By: Jeremy Leveille
In Division III with its unbalanced scheduling where not everybody plays everybody, there were 3 teams all tied for the #1 seed with 17-1 records (Newport, Berlin and Conant). But now that the semi-finals have been played, there is no doubt about who the 2 best teams in the division are.
Conant and Campbell both won in convincing fashion on Tuesday night at SNHU, with #2 seed Conant winning in the first game 65-42 over Newport, and #5 seed Campbell cruised past #1 seed Berlin 62-44 in the second game.
"It's an awesome feeling" said Campbell senior point guard Max Gouveia. "We've been working hard 4 years for this. Coach told us all year - defense, defense, defense. That's what we had to do to win, and he was right."
Campbell was led by the play of seniors Gouveia (12 points, 7 assists, 4 steals), Nick Freson (19 points and 4 rebounds), Jacob Morgan (15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) and Jason Rodonis (8 points and 4 rebounds). Campbell was only up 25-23 at halftime, but they wore down a Berlin team who has just 1 senior, 1 returning starter from last year (Dimitri Giannos) and was playing without starting guard Brad Frenette (sprained ankle suffered in prelims vs. Farmington).
"We've been playing together since 4th grade" said Morgan. "These guys are my best friends. They're who I hang out with at school. And now we have this memory that we can share together for a lifetime."
Conant jumped on Newport right away, with a 20-8 lead after 1 quarter. They led by 15 after 3 quarters, and ended up crushing the Tigers 65-42. Senior wing Devin Springfield led all scorers with 26 points to go with 8 rebounds, further solidifying his case for D-III PLayer of the Year (which his younger sister Madison might win on the girls side).
The Orioles have an extremely fast, talented starting 5 who pressure teams on defense and attack them on offense. Robert O'Brien also had 14 points and 3 blocks, Eli Hodgson had 9 points and 6 rebounds, Kyle Carland had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals and Jake Carlson had 6 rebounds in the win.
While Conant jumped on Newport early and was clearly the better team all game long, Campbell had to work much harder for their win. After a tough drive and finish by Giannos, Berlin was still very much in the game, only trailing Campbell 43-34 with plenty of time left - 5:25 to go in the 4th quarter. Plus it was only a 2 point game at halftime. If Berlin could have made more of their FT's this game would have likely turned out a little differently. The Mounties shot just 10/23 from the foul line (43%).
"I'm proud of the way we progressed this year as a team" said Berlin head coach Don Picard, whose team has now made it to the last 4 consecutive Final Fours (the only team in D-III that has done that). "Dimitri led us throughout the year, he averaged 17 points per game. We will miss him. But the thing I was most pleased with was how we got better every week. Campbell was a little quicker than us, especially Gouveia. We hadn't seen a guard with that quickness or skill all year."
Gouveia, Morgan and Freson were certainly the catalysts during the Cougar's 2nd have run. Gouveia was constantly looking to push it up the floor on the break. Although he had a slow start, as the game went on he was making very good decisions as far as when to pull-up for a jumper, when to dish it and when to take it to the rim. He exploded to the rim for a smooth finish in the 3rd quarter when the teams were going at each other hard and exchanging buckets. That madet 33-27 Campbell, so Berlin was still very much in the game. But then he hit a pull-up frm 15 feet, Morgan hit a baseline jumper off a baseline out of bounds play and then Gouveia again drained a pull-up on the break, this time coming down the floor with a defender right on him, stopping on a dime and hitting the shot again from about 15 feet away. He really came on strong as that 3rd quarter went on.
Freson, Morgan and Rodonis all had big hoops in the 4th quarter. Campbell also tightened their defense up even more, forcing Berlin into turnovers (they had 25 turnovers on the game) and missed shots (Berlin shot just 32% as opposed to 58% fr Campbell).
"We have 5 seniors, they're all valuable and they all play their butts off" said Campbell head coach John langlois, who has led the Cougars to the title game in his first year as coach (he coached Bedford to the D-II finals last year and has also coached Newmarket and Somersworth to title games). "We matched up a couple times but mainly used a 2-3 zone. Our game plan was to attack them at the rim and to keep them away from the rim."
Campbell shot just four 3-pointers all game. In this day and age it is rare for a team to shoot so few amount of 3's. But it is better to take it to the rim and get a higher percentage shot.
Leading Berlin was sophomore forward Levi Arsenault, who had 17 points and 9 rebounds. He did most of that damage in the 1st half. He is the younger brother of last year's D-III Player of the Year Curtis Arsenault, who is arguably the best player in Berlin basketball history.
Campbell and Conant played twice during the regular season, with the 2 teams splittling the games. They meet in the championship game on Saturday at 3 pm back at SNHU.
To see great video coverage of these games, visit www.nhsportspage.com