It must feel extra sweet for the Berlin High boys basketball team to finally win it all this year after coming so close but falling just short each of the past 2 years. They barely lost to Conant in the championship game in 2010, then last year they lost a heart breaker in the semi-finals to eventual champion Somersworth. But this year Curtis Arsenault and his teammates were on a mission and they were not going to be denied. And on Saturday evening they beat a very good Prospect Mountain team in an absolute thriller 53-51 in the Division III final to capture their first state title in school history.
Arsenault had a tough 1st half, and didn't get a his first field goal until he hit a half court buzzer-beater at the end of the 3rd quarter. That shot cut the Prospect Mountain lead to 38-32 headed to the 4th, after Prospect Mt. had built a 29-16 lead. Berlin rode that momentum in the 4th quarter, as Arsenault really got in a rhythm offensively by attacking the basket and grabbing boards. He ended up with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while teammate Sam Aldrich also had a big game by scoring 14 of his game-high 18 points in the 2nd half. Jake Drouin (12 points) hit 3 threes in the 2nd half, including one trey that gave the Mountaineers their first lead of the game at 39-38 with 6:10 left in the 4th quarter. Zach Bacon also played well with 9 rebounds and Brad Frenette played tough defense late in the game.
Keep reading for the rest of the recap.
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The teams traded leads down the stretch, like 2 heavyweight fighters going at it. It was an incredible championship game. Berlin made a great comeback. You had a great atmosphere with both teams playing their hearts out for 32 minutes and leaving it all out on the floor while playing in front of a standing room only crowd of 1,619 people at SNHU. Prospect Mt. was flat out the better basketball team for the first 2 and a half quarters, and after a technical foul on Berlin junior Dimitri Giannos gave Prospect Mt. guard Zach Drouin 4 straight free throw attempts it looked like the Timberwolves were in complete control. But they couldn't hold on to the lead, as Berlin really picked up their intensity on both ends of the floor following the technical.
With PMHS down 52-51 Zach Drouin had a good look at a mid-range jumper with about 3 seconds left. But the shot was no good and and Berlin held on for the win and the championship. The Timberwolves had a great run, and were led by Pat Cassidy (15 points), Austin Perrin (11 points and 10 rebounds), Jay Mousseau (11 points and 8 rebounds) and Drouin (10 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds).
Early on in the game Prospect Mt. had a good sized lead because they were taking care of the basketball, taking better shots and executing better offensively. Berlin meanwhile was settling for the outside shot way too much - they shot 2/13 (15%) from 3-point range in the 1st half. Then as the game went on though the Mountaineers started to get the ball inside with Arsenault, Aldrich and Bacon attacking the rim. That opened up the outside for Drouin who then started to hit big shots from beyond the arc. Berlin scored just 16 points in the entire 1st half, but exploded for 37 in the 2nd.
Cassidy had some big shots for the Timberwolves, including a three in the 2nd quarter that answered right back after Frenette hit a three for Berlin which cut the PMHS lead to 18-15.
There was a few plays late in the game which really had a influence on the outcome. First off, the technical on Giannos. That gave Prospect Mt. 4 straight 4 FT's (Drouin made 3 of them) and gave them the ball back with a 38-27 lead. Then you have the half court buzzer-beater by Arsenault. What is the average shooting percentage on shots from half court? Maybe 1%? Well if Arsenault doesn't hit that one Berlin loses this game.
Then Cassidy got fouled shooting a three-pointer with 2:19 left. Unfortunately for Prospect Mt. he missed all 3 of those free throws, which was very critical as Berlin led 48-46 at the time. Then Berlin was up 50-48 with the basketball and 48.4 seconds left in the game. Now of course in that situation you want to hold the ball, run clock and only shoot it if you have a layup. Instead Aldrich drove to the basket and got called for a charge. That gave PMHS the ball back and after an and-1 finish inside by Mousseau the Timberwolves re-took the lead 51-50 with 13.7 seconds left. So then prospect Mt. is up 1 with 13.7 seconds left. But they were in the bonus and made the mistake of fouling Arsenault. In that situation you don't want to foul and give your opponent to tie or take the lead at the line, you want to play tight defense and try to prevent them from scoring but not fouling. Arsenault made both FT's and Berlin goes to to the win and the championship.
Prospect Mt. is the D-III runners-up for the second time in the last 4 years, as they fell in the title game to Conant in 2009. They had a great run this year, beating #3 seed Campbell on the road in the quarterfinals and #2 seed Conant in the semis before coming up just short in the title game. The Timberwolves played hard and played a team under first year head coach Tom Bourdeau.
But Berlin was the favorite to win it all in the preseason and they got it done. Arsenault is a 1,000 point scorer, he should easily win D-III Player of the Year and earlier in the day he was accepted to Phillips Exeter Academy for a post-grad year next year.