Saturday, January 29, 2011

Berlin Remains Unbeaten With Win Over Somersworth

It wasn't always pretty, but they got the job done. That's the best way to describe the Berlin boys basketball team's 80-64 victory over Somersworth on Friday night. Despite turning the ball over more than 20 times, Berlin was still able to score 80 points. Curtis Arsenault had 24 points, and Jeremy Michalik had 23, as they improve to 10-0 on the season.

Domination by Berlin (for the most part)
Berlin jumped out to a quick 14-5 lead and for the most part they dominated this basketball game. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, Berlin was the preseason favorite to win Division III. Meanwhile, Somersworth is a good team but certainly a notch below the Division's elite squads (Berlin, Mascoma, Conant, Bow and Raymond). Plus, the Hilltoppers were playing without their best defender in senior Dillon Lanctot, who was suspended for this game.

Somersworth still managed to hang around early, as sophomore guard Drew Francoeur played very well. He was finishing at the rim, playing tough defense, grabbing rebounds and hustling after loose balls. He helped to get them back in the game, and early in the 2nd quarter Somersworth was only down 14-11. Senior Ryan Ducharme also played helped to keep the Hilltoppers in it with his rebounding and all out hustle. From there Arsenault and Michalik got going again and Berlin went on a 23-10 run to take a 37-21 lead late in the 1st half.

Arsenault simply could not be stopped by Somersworth. He actually has a much improved outside jump shot. But you would never know it from this game, as he scored all 24 of his points either on free throws or inside shots. It's not that his outside shot was off, it's that he was able to get to the rim at will so there was no need to take any long range shots. He was grabbing boards and converting put-backs, making strong drives to the rim and also finishing in transition. The 6'1" junior tallied 24 points to go with 12 rebounds. Not bad considering he had to sit on multiple occasions with foul trouble and then also sat out the game's last 4 minutes (I'll get to that later).

With so much of Somersworth's energy on defense focused on stopping Arsenault, Michalik was left open quite a bit. And boy did he take advantage of it. Michalik hit a couple of big three-pointers and also did a nice job of taking it to the rim. What was also impressive about Michalik's performance was that he was also very good on defense, as he had 2 nice blocked shots inside in this game as well.

Neither Berlin nor Somersworth has a lot of size, so both squads were really attacking the rim. Somersworth didn't hit a three all game, and Berlin went 4/6 from beyond the arc. The Hilltoppers attempted a lot of threes, they just weren't falling. Somersworth senior Pat Lavin led the team with 18 points, but he could have had a lot more as he went 0/5 from long range.

Also playing well for Berlin was point guard Sam Aldrich and forward Tyler Baillargeon. Aldrich went 8/8 shooting free throws down the stretch, and had 12 points in the 2nd half (14 points total). Baillargeon was a solid player throughout the game, finishing with 11 points and 9 rebounds.

Late Comeback by Somersworth Falls Short
Behind the strong play of Bobby Shatinsky, Matt Fauci and Pat Lavin, Somersworth was able to make a comeback late, which fell a little short. The Hilltoppers never gave up in this game, even when they were down by as many as 18 points in the 2nd half. They kept fighting, they forced a lot of Berlin turnovers and turned them into easy baskets. This was a sloppy game, with both teams turning it over more than 20 times.

Somersworth took advantage of the Berlin turnovers, and they also took advantage of Arsenault being on the bench with 4 fouls. After trailing by as many as 18 in the 2nd half, head coach Lorne Lucas's team was now only down 58-52 with 5:31 left in the game.

"When they made their run we weren't handling their press very well" said Berlin coach Don Picard. "When we used ball fakes and cuts we had more success against it."

Arsenault then went back in with the 4 fouls and Berlin stopped the Somersworth run and ended up winning it going away.

Scary Moment for Mounties
Just 1 minute after Arsenault went back in the game with the 4 fouls came a scary moment for Berlin fans. The star forward went hard to the basket, a Somersworth player went up to challenge the shot, and Arsenault came down very awkwardly on his ankle. He was clearly in pain, left the game and did not return.

"I sprained the other one in the preseason when we scrimmaged Hanover" said Arsenault. "Now I've sprained both of them pretty bad already this season. It hurts, but I'll just ice it and hopefully be back out there for Tuesday's game."

Incidentally, the first time I saw Arsenault play was last winter around this time when Berlin came to Somersworth to play the Hilltoppers. He also had to leave that game with an injury. In that contest Arsenault got hit hard in the face, and had blood all over his face (sorry if you're eating while reading this!). He got patched up and was right back in the game a few minutes later. He's a tough kid, I'm sure he'll be back in the Mountie's lineup in no time. That's good news for Berlin, and bad news for the rest of Division III.

The Bottom Line
Berlin was my preseason #1 team in D-III. I also wrote an article way back last winter after the aforementioned Somersworth game predicting they would win this year's title (of course that was before Bow joined the division). The question is are they still my favorite to win it? The answer is no. Berlin is now my #2 ranked team in D-III, behind Mascoma. Mascoma is not only undefeated, but they have beaten both Bow and Conant, 2 teams who are MUCH better than anybody Berlin has beaten. Also, championship teams don't turn the ball over more than 20 times in a game. I do like Berlin's offensive firepower, though. With Arsenault, Michalik, Aldrich and Baillargeon they can score with anybody in the division. Their issue will not only be protecting the basketball, but also being able to match-up with the size that teams like Conant (Ezra Hodgson), Mascoma (Conner Torrey) and Bow (Josh Faber and Max Heindl) have. Berlin is tough and physical, but they're tallest key player is Baillargeon, who is only 6'2".

For Somersworth, they're a solid team. Not an elite team, but a solid one. They'll beat up on the teams they're supposed to beat, and they'll lose to the elite ones. hey made a nice comeback in this game, and it would have been interesting to see how this game would have played out if they had Lanctot in there. He's their best defender and likely would have been able to slow Arsenault down a little better.

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