Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Trinity Over Merrimack in Possible Title Game Preview

It was a BIG night for high school basketball across the state of New Hampshire, but the Trinity vs. Merrimack boys game was the biggest. It was a match up of the 2 best teams in the state, and it lived up to the hype.

There was plenty of star players on both sides who came up big, but it was also nice to see role players who often get overlooked get their chance to shine. Trinity's Pat Keefe (10 points off the bench) and Jared Peabody (15 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals) both played great for their respective teams.

"It was a great game, with huge intensity and a playoff atmosphere" said Merrimack head coach Tim Goodridge.

In the end though it was Trinity who made more plays down the stretch. They got the stops when they needed to, they had too much size and too many different weapons on offense, and they improve to 3-0 on the season with a 64-60 win over Merrimack in Division I play at the McHugh Gymnasium in Manchester.

Fun Basketball to Watch
It was like watching 2 heavy-weights go at it for 12 rounds - it was a good, hard fought basketball game. The high point of the game came around the middle of the 2nd quarter. For about 2 straight minutes there it was some great basketball to watch. Both teams were pushing the tempo, moving the basketball well, hitting big shot after big shot and just flat out competing. During this offensive flurry, Hunter Viscarello drilled a quick three off the catch, then Dimitri Floras answered right back with a three-pointer of his own just a few seconds later. Then Mabor Gabriel scored inside for Trinity, followed quickly by a basket in the paint by Merrimack forward Connor Whelan before Pioneers freshman sensation Ian Sistare (team-high 14 points) slashed to the rim for 2. Those 5 baskets came in the span of about 45 seconds, and during that time the game had a very nice flow to it and was being played at a high level.

"When we run the break we're actually better" said Sistare, a 6'1" freshman from Dublin, NH. "Because then I can get the ball to our wings and our bigs can run and crash the boards."

Then things really got intense, as Tomahawks sophomore Eric Gendron was guarding Sistare and as soon as Sistare brought the ball across half court Gendron got right up in his face defensively, pressuring the basketball. Sistare picked up his dribble, Gendron then got even closer to try and force the turnover - Sistare had nowhere to go with the basketball. He turned to pivot, and when he did so his elbow slammed into Gendron's jaw, sending him to the floor. Gendron was then called for a foul, sending the Merrimack players, coaches and fans into a frenzy. Both coaches were out onto the floor, the refs were getting yelled at from both sides and Sistare and Gendron starred each other down while the crowd started to really get into the game.

The 1st half then ended, with Trinity on top 31-29. The Pioneers were down 15-9 after the 1st quarter, but they went on a 7-0 run to begin the 2nd stanza.

Keefe and Peabody = Not Your Average Role Players
Keefe was the player who hit the three-pointer which capped the 7-0 run Trinity made to begin the 2nd quarter. Keefe then hit another big three with 2:01 left in the 3rd quarter, which pushed the Trinity lead to 42-35 after a nice extra pass by Jake Hamel set him up for the shot. Keefe also scored on a couple of nice drives to the basket, showing the ability to create his own offense by getting by his man off the dribble and finishing in traffic. He had a very nice game and gave the team goon energy off the bench.

Peabody was also very good for Merrimack. Everybody always talks about their "Big 3" of Floras and the Gendron brothers, but there's no question that Peabody is the team's unsung hero.

"Jared Peabody does it all for us" said Coach Goodridge. "He guards the wings, he guards the bigs, he's putting back shots after rebounds. He's just a blue collar player, a good kid and the kind of player I want on my team."

Late Comeback Bid By Merrimack Falls Short
Trinity led by 9 in the 4th quarter at 49-40 and in the end that was too big of a deficit for the talented Tomahawks to overcome. Merrimack made a valiant effort though, as Eric Gendron (11 points) drained a three-pointer and got fouled at the same time in one of the game's most exciting plays. He made the free throw for a 4-point play.

Soon after that Sistare hit a three for Trinity and they went up 54-46 with only 4:00 left to play. Merrimack had their backs against the wall. If they were going to go on a run and make a comeback they would have to do it now.

Just mere seconds after Sistare hit his three, Floras (game-high 21 points) answered right back for the Tomahawks with a three of his own from the top of the key. Then Merrimack was able to close within 54-51 with about 2 minutes left.

That was as close as Merrimack would get however. After that Floras really started forcing shots, Trinity dominated the boards (with the big men Gabriel, Silvere Aluko and Andrew Lauderdale) and the Pioneers were able to hold on.

Floras did make one last 3 which cut the Trinity lead to 63-60 with 6.5 seconds remaining, which gave Merrimack fans a glimmer of hope. They would need to get a quick steal if not foul right away and hope Trinity missed both foul shots. They didn't get the steal, they fouled Gabriel (9 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks), who missed his first free throw but made the second. That made it 64-60 Pioneers with just 3.5 seconds left. Normally you would say it's a 2 possession game so it's over. But after Gendron converted that 4-point play just a few minutes earlier you knew anything was possible. Floras attempted a three, and tried to lean in to the defender to try and draw a foul in case the shot went in. But the shot missed, there was no foul and the buzzer sounded. Game over, Trinity wins 64-60 in a great game.

"I'm very pleased with my team that we were able to pull that one out" said Trinity head coach Dave Keefe, father of Pat Keefe. "We had too many turnovers, but our bigs played well and that's a very good team we just beat."

It was an entertaining basketball game, and was well worth the price of admission for all who attended. I know the season is still young, but I don't think any of those people would be surprised if we saw this same match up in the championship game come March.

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