Tonight I saw both Class M semi-final games at Southern New Hampshire University. It was a packed house for both games, and the gym was as loud as it gets. It was an unbelievable atmosphere for both games. #2 seed Berlin beats #14 White Mountains 49-23 in the first semi-final. #1 seeded Conant topples Mascoma Valley 60-57 in the second. This post has my take on both games.
Berlin 49 White Mountains 23
Having seen both of these teams play already, I expected this to be a much closer basketball game. White Mountains beat #3 seed Winnisquam and #6 seed Somersworth both on the road in order to get to SNHU. I saw the Somersworth game and I was impressed with their "Big 3" of senior guard Evan Haskins, junior center Damon Ness and junior forward Dan Johnson.
In the Somersworth game, Haskins, Ness and Johnson combined for about 50 points. Last night vs. Berlin they scored a combined 18.
White Mountains scored just 5 points in the first quarter, 6 in the second, 6 in the third and 6 in the fourth. Well, at least they were consistent. It was a combination of Berlin playing some superb defense and poor execution by the Spartans of White Mountains Regional.
"Last year we just tried to outscore everyone" commented Berlin star sophomore forward Curtis Arsenault. "But this year we have really focused on defense."
This was a close game in the first quarter, with Berlin leading by a diminutive score of 6-5 after one frame. Both teams had some big time early game jitters. They play was not very smooth and people were missing shots they normally would make. You can't underistimate how different it is playing in a college gym in front of a packed crowd with all of them screaming their heads off. It's a whole different ballgame.
It was close in the first quarter. But in the second quarter Berlin made a run and then from there it wasn't a game. The Mountaineers went on a 10-0 run to begin the second frame. Halfway through the period White Mountains only had 5 points on the board and the route was on.
There has been a lot of hype this season, and especially going into this game, around Arsenault. He lived up to the hype last evening. He's 6'1" but plays much bigger than that due to his strength and toughness. He's a very good scorer and rebounder and is currently the #10 ranked sophomore in NH. Arsenault scored Berlin's first 8 points, 10 of their first 12. He scored a game-high 18 points to go with 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
Junior guard Jeremy Michalik (who has a great first name by the way) hit 3 three's in a 2 minute stretch in the third quarter, and finished with 15 points for Berlin.
Berlin is a well coached, disciplined team that really gets after it on defense. They don't have a lot of shooters, and they don't have a lot of size. But they have 7tough kids who play hard, and they play smart. They are mostly sophomores and juniors too. I went on record earlier in the season by saying they would be the Class M favorites next year. They're not thinking about next year right now though. They're thinking about Conant.
As for White Mountains, they were the #14 seed in the tournament. They weren't even supposed to make it this far. They beat two good teams on the road in Winnisquam and Somersworth, so they have plenty to be proud of.
Conant 60 Mascoma Valley 57
After the first game was a dud I was really hoping this one would be better. But Conant is legit, and I haven't even heard of most of these Mascoma kids, so I thought Conant would win by about 15-20.
I didn't know what to expect from Mascoma. They have a decent team though. Conner Torrey is a player. Mascoma has some other decent players, but Torrey was very consistent and played well all game. Even though they played Conant relatively close the whole way (Conant's largest lead was 12) this game was never really in doubt. Conant was in control from beginning to end. But it was the play of Torrey that kept the Royals in the game. He finished with a game-high 20 points to go with 11 rebounds.
Mascoma really shot themselves in the foot though with turnovers and poor free throw shooting. Most of the game the Conant lead was around 8 or 9 points. But The Royals would have been right there with them the whole way if they could have taken care of the basketball better and made more of their foul shots. And like someone has already commented, they took an ill-advised timeout when they were on a 7-0 run.
They do have some athletic kids and solid team speed. You have to give them credit, because even against a team that was clearly better than them they kept battling bac and never gave up.
People will probably look at that final score and think this was a thriller that went down to the wire. That is not the case. Conant was in control the whole way. They got a pair of and-one plays from Sean Martin and Ezra Hodgson which were daggers. They gave the Orioles a 55-46 lead with 2:14 left. At that point the game was over. Mascoma made it closer at the end because they made some shots and Conant missed some free throws, but all of that happened after the game had been decided.
Senior guard Sean Martin showed why he is the reigning Class M Player of the Year. The kid can really play. The only other time I saw him before last night was when Conant scrimmaged Milford before the season. To be honest, I wasn't overly impressed. But last night I was. He scored a game-high 20 points, despite being in foul trouble all game. He made some great plays down the stretch, handling the ball, getting to the rim and knocking down foul shots.
The other member of the Oriole 1-2 punch, senior 6'2" forward Jimmy Peard also had a big game. He had 17 points and 9 boards. Martin got most of his points in spurts, whereas "Peard with the Beard" was effective all game. Scoring, rebounding and busting his butt on both ends of the floor.
It's not all about Martin and Peard though for Conant. They truly are a TEAM. Hodgson didn't do much in the first half, but he scored 10 in the second. In fact, the third quarter began with a Hodgson on a personal 6-0 run. Also playing well for Conant were Kemph Kim, Kyle Patten, Dan Sirois and Andrew Donahue.
Another factor in this game was an injury to a key player for Mascoma. Ryan Doody, a 6'5" forward got injured during the game's opening minutes. Peard drove to the bucket hard, and Doody stepped in on defense. He got hit hard and didn't return to the ballgame until early in the fourth quarter.
Conant is legit though. They could play with anyone in New Hampshire, in any division. Berlin will really have their hands full on Wednesday night in the title game.