Monday, November 15, 2010

ESC Fall League Recap

Playing in fall leagues is a very good way for high school basketball teams to gear up for the winter season. Although some teams have key players missing due to fall sports or other reasons, for the most part the team that takes the floor in fall league is the team that will take the floor when the regular season kicks off. This is the time when teams start to really gel together, when roles within the team are defined and team chemistry is built.

One of the more entertaining fall basketball leagues took place at the Eastern Sports Center in Plaistow. The league had a girls division and a boys division, with 6 teams in each. It took place on Sunday nights through the fall season.

Over the last 2 weeks the league had its playoffs and Champions were crowned in both divisions. Here's the recap of all the playoff action, and a breakdown of each team heading into the winter season.

Boys Division

Teams included Oyster River, Timberlane, Souhegan, Winnacunnet, Exeter and Central Catholic


Oyster River vs. Exeter
The first quarterfinal game was #3 seed Oyster River vs. #6 seed Exeter. Oyster River was playing without their best player 6'5" Adam Goodwin, who suffered a concussion playing soccer.

Without Goodwin in the lineup the Bobcats relied heavily on seniors 6'0" Chris Walker, 6'4" Alex Hennessy and 6'1" Dylan Kelly. All 3 of these guys have gotten a lot better since last season. Along with Goodwin they will make this team contenders to be a top 3 team in D-II. Also contributing were Anthony Shea, Brady Brickner-Wood and Nick Diveglia.

While Oyster River might have more talent, Exeter ended up winning this game in a very close, hard fought battle 44-43. 6'4" junior forward Chase Poutre really started to come into his own this fall, and he had 14 points in the 2nd half to lead the Blue Hawks to the win. He battled Hennessy in the post all game, and it was a fun match-up to watch. Both players really got after it, going hard on every possession and for every rebound.

The other match-up that was fun to watch was Walker and Matt Barr for Exeter. Barr, who is only a sophomore, is a silky smooth player who has the ability to put the ball on the basket either off the dribble or by shooting it from long range. Walker was mainly just a spot-up shooter last season, has significantly improved his driving ability. Walker and Barr were matched up for most of the game, and neither player held anything back.

Others who played well for Exeter were Tyler Doherty (tough, hard nosed player, best defender on the team), Tyler Russ (athletic and versatile), Jesse Dionne (gritty player) and Eliot Cross (big kid who brings size and strength inside but can also hit shots).

This is an Exeter team that graduated 5 starters. Then Brad Holler transferred to Bishop Guertin, Tim LaRoche tore his ACL and Quentin Bullen transferred to St. John's Prep. This year they'll be young and inexperienced. But they'll still be a solid team.

As for Oyster River, they are a veteran basketball team. Their top players (Goodwin, Walker, Hennessy and Kelly) are all seniors and they were all contributors to last year's team that made it to the Class I semi-finals. Brickner-Wood is also a senior. If the Bobcats can stay healthy they could definitely be a top 5 team in Division II.

Winnacunnet vs. Timberlane
#4 seed Winnacunnet took on #5 seed Timberlane. This was another close, hard fought game all the way. Seeing both of these games in one night was a real treat. For the most part both of these teams were at full strength. Timbelrane had all of their key guys, but Winnacunnet was missing Steve Cronan and Sean Dolan (football).

The Warriors led 32-26 at halftime, but the story of the 1st half was Owls wing (no pun intended) Colin Sloane who poured in a game-high 16 points in the 1st half. The lefty made some very crafty moves on the break and in the lane to create shots for himself and was able to knock them down consistently.

The Warriors will be a young team this year, as 3 freshmen and 2 sophomores have a good chance at cracking the rotation. The freshmen were playing very well in this game. 5'8" Rich Ruffin was hitting threes and doing a nice job of driving and dishing. 6'0" Chris Doyle has a ton of poise and maturity on the court. He's a smart player who can shoot it well. And 5'10" Sam Knollmeyer is a solid all around 2 guard.

This game went down to the wire, with Winnacunnet winning 58-55. The Winnacunnet freshmen played well in the 1st half, but in the 2nd half it was senior Shaun Munson who took over. Munson is only 5'11", but he plays MUCH bigger than that due to his strength and his ability to jump as high as nearly anyone in the state. He attacked the basket with the dribble drive and was a menace on the offensive glass.

Timberlane hung tough though, and they have some solid players who will keep them competitive. In addition to Sloane, the Owls also got strong play from 6'5" senior forward Jake Siemering (underrated player who can score inside and out) and guards Andrew Breen (solid floor general who is really coming into his own) and Bryan Cassidy (emerging as one of the state's top shooters). Timberlane isn't the deepest team out there, but their starting 5 (which also includes 6'4" forward Kevin Perry) can match up with just about any in Division I.

Others who contributed for Winnacunnet were 6'6" junior Christian Oweifie along with sophomore guards Spencer Kennedy and Ryan Gigliotti. They might not make it back to the title game like last year, but you can bet Coach McKenna will have these guys ready to play every night.

Souhegan 66 Exeter 26
Central Catholic 78 Winnacunnet 41

Championship Game

Central Catholic vs. Souhegan
The top 2 seeds both had big wins in the semis to advance to the title game. It was Souhegan vs. Central Catholic (Lawrence, MA). And you have to give the Sabers credit, because although they did end up losing 78-51 to the defending Division I Massachusetts State Champions they made them work for it, especially in the beginning. About halfway through the 1st half Souhegan was right there, only trailing 20-19. Leading the way for the Sabers was devin Gilligan, Shaun McKenna, Seth Cordts and Brandon Len.

Then Central went on a 10-0 run, and just like that they were up 30-19. Just as the Red Raiders made their run Gilligan injured his back, left the game and did not return.

Central is just too big, too fast and too talented for pretty much any NH team to play with. They have a scholarship player in 6'7" Jimmy Zenevitch (Assumption) and 2 other kids who have a shot at doing the same (Luis Puello and Joel Barroa), especially Barroa who is a VERY tough match-up (and only a sophomore).

Souhegan battled hard all game though. The score wouldn't have been as lopsided if Gilligan didn't get hurt. Ryan Redmond, Sean McGrath, and Zach Simmonds all helped out as well. This team will be able to score, but defense will be the key. One of their better defenders, Nick Hession, hasn't been playing in the league due to football.

Girls Division

Teams included Winnacunnet, Timberlane, Central Catholic, Sanborn, Strafford Stars (AAU) and Norteast Attack (AAU)

Strafford Stars and Timberlane both advance with wins, while Central Catholic and Winnacunnet got 1st round byes.


Strafford Stars vs. Central Catholic
Strafford was definitely a heavy underdog in this one, but they battled hard all game against a Central team that is the defending Division 1 Massachusetts runners-up. The Stars lost 44-30, although at one point they trailed by as many as 21, when it was 37-16.

Strafford is a team made up of seacoast players, with many of them coming from St. Thomas. They made an 8-0 run late in the 1st half, and only trailed 18-14 at the break to a Central team with a scholarship player in 6'1" Melissa Miller (Merrimack College), 2 other D-III players and a VERY impressive freshmen class. Leading the way for the Stars was 5'10" Gretchen Anderson and 5'6" Lindsey Davis, who both play for St. Thomas.

Winnacunnet vs. Timberlane
Winnacunnet had 10 girls playing while Timberlane only had 5. The Warriors were just too deep and too talented for the Owls, and they won it 62-29.

Junior forward Emily Rose played well in the loss. She not only rebounded well, but for a 5'10" player she was very good at running the floor in transition and also knocked down the three. Also contributing for the Owls was senior guard Katie Matatall, who is a tough player who can shoot it from anywhere if left open.

Winnacunnet was clearly the better team, though. More on them in a minute.

Championship Game

Winnacunnet vs. Central Catholic
Well, this is the game that everyone wanted to see. One of the top programs in Mass. vs. one of the top programs in NH. This was the 2rd time in this league that the two teams were squaring off. Central won both games, but they were both very close.

Central had their whole team there except for senior guard Gabie Polce, who combines with Miller to give the Red Raiders 2 scholarship players (Polce is headed to Division II Saint Rose) and freshman guard Courtney Walsh. Winnacunnet meanwhile was only missing Carly Gould (foot surgery) and Michaela Withee. Both teams are VERY deep though, so even without those players both teams still had 9 or 10 girls who could all really play.

As expected, it was a back and forth game throughout. Central lead 15-12 early on. You had 2 good, deep teams going at it. Games like this really help these teams immensely when it comes to preparing for the upcoming winter season. Central won't face many teams as good as Winnacunnet this season, and Winnacunnet won't face many teams as good as Central this winter.

The Warriors went with a starting lineup of 6'0" Samantha Corcoran, 5'11" Morgan O'Connor, 5'8" Alexa Mutch, 5'7" Anna Sullivan (pictured above) and 5'6" Kirsten O'Neil. Plenty of weapons offensively, but they were also strong defensively, played good team basketball, and didn't lose much at all when they went to their bench. Leading the way off the bench were guards Aviana Morrison, Megan Hartnett and Kiel DiPietro and forward Jacqui Lewis. O'Neil (who is also a soccer star) played very well in this game for Winnacunnet. She made a number of hard drives to the basket and also played exceptional defense.

Corcoran drilled a three from the top of the key to tie the game up at 32-32 with 17:00 left in the 2nd half. Central then came right back and 6'0" sophomore forward Casey McLaughlin got a tough bucket plus the foul as the action and intensity really started to pick up. Then Lewis hit a 12 footer from the left baseline to put Winnacunnet ahead 37-36 for the first lead of the game with 10:36 left to play. Central stormed right back down to the other end of the court, but they had their layup attempt blocked from behind by Sullivan on a great defensive play.

Later, Corcoran hit 2 free throws which tied it back up at 45-45 with just 2:10 left in the 2nd half. From there though, the Red Raiders made more plays and more shots, and they went on an 8-1 run to take a 53-46 lead late. One of the central freshmen had 2 big three pointers during this stretch, while Miller and McLaughlin were tough to contain on the boards.

The Warriors didn't give up though. Still down 7 with under a minute left, Sullivan stole the ball around half court and took it in for the layup. Central held on from there however, and won it 53-48 to capture the ESC Fall League title.

Central is likely the second best girls team in Massachusetts, only behind Andover who has 2 Division I players in their backcourt (Natalie Gomez to Marist and Nicole Boudreau to Boston College). Central though has 2 scholarship players with Miller and Polce though, and if they were in NH they would be the best team in the state. So the fact that Winnacunnet was able to battle them hard and hang with them all the way should tell you that the Warriors will once again be one of NH's best girls teams.

They won't be the dominating force they were over the last couple years. And there's a good chance they don't have any 1st team all-state players on the team. But they are very deep, they're able to play the game at a fast pace, they have 2 guards in Sullivan and O'Neil who can defend and pressure the basketball as well as anyone. And offensively they play good, solid team basketball. They're disciplined and know how to work for a good shot and they're tough to defend off the dribble and on the break. Winnacunnet might not be the hands down favorite they have been lately. But they are right there with Londonderry and Memorial as far as which teams are looking the best right now in girls Division I (Class L).

Should be a fun year!

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