By: Ross Laorenza
The Littleton Crusaders completed their perfect 22-0 season in dramatic fashion with a 38-36 victory over Portsmouth Christian Academy. Senior Ethan Ellingwood hit the game winner with less than three seconds to go in the game. "This win is everything to me," said Ellingwood. "This is my first state championship in high school...It feels so great to do this for Coach. He's been here so many times and it finally feels good to get one for him."
Crusader head coach Trevor Howard was a senior at Littleton when they won their last State Championship in 1990. "I've coached 19 years and my motivation was to have these guys experience what I got to experience when I was a senior," said Coach Howard. "I never dreamt that we'd go undefeated. That is so hard to do in high school basketball. Going undefeated and winning a State Championship...I'm speechless."
The win did not come easy for the Crusaders. They saw an 8 point halftime lead vanish in the third quarter and had to fight to the finish with a talented Eagles team. Littleton shot only 16% from the field in the second half, but they got the shots to fall when they needed them most.
The Crusaders started the game with a 5-0 run. A basket from Kuba Kubkowksi and a three-pointer from Danny Brammer gave Littleton their advantage. Portsmouth Christian started slow, but a three from Joseph Towle got them right back in the game. Brammer would counter with his second three of the game on the ensuing possession. 8-3, Littleton leads.
Kylani Lafleur showcased a remarkable skill set in the title game for Portsmouth Christian. At 6'2" with a long reach, LaFleur gave Littleton ball-handlers a tough matchup all game. Offensively, he led the Eagles with 20 points. Four came in the first quarter back-to-back Eagles' possessions. First he was able to shake free from Gabe Anan and knock home a jumper. Next we grabbed an offensive rebound and scored cutting the deficit to 1 point (8-7).
Little closed the quarter on a 4-0 with baskets from Logan Briggs and Kubkowski. At the end of the 1st quarter, Littleton: 12, Portsmouth Christian: 7.
Littleton lost arguably their best defender when senior Michael Rodriguez went down with a knee injury early in the 2nd quarter. He would not return.
Gabe Anan opened the scoring in the second, sneaking his way inside and banking his shot of glass and in. Kubkowski added to the lead going 1-2 at the line after getting fouled catching and entry pass and trying to score. LaFleur came through for the Eagles once more, grabbing and offensive board and scoring through contact. However, he missed the and-1. Missed free throws plagued Portsmouth Christian all night. They converted only 4 of 15 from the charity stripe.
Conversely, Littleton went 10 for 16 at the line. One of those 10 came from Kuba Kubkowski to complete a three point play. He was fouled after making a transition lay-up. A three-pointer from Logan Briggs had the Crusader lead at 21-9 with 4:46 to go in the half. Timeout: Portsmouth Christian.
The Eagles would start to make a push in the later stages of the second quarter. Another great effort by Kylani LaFleur led to two points. He spun through the paint and put up a shot, grabbed his own miss and scored. After two free throws from Kubkowski, Eagles center Devon Raferty-Smart drilled a three from the corner and got fouled. He missed the free throw, but the shot gave the crowd a huge boost of energy.
LaFleur was fouled, bit missed the front end of the 1-and-1. With 1:12 left and Littleton in the double-bonus, Eric Shafer made two free throws after being fouled by Smart.
Caleb Gendron picked up a rebound and an assist feeding LeFleur inside with a sweet shovel pass. At the other end at of the floor LaFleur swatted away a Kubkowski attempted lay-in. He then stole the ball after the inbound pass and scored easily with a lay up. A late whistle sent eventual hero Ethan Ellingwood to the line. He made 1 of 2 shots to close the scoring in the half. At halftime, Littleton: 26, Portsmouth Christian: 18.
The Eagles dominated play for most of the third quarter as Littleton's shooters went cold. Andrew McCormack scored first on a fast break. Kylani LaFleur followed going coast-to-coast for two more. McCormack had another chance at an easy lay-in after stealing the ball, however he jammed off iron and then committed a foul in frustration trying to reclaim the loose ball. He recovered nicely with a huge block of Logan Briggs and all was forgiven by the Eagle fans.
With 4:13 to go in the quarter LaFleur made 1 of 2 at the line to cut the Littleton lead down to three. Thirty-four seconds later the game was tied. LaFleur caught an inbounds feed and went straight up with the basketball. He drew contact and made the and 1. 26-26.
Portsmouth Christian would take their first lead of the night on a free throw from McCormack. But the lead didn't last long. After being held scoreless for over seven and a half minutes of play Littleton rallied. A clutch three from Cy Kezerian put them back in front 29-27. Two free throws from Danny Brammer closed the scoring. At the end of three, Littleton: 31, Portsmouth Christian: 27.
The game was tied at 31 in less than 30 seconds thanks to baskets from LaFleur and Paul Staude. The intensity was rising with every possession. The game stayed tied at 31 points, until Brammer drove baseline for Littleton and scored with five minutes to play. Andrew McCormack tied the game back up at the 4:15 mark finding himself left alone underneath. Brammer scored again inside for put Littleton up 35-33. Staude tied the game at 35 with a bank shot from the paint.
With two minutes to play Staude missed two huge free throws that would have given Portsmouth Christian a late lead. Logan Briggs picked up his fifth personal on the play. He returned to the bench to cheers from the Littleton fans. Replacing Briggs was Ethan Ellingwood.
With 1:41 to play Brammer missed the front end of a 1-and 1, but Ellingwood was there to grab the loose ball. He was fouled and made 1 of 2 at the line. 36-35 Littleton. With under a minute Andrew McCormack tied the game at 36 with his first of two free throws. The second one just barely rimmed out so the game stayed tied.
With 34.2 seconds to go Coach Howard called a timeout to set up a final play. After passing the ball around the perimeter and not seeing way through the defense, Littleton used another timeout with 10.2 to go.
When the ball came to Ethan Ellingwood you could barely hear, both side were cheering so loudly. Ellingwood drove through the paint and floated home a shot with less than three second to play. The Littleton fans exploded with cheers! Kylani LaFleur got off a half-court heave at the buzzer, but it bounded off glass no good. Final score. Littleton: 38, Portsmouth Christian: 36.
What. A. Game.
Danny Brammer led the Crusaders in scoring with 12 points. Kuba Kubkowksi finished with 9 points. Ethan Ellingwood totaled 5 points, with none bigger than the game winner.
Kylani LaFleur led all scorers with 20 points in the loss. Andrew McCormack finished with 6 points.
Congratulations to both teams on excellent seasons.
From Plymouth State University; Ross Laorenza: New Hampshire Notebook