By: Jeremy Leveille
It's no secret that Pelham senior guard Keith Brown is the top player in NHIAA boys basketball this season. So while what went down on Wednesday evening at SNHU shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, it still doesn't make what Brown did any less impressive.
Brown poured in a game-high 29 points on 10/15 shooting, he hit four 3-pointers to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. He was on fire early to push the Pythons out to an early lead and he took over late to ice it. Defending champs and #1 seed Pelham beats #5 seed Hopkinton 57-42.
"It's the only thing on my mind right now, to win another championship" said Brown, a man on a mission. "This game was huge. Now we'll hopefully end the season on a high note Saturday."
That's when the Pythons will take on #3 seed Kearsarge on the title game. Kearsarge beat #2 seed Conant in overtime.
Pelham came out firing right off the opening tip. Brown hit a fadeaway jumper from the baseline, then came down with the ball and drilled a pull-up 3-pointer. Pelham got a steal, which led to a 15-footer by junior guard Kyle Frank. The Pythons got the ball right back, and Brown banked in another 3. We were less than 2 minutes into the game and Pelham had jumped out to a 10-0 lead, forcing Hopkinton head coach Dave Chase to call a timeout.
"We've been here before" said Brown, who won D-III Player of the Year last season and if he doesn't win it again this year then I'll lose all faith in humanity. "We wanted to get out to an early lead. Coach told us to come out shooting, so we did."
Brown finished strong inside for 2, as Pelham led 12-2. It looked like the Pythons were going to run the Hawks out of the gym. So give Hopkinton credit for battling back and making it a game. Take away the initial onslaught by Pelham and it was a pretty even game.
Hawks guard Jacob Rockwood made a nice dish to forward Nick Meserve for a layup. Then after another inside bucket by Meserve the Pelham lead was cut to 13-9. Then Brown showed that he's more than just a scorer, as he made the pass of the game, zipping it from up top to an open Collin Loring underneath the bucket for 2.
Then things on the court started to get heated, and Brown picked up an intentional foul for kicking a Kearsarge player. Often times in a situation like that the player will get benched, but that didn't happen to Brown.
"He apologized to the kid right after it happened" said Pelham head coach Matt Regan, who had Brown's back. "He hasn't gotten one technical foul in four years. He's been getting beat up all year."
The Pythons led 15-10 after 1 quarter. Ryan Nystrom hit a 3 for Pelham early in the 2nd quarter, but forward Liam Flanagan countered with a put-back for Hopkinton. Brown made another strong finish, and teammate Trevor Gagnon connected on an 18-footer off the catch to extend the lead to 27-14 and cap a 14-5 run by the Pythons.
The 1st half ended with some fast paced, up-tempo basketball, resulting in quick buckets by Nystrom for Pelham and Rockwood for Hopkinton. It was 30-16 Pelham at halftime.
That was too big of a deficit for the Hawks to come back from. They kept fighting hard until the end, though. It was a big deficit to come back from,especially when you're going against a player like Keith Brown. Brown drilled a 3-pointer from five feet behind the line from the left wing early in the 3rd quarter.
Hopkinton was fighting to stay in it, as they got a quick bucket by Kevin McGrath followed by a 3-pointer by Cam Cyr (team-high 10 points). Then Rockwood slashed to the rim for a lefty finish, cutting the Pelham lead to 35-27 with 1:24 left in the 3rd quarter and forcing Pelham to call timeout.
Just when the Hawks were mounting a comeback, Brown took it inside for another strong finish, this time for an and-1. Cyr hit another 3-pointer to cut the Pythons' lead to 37-30. On the other end Pelham senior forward Cam Deloretto (9 points and 6 rebounds) scored inside and it was 39-30 Pythons after 3 quarters.
Early in the 4th quarter Brown did it again, draining a 3-pointer from five feet behind the line, this time from the right wing and using a killer crossover to free himself up for the shot. That made it 42-31 Pelham. Hopkinton kept battling, as Rockwood (8 points) drove baseline and used a spin move to get to the rim for the finish in traffic. Meserv fouled out with 5:34 left in regulation, and that hurt the Hawks chances for a comeback.
Brown finished another strong bucket inside, as he continued to show the ability to score the basketball both inside and out on the perimeter. Hopkinton forward Robert Wilkerson made a nice up-and-under move for 2, as the Hawks were still in this game, now trailing 44-36 with 4:36 remaining. On the other end Gagnon hit a nice teardrop. Wilkerson made another good move inside for 2 more and it was 47-40 Pythons with 3:00 left in the 4th quarter. Brown finished strong inside yet again, and Pelham wins it 57-42.
This was a physical game, and often times players left the game with blood on their jersey. Deloretto in particular ended up wearing four different jerseys.
"One of their players had a little blood on his jersey and it kept getting on Cam's" explained Brown.
Hopkinton head coach Dave Chase deserves a lot of credit for the job he does over there. He doesn't get nearly as much talent to work with as other schools in D-III, but he makes the most out of what he has. The most talented kid they have had in recent years (Mike Auger, now playing at Penn in the Ivy League) left for prep school. Yet Chase always seems to have Hopkinton near the top of the D-III standings, getting a hone playoff game every year and sometimes even making the Final Four. Coach Chase's teams play hard, they fight till the end and they play disciplined team basketball.
Earlier this season Brown became Pelham High's all-time leading scorer. This is an incredible achievement, with all the great players who have played there (James Roman, Justin Hojlo, Steve Spirou to name a few.
"It's been an unselfish 1,900 points for him" said Coach Regan, who has coached Brown on the varsity team all four years. "He took over the game tonight, but also made some great passes."
Pelham is trying to repeat as champs, while Kearsarge will play in their first title game since 1999. Which team is better? We'll find out on Saturday.