I'm about as wound up as one can be. Keep the scores coming in a little quicker," wrote Delaney, who counted the championship as a present for the 50th anniversary of his graduation.
A few minutes later when St. John's tightened things up, Delaney again scolded the blog boy: "Be more positive!"
Sorry, Tom. Congrats.
If I had to go with an all-grit team from the tourney action (combining boys and girls), it would have to include: Salem's Dan Kinney and Shawn Stoodley, North Andover's Steve Boudreau, Central's Billy Marsden and Andover's Camille Fantini. …
For my all-personality team on the boys, and I used The Eagle-Tribune video biogs for a high part of the grade, I'd have to go with Central's Rory Blinn, "2-2, that's how we do," and KB "The plug" Oshodi at the forwards, along with a pair of Salem sophs, Alex LaRosa and Kyle Henrick at the guards.
And look out for big "Five … Five" Central's Carson Desrosiers at the center. All those blocks and a quick wit to boot. . . .
Catholic school domination
Finally, let's take a quick look at the boys hoop roundup: Central Catholic wins Division 1 North and BC High takes the South. Division 2 goes to Catholic Memorial. And Division 4 North is dominated by North Cambridge Catholic. Can the anti-private school lobby need any more evidence to rekindle the cries about how the parochial schools have an advantage?