Rivals to meet with banner on the line

There was little question who the Conant fans wanted to see in Saturday’s Division III title game.

With the Orioles’ semifinal victory over Newport well in hand late in the fourth quarter, some began the cheer “We want Campbell.”

Those fans got their wish.

Conant, ranked No. 2, dominated its way to a 13th straight victory and 20th overall by defeating the Tigers, 65-42, on Tuesday night in the first of two Division III semifinal contests at Southern New Hampshire University.

In the nightcap, No. 5 Campbell knocked off the defending state champions and No. 1 seeded Berlin, 62-44.

Conant owns a 20-1 record entering the championship game. That one blemish can be attributed to Campbell. In mid-January at Conant, the Cougars erased a double-digit second half deficit to earn a two-point win over the Orioles, who were without senior co-captain Jake Carlson. The favor was returned on Feb. 19 with a 70-37 dismantling of the Cougars — this time in Campbell’s home gym.

So Saturday will serve as round three. Otherwise known as the rubber match, but one with way more at stake than the first two.

Over the years, this has become quite a rivalry. While Conant has owned the recent series, Campbell always seems to play them tough — like the first meeting.

But never have they played on a stage like this. Never with a championships banner awaiting the winner.

And this is how it should be. Two intense rivals playing with history on the line. It is very easy to see that both teams enjoy beating the other about as much as any team out there. That is why Saturday’s winner will earn so much more than just a plaque and medal. Bragging rights for years to come are at stake.

Campbell’s best win of the tournament came on Tuesday with its 18-point statement against the defending champs, just a few days after escaping a trip to Gilford by two in the quarterfinals. I guess the Conant fans were not the only ones who wanted to see a third meeting.

Conant, on the other hand, is cruising right along. The Orioles are averaging 70 points per game in three tournament contests and winning by a margin of 27-plus.

There is a focus among this group. They have been working all season for this moment. A state championship has been the one and only goal.

Now it is within their grasp and the only team standing in their way is Campbell.

This group has shouldered the burden of carrying on the legacy of Conant basketball and after going two years without a title, since winning five straight from 2006-10, this team would do anything to add its own banner to the walls of Pratt Auditorium.

And what better way to do it than against your rival.

I don’t know about all of you, but Saturday cannot come fast enough.

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