Berlin senior Curtis Arsenault scored his 1,000th point as a junior. He's already been an all-state player once, he's a lock to be the Division III Player of the Year this season and he should have won it last year too. Berlin is a hockey school but they have now made 3 straight trips to the final four with Arsenault. The only thing he hasn't done is win a state title. Well this just might be the year he does it.
When he was a sophomore in 2010 they lost in the final game to Conant who went undefeated en route to their 5th straight title. Last year they were the favorites to win it, but they suffered a heartbreaking loss in the semi-finals on a buzzer-beating three to eventual champion Somersworth.
"We're not going to let that happen again" said Arsenault, who had 28 points and 11 rebounds in Tuesday night's 61-48 semi-final win over #4 seed Hopkinton. "Our seniors are determined."
Arsenault and fellow seniors Jake Drouin, Sam Aldrich and Zach Bacon have all been a part of the last 2 Berlin squads which had great seasons but came up just short of their ultimate goal. But tonight at SNHU they moved one step closer to that goal, by beating Hopkinton and getting back to the title game for the second time in 3 years.
Arsenault was simply too much for Hopkinton to handle. He got off to a fast start, with 9 points in the 1st quarter as the Mounties took a 14-7 lead early after a three-pointer by junior guard Dimitri Giannos. Not only was Arsenault scoring but he was also rebounding inside, blocking shots and leading the break.
Give Hopkinton credit though, because they did give Berlin a good battle. They hung tough, and after senior point guard Frankie Beane hit his third three-pointer of the game the Berlin lead was down to 3 at 45-42.
"We had Sam and Dimitri on the bench with 4 fouls to start the 4th" said Berlin head coach Don Picard. "So we tried to be more patient with our shots so we could get them back in there."
But then once again Arsenault took over, and ignited a 12-1 run in the 4th quarter to put Berlin up 58-43 with just 1:00 left. He finished inside, then on the other end blocked a shot on defense. Again he drove to the basket for 2, then grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in for 2 more. Then Berlin got a steal and Drouin made a layup on the other end. Arsenault capped the run with an and-1 finish in transition. Both teams then started taking out their starters, knowing that Berlin had this game won.
"I think we panicked a little with 4 minutes to go" said Hopkinton head coach Dave Chase. "We took too many threes, missed them and they got fast breaks going the other way."
The Mounties had a very impressive run in the 4th quarter, but up until then this was anybody's ballgame. Hopkinton was within striking distance all game long, and they even went on an 11-0 run to take a 26-22 lead late in the 2nd quarter. The run was led by wing player Collin Paraskeva, who came off the bench and scored 9 points in the 2nd quarter alone. The Hawks were moving the ball well on offense and fearlessly taking it to the rim. Beane hit a three, then Jake Nelson made a strong drive to the rim and finish inside as part of the run. Hopkinton was showing they were not afraid of the heavily favored Berlin team and that they could play right with them.
"It's a semi-final game so we knew it would be a dogfight" said Arsenault.
A key point in the game though came at the end of that Hopkinton run, as Berlin answered back by ending the 1st half on a 6-0 run, including a big three-pointer by Drouin.
That gave Berlin momentum heading to the 2nd half, as they continued to hold the lead. But Hopkinton refused to give up, matching them shot-for-shot for most of the 3rd quarter. Arsenault made a nice move to the rim and and-1 finish, but then Beane (10 points) answered back with a three to cut the Berlin lead to 36-33. Steven Auger (team-high 13 points) and Jay White scored on drives to the basket for the Hawks who continued to hang around, but Aldrich (7 points and 11 rebounds) converted a put-back and Drouin banked in a three as both teams continued to back-and-forth in the 3rd quarter. That shot by Drouin though gave Berlin a 43-35 lead late in the 3rd quarter (at the time was their largest lead of the game).
Again, just when it looked like Berlin was ready to pull away Hopkinton answered back. They cut the lead to 45-42 early in the 4th before Arsenault and company took over.
"More than ever this year it's been a team approach" said Coach Picard. "Against Mascoma in the quarterfinals we scored 81 points and Curtis only had 7. Bacon had 20 points and 10 rebounds that game. Aldrich has been steady at point guard for us again, him and bacon have been solid on the boards. Drouin has hit 8 threes in a game and in 2 other games he's hit 7 threes. Dimitri has also improved a lot."
It was a valiant effort by Hopkinton, who advanced to SNHU with a thrilling overtime win over Somersworth in the quarterfinals. The Hawks' season is even more impressive when you consider they had 2 kids who are 6'6" or taller transfer to prep schools over the summer. Mike Auger (would have battled Arsenault for Player of the Year honors) transferred to the New Hampton School and Andrew Thomson left for the St. Paul's School in Concord. Both players are repeating their sophomore years this season.
Berlin meanwhile is a team on a mission - to win the D-III state title. The only thing in the way now is Prospect Mountain in the championship game on Saturday.