Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Moultonborough Boys Hold Off Late Rally, Defeat Pittsfield


This evening I saw 2 of the best big men in the state going at it for 32 minutes. And I wasn't anywhere south of Concord, nor was I watching a D-I, D-II or even a D-III game. No siree Bob. I was in Pittsfield, NH watching the Pittsfield Panthers host the Moultonborough Panthers in a Division IV boys basketball contest. And yes, you guessed it - the Panthers won!

Pittsfield 6'9" senior center Ben Hill and Moultonborough 6'7" junior center Marcus Swedberg were both terrific, as they battled each other all game long. It was a treat to watch. These guys are not only the 2 best bigs in D-IV, but they're 2 of the best centers in the state, period. In the end, Moultonborough was just too good, and they got a big road win, taking it 63-57 on Wednesday night.

"They know each other well" said Moultonborough head coach Matt Swedberg, talking about Hill and his son Marcus. "They like each other, and they like playing against each other."

For the most part, it was Swedberg dominating the 1st half, and Hill dominating the 2nd. For anyone who hasn't seen Swedberg play (you really should, because he's GOOD), his build as well as his game will remind you an awful lot of John Wickey from Manchester Central. He's a 6'7" kid who can play inside or out. Grab boards, get put-backs and block shots inside and then also step outside, face-up and either knock down outside shots or put the ball on the floor and drive. A very tough match-up. For a kid his size he is very quick and agile, and plays the game hard. On one play in the 1st quarter he went upo for an offensive board, grabbed it and without coming down with it he was able to turn towards the basket and put it back in off the glass. He hit 2 threes and blocked 3 shots.

Swedberg did have some foul trouble, and fortunately for Moultonborough they have another big guy who's pretty darn good. 6'5" senior forward Patrick Cotter (pictured above) also had a very good game, also showing the ability to hit the outside shot, rebound and attack the rim.

As for Hill, he started off the game slow, and as a result Moultonborough was able to build a 36-24 lead at the half. But in the 2nd half he went off for 17 points to lead the comeback trail. He was all over the offensive glass, with many of his points coming from put-backs.

"We try to find a good balance" said Pittsfield head coach Jason Darrah. "We know to win we need to get Ben the basketball, but we also want to be a balanced team that doesn't rely on just 1 guy. "I think we did that pretty well tonight."

For a kid his size, Hill has an excellent combination of athleticism and power. He is able to overpower defenders to make inside moves, also has the athleticism to maneuver around the rim. On one play in the 2nd quarter Hill showed both of these qualities, as he caught the ball in the low post. He faced up from about 10 feet away, put the ball on the floor with his left hand for a hart power dribble as he went hard towards the rim, then when he was met by a help-side defender he was able to get to the other side of the basket and lay it in with a reverse lay-up. He got fouled on the way up and went to the line for 2.

6'3" junior forward Donoven Emerson is another big guy who impressed in this game. He actually made first-team all-state last year, while hill made the 2nd team. Emerson played harder than anybody this game, really leaving it all out on the floor. He hustled after loose balls and attacked the rim. He did however, only make 5/11 from the free throw line.

Here are the stat lines of the 4 bigs:
Ben Hill, 6'9" senior, Pittsfield - 21 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks
Marcus Swedberg, 6'7" junior, Moultonborough - 17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks
Patrick Cotter, 6'5" senior, Moultonborough - 12 points, 10 rebounds, 1 block
Donoven Emerson, 6'3" junior, Pittsfield - 13 points, 8 rebounds


As much as this game was dominated by the big guys, there are a couple of guards who definitely deserves some recognition - sophomore guard Drew Swedberg for Moultonborough, and Pittsfield junior Ryan Perras. Drew Swedberg (Marcus's little brother, and Coach Swedberg's son), definitely does not play like a sophomore. He was able to play the game hard, pushing the ball up the floor and attacking on offense and really pressuring the basketball on defense while at the same time staying under control and showing good poise. Drew Swedberg had 12 points, 5 assists and 3 steals. In the 3rd quarter he picked up a loose ball and immediately fired away a three-pointer. The show was good (his second three ball of the game) and it gave Moultonborough their largest lead of the game, 44-27.

"Drew started for us last year as a freshman too" said Coach Swedberg. "He turned the ball over a lot last year but has done much better this season."

Perras also hit some big shots for Pittsfield. Perras is only 5'6", but he is very quick and plays fearless. He had 8 points in the 1st half (including 2 three-pointers) to help keep them in the game. He then hit a big three late, catching the ball at the top of the key and hitting a shot that cut the Moutlonborough lead (which early in the 2nd half was 17) to just 5, and it was a 60-55 ballgame with 2:18 left in the 4th quarter.

Others who played well were Ryan Martel, Nick Sindorf and Travis Baier for Moultonborough, and Kevin Chagnon for Pittsfield.


Game of Runs
Pittsfield, behind the hot shooting of Perras and all out hustle of Emerson jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead, forcing Coach Swedberg to call a timeout with 4:48 left in the opening period. Moultonborough was playing a 2-3 zone, leaving Perras wide open on a couple occasions. He hit a couple threes, and Emerson had a nice and-1 finish along the baseline. Both teams came out pressing the other team full court, but that didn't continue for the entire game, as neither squad is particularly deep.

Moultonborough came storming right back though, as they went on a 10-0 run to take a 12-11 lead. Marcus Swedberg was hitting threes and converting put-backs and really playign well. He picked up with 3rd foul though with 6:21 left in the 2nd quarter, and despite scoring 8 points in the last 8 minutes he had t sit for the rest of the half. Drew Swedberg and Cotter picked up the slack though, and even with Marcus Swedberg on the bench their lead continued to grow. Baier also had a nice and-1 finish (9 points off the bench). Also helping Moultonborough increase their lead was the fact that Pittsfield only made 1 of their first 7 free throw attempts. Meanwhile Moultonborough was 5/7 from the charity stripe early. Drew Swedberg made a nice pass cross-court to Baier for an all-oop lay-up inside. Cotter then made a nice pull up jumper from around the foul line. After going down 11-2, Moultonborough ended the 1st half on a 34-13 run. They were clearly the better basketball team.

Give Pittsfield credit though, they kept fighting, and were able to make a comeback even after going down 44-27 in the 3rd quarter. Behind a monster 2nd half from Hill, they were able to cut the Moultonborough lead down to just 3, and with 1:53 left in the 4th it was a 60-57 game (capping a 30-16 run for Pittsfield).

"I was very happy that we were able to get the lead down to 3" said Coach Darrah. "But I was disappointed as well. Our obstacle is putting a full 32 good minutes of basketball together."

Hill was exceptional in the 2nd half, but he was also helped by the fact that both Marcus Swedberg and Cotter were in foul trouble. The whole 4th quarter both of the Moultonborough bigs had 4 fouls, they were both being careful to not pick up their 5th. So as a result when Hill would get the ball inside neither of them wanted to touch him and he scored easily.


Moultonborough Able to Hold on for Win
After cutting the Moultonborough lead to 60-57, Moultonborough made a pair of free throws to make it 62-57

Pittsfield got the ball back with 40 seconds left needing a quick score, whether it be a 3 or a 2. Moultonborough picked up their defensive intensity though, extending their defense, pressuring the basketball all over the floor and making it difficult for Pittsfield to get any good looks. They were able to get an open look from the outside, then got the offensive rebound and got a good look inside as well. Both shots were now good. Moultonborough finally got the rebound, and added 1 more free throw for the 63-57 final.


The Bottom Line
Moultonborough is definitely a team that is capable of winning the Division IV title. They went on the road to play a good team, and if not for their big guys getting in foul trouble probably would have won this game by about 10-15 points. Drew Swedberg and Martel give them a solid back court. Cotter and Marcus Swedberg are not only the best 1-2 inside punch in D-IV but they're one of the best inside duos in the entire state. Baier is a solid role player who hustles everywhere and Sindorf is one of those "glue guys" who helps to keep the team together. This team has the ability to play a fast paced game or a half court one. If Newmarket is the other favorite in the division, my money is on Moultonborough to win it. I've seen Newmarket play already, and Moultonborough is better. These guys won the title in 2009, and they have a pretty good shot at making it 2 championships in the last 3 years.

As for Pittsfield, they're only 5-5 on the season but don't be surprised if they make a run to the final four at Plymouth State come March. They've had a ton of injuries so far this season (Chagnon is just now returning from a tailbone injury from snowboarding) and they've had a brutal schedule. But their team is healthy now, and with Hill, Emerson, Chagnon and Perras they have the talent to make a run. Their record is deceiving not only because of the injuries but also because of their schedule. Along with Epping, Pittsfield clearly has one of the toughest schedules in D-IV. They have to play Wilton, Derryfield, Newmarket and Moultonborough all two times each. As long as they don't end up with seed that is too bad, the schedule will make them more prepared for the tournament and better able to make a run at it.

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