By: Jeremy Leveille
Winnacunnet was hands down the better basketball team for the first 28 minutes of their D-I semi-final match-up vs. Manchester Central. But they don't play 28 minutes in NH high school basketball, they play 32. And as a result, Winnacunnet's season is over and Central is headed to the finals.
Winnacunnet led 41-31 with 5:35 left in regulation. The Warriors led 43-34. Then the Little Green caught fire, going on a 22-0 run. Central ended the game n a 27-4 run. They went from a 10 point deficit to a 13 point lead in the matter of 5 minutes. Central wins it 58-45. The Little Green's 'Big 3' of seniors Jonathin Makori (game-high 23 points) Jaylen Leroy (17 points) and Evan MacDonald (13 points) combined to score 53 of Central's 58 points.
"That's how we should have played the whole game" said MacDonald, who hit back-to-back 3-pointers as part of Central's 4th quarter rally. "Doc called a timeout with 5:09 left. He told us to get something going to the hoop. Jaylen scored, and that got us going."
"I told the in that timeout that you've got 6 minutes left in your career, so give it your all" said Manchester Central head coach Doc Wheeler.
Winnacunnet led 38-31 after 3 quarters. Then in the 4th the Warriors got a deflection, which led to a steal and to a layup on the other end by Winnacunnet junior wing Freddy Schaake to make it 41-31 Warriors. Winnacnnet was getting all of the bounces. And Central couldn't figure out what to do against the WHS zone defense.
Central called timeout, and then after that timeout they dominated the rest of the basketball game. Leroy hit a pair of free throws, MacDonald hit back-to-back 3-pointers - one from the left corner and the other from the right. The second shot cut the Warriors' lead to just 3, 43-40 and Central's fans went nuts!
"The crowd got into it, the momentum changed, and our kids made some plays" said Coach Wheeler.
Then Makori went on a personal 7-0 run. He hit 2 free throws followed by a 3-pointer which put the Little Green back ahead 45-43 with 2:48 left in the 4th quarter, as the Centrals faithful erupted! Then Makori added 2 more FT, extending the CHS lead to 47-43 with 1:33 remaining, forcing Winnacunnet to call a timeout.
Leroy hit 2 more FT's, a layup in transition and then 2 more FTs, making it a personal 6-0 run for him. That was followed by 2 more FT for Makori, making it a 55-43 Central lead and a 22-0 run. The Little Green win it 58-45. Central's 'Big 3' is tough to stop, and they can go off at any moment
"All three of us have been playing together since freshman year" said MacDonald. "It's fun to play together."
Winnacunnet was the better basketball team for the first 28 minutes. Makori hit a 3-pointer right off the opening tip, but the Warriors answered back with an and-1 finish by senior forward Mike Lewis and a 3 from the right wing by Liam Viviano (team-high 16 points). Leroy converted a put-back, but Schaake made a tough drive along the baseline and finish to make it 10-6 Winnacunnet.
Makori countered on the other end with another 3 ball - he has a quick release, you can't leave him open! Warriors sophomore guard Zach Waterhouse (8 points) buried a 3, and Viviano finished an and-1 n the break to push the WHS lead to 15-9. MacDonald drilled a 3 from the right wing, and it was 15-12 Winnacunnet after 1.
The Warriors would then outscore Central 12-6 in the 2nd quarter, as the Little Green were struggling to find looks against the WHS zone.
"They kept their zone wide, since they know we're a 3-point shooting team" said MacDonald. "It forced us to take longer 3's."
Lewis hustled inside for a put-back, and then teammate Logan Keene hit a 15-footer from the baseline. Then Keene drove inside for a reverse lay-in. Winnacunnet was dictating the tempo and making Central play a half court game. The Warriors were being disciplined and patient in their half court offense, and executing well as they hit senior guard Anthony Primavera inside for a layup. Waterhouse drained another 3, and it was 27-18 Warriors at halftime.
Central shot just 3/17 from 3-point range in the 1st half. Early in the 3rd quarter Winnacunnet got a deflection which led to a steal and easy layup on the other end by Waterhouse. That gave the Warriors their largest lead of the game, 29-18. Makori answered with another 3-pointer (he hit five 3's on the evening). Leroy made a strong finish inside. Makor took a charge on a drive by Primavera. Then Makori got open inside for 2 more - you have to know where this kid is on the court at all times, because he can score at any time! That cut the Warriors' lead to 29-26.
Viviano scored a big and-1 out of the low post. Makori answered with another 3, from the top of the key. Winnacunnet then went on a 6-0 run, as sophomore wing James Morse connected on a 3-pointer, followed by a great dipsy-do move by Viviano in transition, going from the left side of the bucket to the right in order to evade a defender for the layup. That made it 38-29 WHS. Leroy countered with a jumper from the elbow, and it was 38-31 Warriors after 3 quarters.
"We are what we are - a 3-point shooting team" said Coach Wheeler. "We were more patient and took better shots late in the game. I thought Winnacunnet had a good plan and they executed it better than we did ours, for all but four minutes."
#3 seed Central advances to the D-I title game on Saturday where they will take on #5 seed Merrimack. It will be the third time in the last 5 years that these 2 teams square off for the title. Merrimack (led by Dimitri Floras and the Gendron brothers) won it in 2012, and in 2014 Central was the undefeated state champs (led by Brett Hanson and the Martin brothers).