By Jim Stout
Its record to date has been compelling: five-straight wins to open the season, an upset victory over Lynn English and a last-second win over Winthrop.
For the Beverly High boys basketball team, there's nothing more that could have been accomplished to this point.
Yet there's so much more to do.
"I think it's still too early," Beverly coach Scott Lewis told the Boston Globe. "I mean this (early streak) is huge. We had a tough schedule to start, and I said originally if we go 2-2 after the first four games, then we'll be happy, but you know now we're getting a little greedy.''
And who can blame them.
Beverly has had to look up to Northeastern Conference kingpin Salem for the last three seasons. The teams don't meet for the first time until Jan. 26 but Beverly is starting to believe that anything is possible this winter.
Lewis, however, is doing his best to temper the otherwise exciting situation.
"We're a good team, but we haven't won anything yet,'' he said. "Salem's won (the conference title) three or four years in a row; we haven't done anything yet. We're not in their class yet. We haven't proven anything."
Beverly improved to 5-0 just before the New Year's holiday with a 71-52 win over Hamilton-Wenham Regional. In that game, the Panthers were led by the trio of sophomore guard Nate Knudson (15 points), senior guard Furcy Ferreras (12 points) and senior guard Seth Stantial (eight points). Stephen Hawkins also added eight in that game.
For the season, 6-3 junior forward Matt Tobin is leading Beverly in scoring (14.0 points per game, 50 percent shooting from the field), and is pulling down a team-leading 9.2 rebounds per outing. Ferreras is averaging 11.6 points and 7.2 assists while Stantial (11.2 ppg) is a top perimeter defender.
Stantial knows something about scoring as well. His older brother, Dave, was an offensive standout in the Little East Conference several seasons ago at Keene State. Seth Stantial's nine 3-pointers lead the team.
"We've got a lot of dynamic players," said Ferreras. "We're versatile in every position as well as we're deep in every position. Everyone just does what they do, and it's just crazy that it works out that way."
Grafton Proving to Be For Real
If people in central Mass weren't taking Grafton seriously before, they are now.
Powered by the game-high 22 points of Alex Petit and the 20 from Ryan Stock, the Indians won their sixth straight last Friday night, defeating Dual Valley Conference power Nipmuc, 63-51.
Grafton improved to 6-0, the best start in the John Patraitis era.
"Our team has worked hard for (the 6-0 record)," Grafton coach Patraitis told the Worcester Telegram.
"I don't know if I'm surprised. I'm happy for the guys. All of them are on the same page. They've got good team chemistry. The kids worked hard in the off-season. They were very dedicated lifting in the off-season. They were very dedicated to improving their game. So far, it's paid off."
"With the bunch of seniors we had, we knew we'd start off good," said Stock, a 6-2 senior guard.
"It's good to see. Right now, though, we're just 6-0. I'm not sure how much longer that's going to take. There's still a long way to go."
Mark Bradshaw scored all 11 of his points in the first half for Grafton.
"I thought we did a pretty good job attacking their pressure," Patraitis said. "When we broke it, we took it to the basket. We picked up our defense a little bit and tightened up the rebounding (in second half). So far, I'm happy with the balance we have."
Archbishop Williams Wins Thriller
Junior Ricky Titus hit a 3-pointer as time ran out to give 10th-ranked Archbishop Williams (4-0) a 65-64 win over Rhode Island's Bishop Hendricken (6-1) in the Catholic Division final of the BABC Classic at Chelsea.
Titus had a team-high 22 points and point guard Lambros Papalambrose contributed 10 points and eight assists. James Marcellus, despite being in foul trouble in the second half, added 11 points and pulled in 10 rebounds.
Hendricken guard Billy Baron had been foul while attempting a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left, then proceeded to hit all three free throws, giving his team a 64-62 advantage.
That, however, only left the door open for Titus' heroics.
"This was wild," Archbishop Williams coach Geb Phelan told the Boston Globe. "That was a great exchange between two tough teams. They came at us hard in the second half after we held them to only 17 points in the first half."
Lowell Recaptures Holiday Tournament Title
With junior co-captains Matt Welch (24 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) and Fernando Perez (21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) leading the way, Lowell routed West Roxbury, 81-57, at Billerica High to win the 30th Annual Greater Lowell Holiday Basketball Tournament.
The championship was Lowell's first since 2003 and its 11th overall in this tournament. Lowell's Scott Boyle won his second championship as a coach after winning it three times as a Red Raider player in the 1980s.
"It's OUR tournament," Boyle told the Lowell Sun. "I always thought of it that way when I played. I think these guys are starting to think that way, too."
Welch, a 6-6 junior forward, averaged 25 points as Lowell (5-2) won its three games by 14, 17 and 24 points; he was named the tournament's MVP.
"We knew we didn't want to lose this game again," said Welch, whose team was defeated by Pelham in last year's final. "We came out playing hard and realized if we kept pushing and pushing, that it would be ours."
In one of the tournament consolation games, Billerica (1-6) rallied from a seven-point deficit with six minutes to play and hit 10 consecutive free throws over the final two minutes to nail down its first victory of the season, 69-65, over Dracut.
Senior forward John Shea put Billerica up to stay, sinking two free throws with left to snap a 59-59 tie. Shea was 6-for-6 from the line in the final two minutes and finished with 13 points.
Billerica sophomore center Lewis Hangyal scored all of his team-high 14 points in the first half, which ended with the Indians leading 35-28. Senior guard John Palumbo finished with 12 points and junior forward Kyle Higgins scored 11 points.
Senior forward Tim Bent's 18 points led Dracut (0-5). Junior guard Jimmy Tully had 13 points and senior guard Andy Graham added 10.
Newton North Streak Comes to a Halt
Newton North had its 36-game winning streak snapped last week, falling to No. 4 Madison Park, 69-62, in the BABC/Stop & Shop Holiday Classic in Chelsea.
"I would've rather it (this win) been last year in the south sectional," said Madison Park coach Dennis Wilson, whose Cardinals (5-0) lost to Newton North (3-1) in the 2006 Division 1 South final.
"But any time [a win] comes against a great program, we'll take it. They're still playing like champions as everyone saw."
Madison Park led by 26-24 at the half before the No. 16 Tigers opened the third quarter with a 5-0 run.
After Wilson called a timeout, the Cardinals went on a 16-2 spurt - capped by Raheem Singleton's fastbreak layup after a steal - to take a 42-31 lead.
Malik Smith had 20 points and 10 rebounds to spark Madison Park while Peterson Bernard, playing with an injured wrist, scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half.
Singleton (22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) had a scare in the second half when he jammed his right knee diving for a loose ball, but he sat out just nine seconds.
"He's a warrior," Wilson told the Boston Globe. "He's the heart and soul of this team. He's my best defensive player, leader, scorer and decision-maker. You'd have to shoot him with a tranquilizer gun to get him out of there."
Brandon Stephens had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead Newton North, which had won 55 of its previous 56 games.
Hampshire Regional Continues to Roll
Hampshire Regional, down by 12 points early in the second half, remained undefeated as it rallied to edge host Northampton, 67-64, in the championship game of the Hampton Holiday Basketball Tournament.
Kyle Bean had 24 points and tournament MVP Joe Grimes added 17 for the Red Raiders (4-0). Jason Scafidi and Will Workman had 16 apiece for Northampton.
"We have a senior group, a veteran group," Hampshire coach Claude Salomao told the Springfield Republican.
"I thought my guys settled down and did what they had to do. We didn't change a lot, we just improved our intensity."
Northampton played well in the opening half in building a 34-24 lead.
"We handled their pressure (in the first half), we were patient, we got to open spaces," Northampton coach Rey Harp said. "We sort of got on a roll, we were hitting our free throws."
Ambitious Scheduling by Nauset
Though Nauset Regional High is located on the rural reaches of outer Cape Cod, the Warriors aren't afraid to mix things up with big-time city teams from the Boston area.
A year ago, Nauset invited Charlestown to visit its rustic North Eastham home, and suffered an 82-40 loss. Last Saturday, the Warriors played host to Lynn English in a pre-New Year's game, one that was captured by Lynn, 66-42. Nauset managed to stay competitive after a slow start despite losing forward Connor Seymour to an early ankle injury.
''They (Lynn) were very quick, very athletic and very deep,'' said Nauset coach Keith Arnold, whose team dropped to 1-4.
Elsewhere, Westfield High improved to 3-1 with a 41-36 road win in Pittsfield against Taconic.
"Any time you win up in the Berkshires, it's good," Westfield coach Bill Daley told the Springfield Republican. "We played pretty good defense and gutted it out."
Leading the Westfield defensive effort was Alex Frazier. The junior forward marked Trevell Spratling, Taconic's leading scorer, and held him without a point. Frazier also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Kevin Gabryel of Westfield led all scorers with 15 points. Mark Simonelli paced Taconic (3-2) with 10 points.
Dennis-Yarmouth, meanwhile, remained undefeated by sweeping a home-and-home series against King Philip.
Jim Stout is the MaxPreps.com master photographer for the Massachusetts/Rhode Island area and a Northeast region columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org