From one outstanding rivalry to another. Last night it was Oyster River/Portsmouth, tonight it's Milford/Souhegan. Milford High is home to possibly the loudest gym in the state, and the place was really rocking tonight when their rivals from Amherst came to town. Not only that, but this was a possible Division II title game preview.
Mike Mitchell and Mike O'Loughlin both had big games for Milford, as the Spartans held on for a 62-52 win over Souhegan on Tuesday night.
Here are the game's video highlights, plus a post-game interview with Player of the Game Mike Mitchell. The game recap will be posted shortly, as well as a brief recap of the Souhegan/Milford girls game.
Playoff Atmosphere in Milford
You had to be impressed with how loud and how packed the place was, especially for a game in the beginning of January. Souhegan brought a good crowd of their own, and when Sabers forward Ben Peterson made a big blocked shot in the 2nd half they really got into it. It was simply a great atmosphere for a high school basketball game.
Game Was Closer Than Score Indicates
Souhegan actually led this game 8-4 early on. They just played neck-and-neck with Milford the whole way just the other day in the championship game of the Keene Holiday Tournament, so they weren't intimated.
This was a close, back-and-forth game throughout. Souhegan only trailed 52-48 with 2:18 left in the game.
"We've only had 1 practice in the last 14 days" said Milford head coach Dan Murray. "And we've had 4 games in that span, so we got a little sloppy at times."
The score could have been even closer, but Souhegan was playing without one of their starters and better players in junior Devin Gilligan. Gilligan is out for a couple days with a back injury. Milford meanwhile was missing senior wing Scott McCallum, who is out for the year with a knee injury.
Physical Battle Between 2 Good Teams
This was a very physical, hard fought game. Two good teams who do not feel very fondly of one another to say the least. The officials led a lot of hacking, grabbing and contact near the basket go. They let the kids play. Both teams really got after it, and no basket came easy. A fun game to watch. This was only January 4, I can only imagine what kind of a zoo it would be if these guys met up in the playoffs.
Big 3 Came Up Big Late for Spartans
In the 2nd half, Souhegan was right there with Milford and kept hanging around. But when it mattered most, Milford's "Big 3" of Mike Mitchell, Mike O'Loughlin and Jamie Holder really came up big. Holder (7 points) had a big steal and and-1 finish on the other end. Mitchell (14 points and 8 assists) made a number of terrific passes late which led to baskets. He also had a nice finish in transition and set the tone early in the contest with a pair of three-pointers. An O'Loughlin (game-high 17 points) made a number of big finishes and at the rim, including a pair of and-1's.
The role players also played well for Milford. Kyle Nelson continues to be one of the state's best shot blockers. And Jovi Philbrick, Logan Barlow and Jared Lakin were also solid contributors.
"Their experience was the difference" said Souhegan coach Mike Heaney. "Those guys have been there before in these big situations, I started a sophomore and a junior who both played JV last year. I told my guys though that they couldn't have played harder, they played their hearts out."
Saber's Size Kept Them In It
Milford was a much quicker team, but where Souhegan held an advantage was inside. The Sabers are a bigger, more physical team and as a result they were able to force Milford to miss a lot of shots inside they normally would make. And they also out-rebounded Milford in this game. Souhegan was led inside by Ryan Redmond, Sean McGrath, Nick Hession, Shaun McKenna and Jake Kennedy. Coach Heaney has a lot of big bodies who are not afraid to mix it up inside. He did a nice job of rotating them in and out to keep them fresh.
The Souhegan back court of Seth Cordts and Brandon Len was also solid. Cordts had a team-high 13 points and also played some very tough defense all game. He fouled out with just under 2 minutes left to play which hurt the Saber's comeback hopes. Len had a tough match-up going against Mitchell all game, but he did a solid job of handling the ball and distributing it, especially for a kid with no varsity experience going into this season.
Milford = Still the Favorite, but Gap is Closing Between Them and the Rest
The rest of my top 5 in D-II is Souhegan, Pelham, Pembroke and Portsmouth. Souhegan has now shown twice in the last week that they can play with Milford, and I believe the other 3 teams I just listed would too. Portsmouth will be even tougher once they get Kyle DiCesare back (according to Coach Mulvey he's out for the first 6 games of the regular season, NOT the first 3/4 of the season like some other sites have reported).
White Leads Souhegan Girls to Win Over Milford
Souhegan's star junior guard Jane White (#1 ranked Player from Class of 2012) scored 21 points and the Sabers girls beat Milford 53-42.
Milford only trailed by 8 points late in the game. So this was definitely a closer game than you would think going in. Souhegan is one of the favorites in Division II and Milford is a very young team who has struggled in recent years. But Milford's first year head coach Steve Signor has the Spartans headed in the right direction, and really has the girls playing hard and playing smart, and as a team. Dina Pitsas showed why she is one of the top 10 sophomores in NH by leading the way for Milford with 20 points. The Spartans shot very well from 3 point range in this game.
For Souhegan they were led by White and also Christan Wojtas who had 15. They were playing without 2 key players though in Taylor Cordts and Tori Forrest. Cordts is out for the year as she tore her ACL for the 3rd time, while Forrest is out for the week with a back injury.
Looking at the sidelines during this game it would be difficult to tell whether this was a high school game or an AAU contest. Both Milford and Souhegan have first year head coaches who are both local AAU coaches. Souhegan's Jeremy Faulkner coaches the NE Shooting Stars, while Signor from Milford coaches the Granite State Rockettes program. It was just like the other day in the Bishop Guertin vs. Nashua North girls game when you had Ricky Oliver (Lady Panthers) coaching against Kevin Gibbs (NE Crusaders). AAU coaches are taking over the girls high school teams in the Nashua area!