What a year for the Pelham High boys basketball team. They beat an undefeated D-I team in Londonderry 90-88 in double overtime in the game of the year. They also had the best feel good story of the year, as team manager Bryan Doherty who has down syndrome entered a game and hit a 3-pointer. On Saturday afternoon at SNHU the Pythons capped their dream season with a 51-42 win over Conant in the D-III finals. An undefeated championship season for Pelham.
“It’s awesome” said Dylan Silvestri, who tallied 16 points and 8 rebounds. “Best feeling of my life, other than when Doherty scored.”
"They've put in the time" said Pelham head coach Matt Regan, who was an assistant coach for the school's last championship season in 2006. "Some of these guys played 50 games in the off-season, between AAU, summer leagues, etc. It's a testament to their hard work. This is good for our town. Our town loves basketball."
Silvestri was an animal in the 1st quarter, scoring 12 of his 16 points. He had a whopping 7 offensive rebounds on the game. 5 of those offensive rebounds came in the 1st half - he scored put-backs on all 5 of them. Silvestri is 6-foot-1, he's not that big but he goes harder for those boards than anybody.
"Dylan was unbelievable, he changes games with his effort" said Coach Regan. "That's why we need him out of foul trouble, because he's capable of doing that."
In addition to scoring and rebounding, Silvestri also drew 2 charges on defense.
"I let my team down in the semi-finals with stupid fouls" said Silvestri. "I came out tonight and had to make up for it."
Give Conant credit, they battled hard all game and were right there with Pelham until the last minute. Orioles junior guard Josh Degrenier drilled a big 3-pointer early in the 4th quarter to cut the Pythons' lead to 40-39, sending the Conant faithful into a frenzy.
Pelham responded with a 7-0 run. On the biggest possession of the game, they worked the ball around the perimeter, looking for a shot. Conant played great defense though, denying anything in the paint. Finally, after over a minute went off the clock, Pythons junior guard Keith Brown (game-high 20 points and 9 rebounds) found himself open from the right wing and he buried the 3. Huge shot.
"That 3 by Keith was the biggest shot of the year" said Coach Regan.
"That was a big shot by Keith" said Conant head coach Eric Saucier. "That and the layups Silvestri got early was the difference. We knew if we could defend then we could stay with them."
After that shot Pelham got a steal and Silvestri went in for the layup. On their next possession Brown scored inside for 2 more, capping the 7-0 run and making it 47-39 Pelham with just 2:14 left in regulation and forcing Conant to call timeout.
The Orioles kept fighting. Senior wing Nate Wheeler connected on a 3 from the left wing to cut the lead to 47-42 with 1:30 left. Conant had to foul, but Ryan Cloutier sunk both FTs and then Silvestri drew a charge on 'D'. Pelham holds on for the 51-42 win and the D-III championship.
Conant hung right with Pelham and battled them tooth and nail the whole way. The Orioles went up 7-2 early, as Degrenier hit a pull-up jumper from just inside the 3-point line. After a put-back by Silvestri, Wheeler hit a 15-footer followed by a 3 by Degrenier (team-high 17 points).
Pelham countered with an 11-1 run. Brown drained a pull-up 3, Silvestri converted a layup on the break and then Silvestri made another layup in transition. Silvestri tipped in a miss, and then finished another layup on the break to cap the 11-1 run and make it 13-8 Pythons.
Conant answered, as junior guard Simeon Hodgson drove to the rim for an and-1. On the other end Hodgson stepped in and took a charge on Cloutier. Silvestri converted yet another put-back, as the Orioles were really having trouble keeping him off the boards.
On the other end Degrenier drilled another 3. Brown answered just seconds later with a strong drive and and-1 finish. It was 18-16 Pelham after 1.
Brown made a strong move to the bucket for 2 early in the 2nd quarter. Hodgson countered with a good drive and floater in the lane. Pelham got a steal and pushed it quickly ahead to Silvestri for the fast-break layup. Then Silvestri took a charge. Pythons senior wing Ryan Rondeau hit a 3-pointer from the corner off the catch vs. the Conant zone, and it was 25-18 Pelham. On the other end Conant forward Craig Bilodeau converted an and-1 put-back. The Orioles' zone was helping to slow down the Pelham offense.
Hodgson took a charge on Silvestri, but then Rondeau drained another 3 and it was 30-23 Pythons at halftime.
Conant forward Brandon Ford showed good determination on a put-back early in the 3rd quarter. Brown buried a 3 to make it 33-25. Orioles guard JP Record countered with a strong drive and finish, and on the other end Cloutier hit a fadeaway jumper along the baseline.
Wheeler hit a 15-footer off the bounce, and then Hodgson banked in a runner as Conant was hanging tough. Degrenier drilled his third 3 of the game, cutting the Pelham lead to 35-34. Just seconds later though, Rondeau answered right back by hitting his third 3 of the game. Wheeler connected on a pull-up jumper from 15 feet off a baseline out of bounds play. Brown countered on the other end with a jumper from the elbow and it was 40-36 Pelham after 3 quarters.
"I know some people have a problem with Pelham being in our division" said Coach Saucier. "I have no problem it. It's just another team for us to play. It's good competition."
Conant was going for their third title in a row. It was a tall order though, as they returned just 1 starters and only 2 key players off last year's squad.
"I'm proud of how the kids fought" said Coach Saucier. "No one in the preseason was talking about us. They were all talking about Pelham, Campbell, Newport and Mascenic. But here we are."