Friday, January 30, 2015

Merrimack Escapes Defeat on the Road

By: Ross Laorenza
It was a tale of two halves Friday night for the Merrimack Tomahawks. A first half that saw them trailing by 6 at the break, and a second half the saw them storm back and overtake Salem heading into the fourth quarter. When the final buzzer sounded Merrimack was victorious 54-47.

“Any time you go on the road and can beat a Salem at Salem,” said coach Goodridge, “it’s a tough place to play. And we’ll take this win and move on to tomorrow.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thomas to Play College Ball at St. Lawrence

Bishop Brady senior Sarah Thomas is a hard working, blue collar player. She's not a flashy player, she just quietly goes out there, gets the job done and has developed into one of the best all-around players in New Hampshire. Thomas is an all-state selection and has led the Giants to a pair of Final Four appearances. Thomas will continue playing basketball in college, recently committing to St. Lawrence University in New York.

"When I first began the college search, I didn't know what I wanted to study and I wasn't too keen on how big/small of a school I wanted" said Thomas, a 5-foot-7 combo-guard. "The only driving factor I had to go by was basketball. So the search began very broad. St. Mike's, USM, Wheaton, Endicott, Babson, Colby, Bates, Bowdoin, and of course SLU had all approached me. I exchanged a number of emails and phone calls, went on tons of campus tours and met with numerous coaches. Some schools I was even able to play with the girls or watch a practice. Every school I visited had lots too offer. I had a really difficult time narrowing down the search. In the end, however, I chose the school that had the all around best fit for me. St. Lawrence, with basketball set aside, had all the qualities I was looking for in a school: a beautiful campus, upbeat campus life, engaged students, a great academic reputation, and diverse course selections. Basketball was the icing on the cake. I enjoyed the players I met. The coaching staff was very friendly and easy to communicate with. Head Coach Dan Roiger was very honest in his conversations with me. He and Coach Devon Shea are very likable and seem engaged in the players lives. They want to win. They want to be a Sweet 16 national team. In his 5 years as coach SLU has gone 57-15 in the Liberty League. They are the only team to make the play-offs each season. They have 2 league titles and 1 championship which gets you into the Nationals. I feel SLU gives me a good chance to get to the Nationals each year. This separates them from some of the other schools I visited."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Milford Tops Wounded Clippers to Remain Undefeated

It's not always going to be pretty, but when you're undefeated you need to be able to win all types of games. That is the case for the Milford High girls basketball team. Milford is now 8-0 (11-0 counting holiday tournament wins), as they beat a wounded Portsmouth team 40-26 on Friday night. In a big D-II tilt between Final Four contenders Milford limited Portsmouth's best player Libby Underwood to just 2 points in the 1st half. Underwood left the game injured with 10 seconds left in the 2nd quarter, tried to give it a go in the 3rd but left the game 20 seconds in and did not return. The Clippers second best player Heather Durand left the game late in the 4th quarter with an injury, and starting forward Lily Hardy left the game injured late in the 3rd quarter and did not return.

"Libby sprained her ankle the other day in practice" said Portsmouth head coach Dan Parr. "She had it taped up and still sprained it twice in the same game tonight which is concerning. She's walking on it now though. Hardy injured her shoulder and went to the hospital. Durand face-planted. We learned what we need to fix, the question is if we'll have enough players to do it."

Strong Start Leads to Epping Victory

By: Ross Laorenza
It was 14-2 before everyone had a chance to sit down inside the gym at Epping High School, as the Blue Devils delivered a victory over a 7-1 Moultonborough team. Junior Captain, Dylan Derosier (#4) played exceptionally well before exiting early in the 4th, fouling out. Along with starters Thomas Bullock (#10), Jackson Rivers (#20), Brett Couture (#22), and Colby Wilson (#24) the Blue Devils used their size and transition passing attack on route to a 61-52 victory.

Of Derosier, Coach Sean Young said, “With the skills he brings to the table, it’s why as a junior right now he’s a captain of my basketball team. He exemplifies basketball.”

The 14-2 run that opened the game for the Devils was orchestrated by great defense and excellent passing. When one player grabbed a rebound they looked up court to find a streaking teammate. Jackson Rivers had 6 points in the opening sequence. Brett Couture had 4 points, including a great play when he poked the ball away from freshman Reese Swedberg (#12), to take the ball to the hoop.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Defending Champs MV Squeak Past Rivals Pembroke in a Nail-Biter

Merrimack Valley High won their first girls basketball title in school history last March. But this season they lost their second game of the season, a 40-33 defeat to rival school Pembroke Academy. On Wednesday night in Penacook was the rematch. Pembroke knew coming in that beating the defending champs a second time would be much more difficult. That's because MV played that first game back in December without star forward Mayson Kimball, the best player in D-II. Kimball missed the first meeting with a hip flexor injury, but she returned to the lineup over the holidays.

Kimball made an immediate impact, with a combination of step-back 3's and strong finishes inside through contact. The 5-foot-11 junior used a crossover dribble to create space for a 3-point attempt in the 2nd quarter. The shot sailed high up in the air, was nothing but net and gave MV a commanding 19-9 lead. Kimball dropped 22 points in the 1st half and also pulled down 11 rebounds on the game.

This & That...

Here's a few things I've been jotting down in my notebook this past week...

First off, 2 more local girls basketball players from the Class of 2015. 5-foot-7 combo-guard Sarah Thomas from undefeated Bishop Brady has committed to St. Lawrence University (according to her father) and Thomas' former Bishop Brady teammate and current Kimball Union Academy senior Taylor Ong has verballed to Skidmore College. We'll have detailed stories on both coming soon.

Secondly, some news that could shake up the hierarchy in D-I boys basketball. We're told that Trevon Maughn and Wade Gop could be returning to the Manchester Memorial lineup next week. Both started for the Crusaders' Final Four team last season, but neither has played a game so far this season due to off-court reasons. Memorial is 3-3 thus far. Their next game is next Monday at home vs. Nashua North.

Just throwing this out there - does it send the wrong message for schools to hang banners for teams who finish as league runners-up? I say only hang championship banners, and your teams won't settle for 2nd place.

Additionally, I wonder how high school coaches would feel if one of their players got hurt during AAU tryouts which took place during the season? AAU is starting up earlier and earlier, with tournaments beginning very soon following the conclusion of the high school season. AAU teams prefer to have rosters set up by then, and many of them hold tryouts during the high school season.

Lastly, there's some big games this Friday night. Headlining the schedule is Manchester Central at Spaulding in D-I boys hoops. Central is 5-0 (8-0 including holiday tourney wins) and owns a state-best 33 game winning streak, which will be on the line vs. Spaulding which is 6-0 (9-0 including holiday tourney). We saw last Friday night when they blew out previously unbeaten Pinkerton that Central is just too good in an up-tempo game - you can't try to run with them. If Spaulding is able to control the tempo and slow Central down they have a chance.

Another potential Final Four preview match up on Friday night is Milford at Portsmouth in D-II girls. Milford has made back-to-back Final Four appearances and is undefeated so far. Portsmouth was the D-II runner-up in 2013 and has just 1 loss. That loss was to Oyster River, but the Clippers avenged that loss by beating the Bobcats in the title game of the Bobcats Holiday Invitational. This game is a tossup. Portsmouth is at home but Milford has more experience. None of the kids on Portsmouth's team now were getting minutes in the finals vs. Lebanon in 2013. Milford has a few kids who have played in 2 Final Fours now. The Spartans 2 best players are seniors (Adelle Pitsas and Rebecca Cleary) whereas Portsmouth's 2 best players are only sophomores (Libby Underwood and Heather Durand).

Oh yeah, and how about Division IV girls? We have Sunapee and Groveton at 9-0 and Littleton is 8-0. Groveton and Littleton both only beat Woodsville by single digits, but Sunapee has won every game by 33 points or more. The Lakers have to be considered the favorite.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Springfield Leads Unbeaten Conant Past Pelham

It's no secret that Conant High's 5-foot-11 junior guard Madison Springfield is NHIAA's best girls basketball player. On Tuesday night she showed why, dropping a game-high 38 points to go with 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks to lead the Orioles past a scrappy Pelham team 77-58. Conant is now 10-0 on the season (13-0 counting holiday tournament wins).

Springfield hopes to make a college decision in the next couple of months. She has narrowed her choices down to Marist, Dartmouth, Holy Cross and Rhode Island (each have offered her scholarships). A Marist coach was at the game tonight vs. Pelham.

Just 3 minutes into the game Pelham had already turned the ball over 5 times and Conant jumped out to an 11-2 lead. The Orioles led 16-6 late in the 1st quarter, with 9 of those points coming from the foul line (they shot 9/10 from the charity stripe in the 1st quarter alone).

Alvirne Comes Back to Beat Dover

By: Ross Laorenza
For three and a half quarters it seemed Dover had a firm grip on tonight’s game. They led 30-21 with 4:00 minutes to play before Alvirne mounted an impressive comeback, outscoring Dover 15-1 down the stretch. The Broncos took their first lead of the game with just over a minute to play when Kaycee Carbone (#3) found herself open for a three pointer, off an inbounds play. They would add 4 more points, including an amazing full court football pass to Amanda Wetmore (#15) to seal the game with 8 seconds remaining.

“They have a lot of heart,” said head coach Steve Tracy, “It was a gutsy win by a bunch of young kids.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Trinity Outlasts Salem in OT

In a hard fought, back and forth battle between 2 evenly matched teams, Trinity outlasted Salem in overtime 54-52. There was more controversial calls than any game I've seen in awhile, including a back court call on Trinity, a timeout call for Salem which looked like a jump ball, a tough travel call on Salem big man Matt Vartanian, a touch foul on Salem 80 feet from the basket, a carry on Trinity which wasn't called and a pair of very generous continuation calls (one for each team).

"You just have to stay the course and keep playing" said Trinity first-year head coach Matt Lemieux. "Luckily we did that."

Stay the course and keep on playing is exactly what Trinity junior Connor Walsh did. Walsh is one of the team's leading scorers, but through 4 quarters he had just 8 points on 2/10 shooting. Walsh kept his head up though, showed perseverance and hit the 2 biggest shots of the game in OT. First he drove on the left side and banked in a runner to put the Pioneers on top and then on the next trip down buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 53-48.

Daniell Commits to Amherst

Eight days ago the New York Times ran a story on Amherst College women's basketball, touting it as a Division III program with Division I ambition (article can be found here: Around that same time, JJ Daniell (Hanover, NH) gave her verbal commitment to Coach Gromacki. Daniell will attend and play basketball at Amherst.

"From sophomore summer on, I knew that I wanted a high academic school in the northeast, so that really narrowed my focus" Daniell told the NH Notebook. "Most of my contact in junior year was with NESCAC, Ivy League, and Patriot League coaches. I kept in touch with these coaches through the year and AAU season with the Rivals, and did a lot of visits to help make my choice. After AAU I had several offers, and although the schools, programs, and coaches for each of these were amazing, I knew Amherst was the place for me after I did an overnight there in early September. I had already met the coaching staff a couple of times by then, but meeting the team really helped make the decision for me."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Henrich Leads Exeter to Win, Scores 1,000th Point, Commits to Wesleyan

It's good to be Courtney Henrich right now. Henrich recently committed to attend and play ball at Wesleyan University and then on Saturday afternoon she scored her 1,000th point while leading her Phillips Exeter Academy team to a 67-48 win over Deerfield Academy. Henrich (Candia, NH) hit seven 3-pointers en route to a game-high 28 points in the win. This is a tremendous accomplishment for Henrich, a 4-year starter at Exeter.

"I'm really appreciative of my teammates" Henrich told the NH Notebook. "Especially Casey Osborne, we've been on the team together all four years. Thanks to my mom, my brother, my AAU coach Scott Hazelton and my Rivals teammates. It's been a long road. I remember when I was a freshman I couldn't even dribble, but it's been a lot of hard work and long hours in the gym."

MacDonald Hits 10 3's as Central's Wins 33rd Straight Game

Evan MacDonald drained not 1 but 10 3-pointers on Friday night - through the first 3 quarters of the game. I've never seen a kid do that in my 8 years covering high school basketball. Central ran previously unbeaten Pinkerton out of the gym, as they led 67-40 after 3 quarters. The Little Green made a statement that they are the team to beat in Division I boys basketball, extending their state-best winning streak to 33 games with a 77-64 win over Pinkerton at Simon Gymnasium. Joey Martin has started in all 33 of those games. He has not lost a game since moving to NH from Florida.

"After the first one I felt pretty good" said MacDonald, a 6-foot-2 junior wing. "I struggled shooting against Memorial. But good shooters keep shooting. If you miss 39 in a row you need to have the confidence to still take the 40th one. My teammates are unselfish and kept finding me."

It was close at halftime, with Pinkerton only trailing 36-30. But Central opened up the flood gates in the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Astros 31-10. The Little Green connected on a total of 15 3-pointers on the evening. MacDonald, Martin, Jonathin Makori and Jaylen Leeroy all hit shots from downtown, while senior point guard Oumaru Kante (13 points) distributed the basketball and scored on drives to the rim. This Central team is fun to watch. They play a fast, up-tempo game. They share the basketball very well. They're all fast and they move the ball fast, so there's always someone open. They find the open man and they can all shoot it. If they keep playing like this they could be on their way to a second consecutive undefeated season.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dover Avenges Early Season Loss to North

In a match up of teams who will be battling for a home playoff game and possibly a Final Four spot, the Dover High girls basketball team avenged an early season loss, defeating Nashua North 52-45 on Thursday night in Dover.

Dover jumped out to a 15-3 lead early and that turned out to be the difference. North battled hard to try and make a comeback, but the hole they dug was to deep to climb out of. Abby Tilton led Dover with 15 points, while Taylor Choate dropped a game-high 17 points in defeat for the Titans. North has now dropped four games in a row.

"We need to come out strong everyday like we did today" said Tilton, a 5'7" senior guard.

Dover packed into a zone defense to try and deny North's dribble penetration and force them to shoot the basketball from the outside. The Titans were getting good looks but weren't hitting them. North had just 14 points in the 1st half and only 5 in the 1st quarter

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Litts Leads Wilton Past Stauffeneker's Vikings

Wednesday night in Wilton it was a classic small school showdown. You had one of the better teams in Division III in Mascenic vs. one of the better teams in D-IV in Wilton-Lyndeborough. The schools are rivals, only being 30 minutes apart and even though they're in different divisions they play each other twice each season.

"We knew it was going to be a close game, it always is with them" said Wilton-Lyndeborough head coach Ken Garnham. "Last year at their place it was a 1 point game."

It was also a match up of senior point guards Jordan Litts from Wilton and Mascenic's Jared Stauffeneker. Litts and Stauffeneker have flown under the radar playing in D-III / D-IV and in obscure towns, but there's no question they're 2 of the top players in the state.

Litts scored a team-high 22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks to lead the Warriors to a 66-61 win. Stauffeneker dropped a game-high 30 points, including six 3-pointers in defeat.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pinkerton Makes Free Throws, Beats a Tough Alvirne Team

By: Jeremy Leveille
In a hard fought game that never really got into too much of a flow or rhythm due to a ton of fouls being called, free throws turned out to be the difference. Pinkerton shot 16/20 (80%) from the charity stripe, compared to 10/25 (40%) for the visiting Alvirne Broncos. So one team missed 15 FTs and the other team only missed 4. That's a difference of 11 in a game decided by 9 points. Yes, free throws were a huge factor in the outcome of this one.

"We usually shoot 70% on free throws" lamented Alvirne head coach Steve Tracy, whose team has just 2 seniors and 7 sophomores.

Senior wing Val Martin scored 18 of her game-high 23 points in the 2nd half to go with 9 rebounds and was a perfect 7/7 from the free throw line, leading the Astros to a 57-48 win.

Spaulding Downs Pembroke

By: Ross Laorenza
The Spaulding Red Raiders are now 5-0 after an impressive 59-54 win, on the road against Pembroke Academy. Led by seniors Darian Berry (#5), Brock Paquette (#23), Anthony Ciccotelli (#33) and Christopher States (#3) Spaulding was able to slow down the Pembroke offense and limit their second chance opportunities with excellent rebounding. Berry had a hot hand in the second half knocking down three three-pointers that helped the Red Raiders hold onto the lead. Here’s how it all played out.

Max Curran (#1) opened the scoring with a drive to the rim drawing contact. At 6’8’’ his length would be a challenge for the Spaulding defense. Brock Paquette drew the tough task of guarding Curran for a majority of the game. Berry tied the game at 2 on a fast break opportunity with a great finish at the basket. Early on Pembroke seemed to have control of the tempo. Dominic Timbas (#21) scored next to give the Spartans a lead and Max Curran added to it as he rose over everyone for a jumper.

Cream Rising to the Top

It's still early, but it looks like there's 7 teams who have separated themselves as the top teams in NHIAA boys basketball, regardless of division. Central, Pelham, Pinkerton, Portsmouth, Bishop Brady and Spaulding can all make a case for being the #1 ranked team in the state right now. None of those 6 teams have lost yet to a team from NH (including holiday tournament action). Londonderry's only loss to a NH team came in double-OT to Pelham.

Here's a look at each of them, listed alphabetically (because it's too much of a crapshoot to rank them at this point).