A look at the upcoming playoffs and a recap of the past season for those who didn't make the cut
Eli Hodgson and his fellow Conant seniors have been here before, and they know what they need to do to reach their ultimate goal. Now, it’s just a matter of going out there and executing. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Mascenic is flying high after Jared Stauffeneker’s big night and a wild final week that ended in a one-point loss at No. 4 Campbell. If they keep the momentum up, they have a shot at a run. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Jordan Litts did most of the scoring for WLC this season, and the rest of DIV knows it. If senior Kyle Pratt, above, and the rest of the Warriors can add some scoring, WLC is in business. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Senior leadership key to Orioles’ state title hopes
Conant’s been through it all before; will their experience pay off in the playoffs?
For the Conant Orioles, this is business as usual. While most teams find themselves trying to raise their game to the next level when the postseason comes around, Conant knows they don’t have to a do a thing differently than they’ve been doing it all season long. Of course, when you play every minute with the same level of intensity as the final minute of the title game, there’s not much room for improvement.
“We are where we want to be,” said senior guard Rob O’Brien. “Once we hit playoffs, no matter who we play it is win or go home, and everyone is going to give it their all.”
“We’ve treated games in the regular season like do-or-die games,” said senior forward Eli Hodgson, “so in the end, it will come down to instinct and our ability to close.”
O’Brien and Hodgson, along with fellow senior tri-captain Kyle Carland, have been leading the team all season long and senior Nick Panagiotes has been crucial to the cause as well. With all that experience at the forefront, head coach Eric Saucier is confident that his seniors are ready to take control.
“I told them – this is it,” Saucier said. “We go as they go. It’s their senior year. I told them it’s their team. I just direct us. We’re going to go as far as they take us. They’re the ones on the floor, they’re the ones that play the most minutes, they’re the ones that have put in the time, so it’s up to them to take us where we want to go. They know what they have to do now, it’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”
It’s a challenge that Hodgson and the rest of the seniors are happy to take on.
“We’ve done this before,” Hodgson said. “Although being a leader puts me in a much different position, I still strive to perform on a game-to-game basis and want the younger guys to do the same.”
Junior Nate Wheeler and sophomore Josh DeGrenier have been playing well beyond their years this season and show no signs of lsowing down as they enter the postseason.
Conant wrapped up their regular season with big wins against Campbell and Bow, and while they’re technically the No. 2 seed in DIII, their blowout win over No. 1 Hopkinton back in January put the rest of the league on notice. And while they haven’t been perfect, their only two losses came by one point at Campbell and by two at Stevens in overtime (playing without Hodgson and Panagiotes).
Conant has a first-round bye, and won’t have to play a game on the road unless they get to the semi-finals at SNHU. Their first game will be Thursday night, hosting the winner of No. 15 Mascenic and No. 18 Sanborn. Potential matchups with Campbell, Hopkinton and Newport will have to wait until the title game, as the only dominant seed in the Conant side of the bracket is No. 3 Berlin.
With home-court advantage and a deep team of experienced, talented players, the Orioles still look like the favorites in DIII. They are a cohesive unit that has been playing together for years, and they’re ready to win the one way they know how – as a family. As Hodgson said: “The only way we’re going to do it is together.”
Vikings riding a wave of success into the tourney
Mascenic has started silencing the doubters, but can they beat top teams?
They couldn’t be riding higher than they are right now. After missing the playoffs last season, the Mascenic Vikings worked their way to a 9-9 season with more than a handful of memorable highlights, none bigger than junior Jared Stauffeneker scoring his 1,000th career point at home last week.
That game came in the midst of a three-game winning streak, and the loss that snapped it was just as important as any of the wins. On the final night of the regular season, Mascenic rolled into Campbell and very nearly came away with the win; the Vikings had a two-point lead with seconds left to play before Campbell converted an and-one to take the victory.
“I think we’re finally realizing that we can play and we can play with some top teams,” said head coach Jay Starr. “I think the kids are pretty excited, and the whole community for that matter is pretty excited about how Jared scored his 1,000th and how things have been kind of coming together for us. It’s been awesome for us. We can keep riding that momentum and that feeling that the kids have. I think they’re pretty jacked up and ready to go here the playoffs.”
For the Vikings, the emotion starts with senior captain Matt Cyr, who’s as jacked up as anyone as Mascenic readies for the postseason.
“We’re ready to go out and make some noise in the playoffs,” Cyr said. “Right now, we’re playing some of the best basketball of the entire year. We’re hoping to use the strong finish to the regular season and ride that momentum into the playoffs. We’re ready to go!”
No. 15 Mascenic hosts No. 18 Sanborn tonight at 7 p.m. Mascenic beat Sanborn 52-45 back in mid-January in their only meeting of the year.
“Last time we played these guys, it was a little closer than we liked,” Cyr said, “so we’re really looking to come out hard and give it everything we’ve got to do to win.”
The Vikings are playing a much better brand of basketball right now than they were last time they faced Sanborn; junior Shane Rautiola, a lanky wingman with a deadly spot-up three, has come into his own as a second option behind Stauffeneker, and freshman Daimon Gibson has been a pleasant surprise as well.
If Mascenic can get past Sanborn, they’ll find themselves in the unenviable position of playing on the road at Conant. It’s a tough task, to be sure, but at this point in the year, the Vikings are as ready as they’ll ever be.
“All season long, we’ve been pretty battle tested,” Starr said. “We played Conant twice, Campbell twice, Hopkinton twice and Newport. Those are the top four teams right there. We’ve been battle tested and we’re ready to go, ready to make something happen in the playoffs for sure.”
Jordan Litts leads the road Warriors to Colebrook
Who will step up and share the WLC scoring load as they head north?
It wasn’t how the Warriors wanted to end their regular season, but if you ask head coach Ken Garnham, it wasn’t entirely unexpected, either. WLC finished out the year on a four-game losing streak, culminating in an 84-36 loss to Sunapee at home in the final game of the season, with scouts from their first-round playoff opponent, Colebrook, watching from the stands.
“That was our strategy before the game,” Garnham joked, “to play lousy, get killed, and then Colebrook would take us for granted.”
Of course, that four-game losing streak came at the hands of DIV’s top team, Derryfield, who beat WLC twice last week; the suddenly-hot Mascenic Vikings; and No. 4 seed Sunapee, a force at 15-3.
As the 12-seed, WLC will need to put those losses in the rearview when they make the long bus trip up to No. 5 Colebrook (15-3).
“I don’t think Colebrook is a juggernaut,” Garnham said. “They’re fast, they play straight man to man, they’re not overly big. I think that we can compete with this team. I think the style of basketball that they have is something that we can compete with.”
Junior forward Jordan Litts has been the player to watch this year for the Warriors, as he averaged 22.8 points per game, good for second in DIV to Pittsfield’s Kris Perkins. Litts shouldered the regular season scoring load, but the secret is out; opposing teams like Colebrook are going to be keying on him defensively, but Litts said he isn’t going to let that slow him down.
“I’m just going to play the way I know how to play,” Litts said, “and if I have an open shot or an open lane, I’m going to take the opportunity to score. I will look more as a distributor also, though.”
With all the attention on Litts, it will come down to players like senior Kyle Pratt, sophomore Duncan Rae and junior Connor Melrose to take some of the pressure off.
“We’re hoping that we can get some of our players to step up and have good games,” Garnham said. “We obviously can’t rely on Jordan to do it all.”
The Warriors have come a long way since the beginning of the season, and Litts is confident that his teammates can rise to the occasion.
“I feel like our team has come leaps and bounds, chemistry-wise,and that will be good for us,” Litts said.
Across the board, spirits are high in the Warriors camp heading into tonight’s game at Colebrook (6 p.m.).
“It’s been a while since we’ve gone to a playoff with the prospects of winning,” Garnham said, “so we’re looking forward to it. I think we’re a dangerous team.”
IN AND OUT
Orioles knocked out in first playoff round
They were giddy with excitement and confident as can be heading into the playoffs, but the Orioles simply got outplayed in their first-round matchup at Somersworth.
“They had at least three shooters, they were athletic, pressed, pushed, up-tempo,” said head coach Dan Rosenfield. “They were bigger than we were. They had good size and they were very deep.”
Conant played Somersworth tight early, but turnovers and poor shot selection started creeping in, and Somersworth ran away with the game, 66-40.
“Somersworth was the better team that night,” Rosenfield said. “At least that night, they were the better team, and we just didn’t have any answers. My only regret is that I didn’t do a better job getting them prepared for that last game. We tried, we worked hard, we went over everything and I just – I’d like to have it to do it all over again. If there was anyone who failed in that last game, it was I.”
Conant was an exceptionally young team this year, and with the exception of senior captain Heather Bilodeau, all the key players will be in place again next season. Katie Chadbourne will likely step into the senior captain role; Sarah Gonsalves, already a dominant force, should be even better than she was this year; young guards Megan Wheeler and Grace Chadbourne got plenty of playing time this year, and 8th-grader Eva Hodgson is waiting in the wings. The only question mark now is whether Rosenfield will be returning as coach.
“First, I need to be invited back,” Rosenfield said. “And then I need to think about it. Because it’s a big life change for me being up there for four months. So I just want to take a week or two to get over the emotion of the season.”
WLC ousted by Nute 54-48
As she’d done so many times in the past, Sami Bosquet, the true embodiment of the WLC Warriors’ spirit, left it all on the court in what would be the final basketball game of her high school career on Tuesday night.
The Warriors kept their first-round playoff game against Nute close for three quarters before stumbling at the beginning of the fourth. With the score 37-28, WLC missed its first four shots of the period while Nute made its first four, the 8-0 Ram run pushing the lead to 17. At that point, WLC coach Denny Claire called a timeout and told his team they needed to buckle down, give it their all and play strong defense for the rest of the game, and they would have a shot.
The Warriors did just that, and with Bosquet at the reins, they clawed their way back into the game.
“Sami led them,” Claire said on Wednesday. “Sami really got going and got everyone working a lot harder.”
The Warriors held the Rams scoreless for more than three minutes as they pressed their way back into it.
“We actually had a really good shot at it,” Claire said.
After a timely bucket by Kelsey Randlett cut the lead to five, Bosquet made a steal in the defensive end and dribbled down the sidelines before running afoul of a Nute defender, who gave her a hard bump, depositing her in the first row of the stands.
“There’s a girl from Nute who is known to play, well, let’s just say physical,” Claire said. “She pushed Sami into the bleachers with both hands. We’re just lucky that there were people sitting there.”
Inexplicably, the call on the court was not an intentional foul, but just a personal foul with a one-and-one the result, which left Claire shaking his head.
“It was a very bad call and everybody in the whole gym knew it,” Claire said, “including their coach, because she pulled [the Nute player] right out of the game and apologized afterward.”
An intentional foul would have given WLC two shots and the ball with a chance to close that five-point lead.
“I can’t say we would have won the game because we’ll never know,” Claire said. “When you play all year long and it comes down to something like that... I’m still upset about that call and I probably will be for a year.”
Nute won 54-48. Bosquet scored 14, Ally Schwab 11, Tesa Simpson 7 and Randlett 6.
After the game, Claire was frustrated, both at the loss and the fact that Bosquet’s career ended on a sour note.
“I really would have liked to get her to the next round,” Claire said. “We’re going to really miss her. She’s definitely the floor leader. She gives 110 percent every time out on the floor. She’s very determined. She got other people going. When she got going, other people understood that you have to leave it all on the floor. She’s the leader. She’s the one who dives on the floor. She got the wind knocked out of her, took an elbow to the stomach. We took her out for about 30 seconds and she was ready to go back in. As a coach, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
JUST MISSED IT
After one of their most memorable seasons in recent years, Mascenic struggled to recapture that success this year. Without a true center, everyone had to play a bigger position than they should have, and without a deep bench, they were playing those minutes with little respite. Still, the Viking girls never quit; seniors Cheyanne Sauvola, Sarah Sharp and Liz Martel were some of the toughest players in the area this season, regardless of their team’s record. They’ll all be gone next year, of course, but there’s reason to hope ahead; center Emily Beauvais will return from Winchendon Prep next year seasoned against NEPSAC competition, and Brier Haigh made huge strides at the point this year.
Even with a 3-15 record, the ConVal boys team had their share of highlights this year. They put on a great show at the Keene holiday tournament, beating Mascenic for the White Division title and earning senior Kyle Murray an MVP nod. Their performance against a shorthanded Conant team at Hoops for Hope won’t soon be forgotten. Jordan Moore, Malik Earle, Jaymes Finley and Murray will be sorely missed as the senior leaders, but the Cougars have a promising future ahead of them under new coach Kevin Proctor. Next year’s crop of young players includes Liam Baldwin, Griffin Werth and Isaac Bacon.
When the ConVal girls beat Conant at the Hoops for Hope game, the Cougars looked like a team on the rise. Surprisingly enough, that was the peak of ConVal’s season. The Cougars wouldn’t win another game for the rest of the season, ending the year on a nine-game losing streak. They stayed alive down to the final week, but snow forced a long layoff followed by a spurt of four games in five days, and they finished a win short of the playoffs. Along the way, senior Jess Nerz cemented her place as one of ConVal’s all-time greats, finishing her career with 973 points, good for 4th all-time among ConVal girls.