Basketball: Campbell’s defense, Conant’s confidence stymie Oriole offense

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Campbell on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Campbell on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Conant’s Garret Somero looks to score against Campbell Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Campbell on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Campbell on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Campbell on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/21/2022 12:17:13 PM

After spending his high school career as a player battling Eric Saucier and the back-to-back champion Conant boys, former Campbell point guard Justin DiBenedetto returned to the Pratt Auditorium Thursday night for the first time as the Cougars’ head coach. And while Campbell couldn’t topple the mighty Orioles in those 2013 and 2014 championship games, DiBenedetto and the Cougars exorcised a few demons in Thursday’s 39-20 win.

“In my career, it didn’t always go well when we came here,” said DiBenedetto after the game. “I think we got one win in my four years here, and it was probably the best feeling we had in a long time. We had great battles with Eli [Hodgson] and Rob [O’Brien] and [Devin] Springfield back then. So this was a cool feeling. One thing I preached to my guys all week preparing for Conant was ‘Don’t look at the score,’ because [Saucier] is the best coach in the state – DI through IV. That’s a guy, no matter who’s on his team, he’s having these guys prepared and they’re going to work us hard.”

Defensive-minded DiBenedetto said his long and lanky Cougars are just hitting their stride defensively after struggling to start the season, and it showed Thursday, as Campbell forced as many turnovers (20) as Conant scored points. The Orioles appeared less than confident at times, hesitant to shoot (Conant only made seven shots all game), and allowed imperfect passes to be deflected, playing right into the Cougars’ claws.

“Thank god we can guard,” Saucier said after the game. “We’re playing great defense, but not that great – you’ve got to score the basketball.”

The Orioles’ early five-game losing streak included tough losses to a pair of Division III’s best, Kearsarge and Hopkinton, and even in those defeats, the improvement was evident. After a pair of wins against bottom-of-the-division Hillsboro and Fall Mountain, Conant might have gained some steam, but on-court communication and leadership is still lacking – a lack of chemistry unusual to see throughout Saucier’s 14 years leading the Orioles.

“I don’t care if you’re quiet off the court,” Saucier said. “That’s great. I am too. But when you’re on the court, you’ve got to talk to each other. You’ve got to communicate. They’ll talk when they’re off the floor, I don’t understand why we can’t talk on it. ... I think they lack a little confidence, and we’ve got to work on that – and that’s my job as a coach. That’s where I’m failing this team right now. And I’m going to work on that.”

Conant shot just 7-29 from the field, 5-12 from the free throw line and only scored six points in the second half. Center Garrett Somero was the high man for the Orioles with eight points. Campbell’s Brody Mills led all scorers with 10; Jackson Noury had nine.

“Tonight’s game was a big, a big turning point, or at least this week has been a turning point for us defensively,” DiBenedetto said. “It was good to see us finally get some stops.”

The Orioles were able to bounce back in Saturday’s rescheduled game against St. Thomas. Down two of their top six players, Conant managed to force overtime and come away with a 35-34 win. Point guard Manny Hodgson provided the big spark for the Orioles Saturday with a team- and season-high 17 points; his emergence as the driving playmaker Conant needs to initiate the offense would be a huge boost for the Orioles. 

Derrick DeWees grabbed 11 rebounds against the Saints.

Conant (4-6) hosts Stevens Tuesday and then heads back over to Campbell for a rematch Friday, Jan. 28; the Cougars play Hopkinton Tuesday and then Raymond before hosting the Orioles in what could be an entirely different ballgame than Thursday’s.

“[Saucier] will come at us with 10 new things and we’ve got to be ready,” DiBenedetto said. “I have so much respect for him. I used to always wish I got a year to play under him, to know what’s it like to play under such a great point guard like him. So it’s an honor to coach against him.”


ConVal back on track

ConVal’s senior center Malachi Page sank the game-winning free throws against MV Wednesday night and then took a charge in the final seconds to seal the bounceback 43-42 win for the Cougars. 

Senior guard Christian Buffum had a game-high 16 points in the win; sophomore Joe Gutwein added nine. 

It was ConVal’s fifth game in seven days; the Cougars lost their second game of the season at undefeated Pelham the night before. 

ConVal went on to play at Coe-Brown Friday night, where they squeaked out another close win. Austin Knight led ConVal with 14 points; Christian Buffum scored eight of his 10 in the fourth quarter, and Joe Gutwein scored 10 of his own.  

ConVal (10-2) was set to host Laconia Monday after press time and then host Manchester West Thursday and Pelham Friday. 


Mascenic 61, Hillsboro-Deering 38

The Vikings have put together a short win streak after snapping their four-game skid last week, most recently beating the Hillcats in a runaway in Hillsboro Friday night. Joe Cocozella led Mascenic with 17 points; Wyatt Duval, Blaine Krook and Dylan Barthel had nine each.

Mascenic (5-4) hosts Kearsarge Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.


Conant 60, Campbell 25

Junior guard Brynn Rautiola scored a game-high 18 points as Conant handled last year’s Final Four opponent Campbell with ease in Litchfield Thursday evening. Division III’s leading scorer, junior center Emma Tenters (18.8 ppg) added 16 points and senior Teagan Kirby scored 12.

Conant (9-0) was originally scheduled to play a rescheduled game at Raymond Saturday, but that game has now been postponed again until Feb. 8. The Orioles are at Stevens Tuesday and host Kearsarge Wednesday night. 


Mascenic splits the week

The Viking girls got a much-needed win last week before losing their playoff rematch on Friday evening. 

On Wednesday, the Vikings snapped their seven-game losing streak by beating Somersworth 41-32. Skye Lambert led Mascenic with 11; Lexis Vautour had eight. 

On Friday, Mascenic hosted Hillsboro-Deering, the team that knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs last winter. The Hillcats left New Ipswich with a 46-34 win, despite 10 points from Hannah Zina and seven points each from Leah St. John, Olivia Shaw and Kenzie Cormier. 

Mascenic (2-8) is at Kearsarge Tuesday. 


ConVal 57, Coe-Brown 37

Senior Mairin Burgess had a double-double and played her best game of the year, coach Kevin Proctor said, as the Cougars handily dispatched the Bears at home Friday night. Burgess had 10 points; Morgan Bemont led with 14 points and Allie Burgess scored 13. 

Tasha McNeil lit a spark for the Cougars in the third quarter, Proctor said; ConVal’s success in transition was the key. 

ConVal (4-7) was set to play at Laconia Monday night and at Bow Wednesday. 


Souhegan 4, ConVal-Conant 3

Griffin senior Tessa Spingola made a valiant effort in her first-ever game in net for ConVal-Conant Saturday, but the Griffins came up just short in their rematch at Souhegan.

With usual keeper Francesca Ketola away from the team for the weekend, Spingola – who plays field hockey goalie and softball catcher for Conant but had never played goalkeeper before – took over in net and made 26 saves (86.7%). Makennah McPherson scored the first and second goals of her career, and Addie Lustenberger added another, but the Sabers won it 4-3. 

Aubrey Niemela added an assist. 

ConVal-Conant (1-7) hosts Keene at Keene Ice Thursday at 4:30 p.m.


ConVal-Conant loses two

The Griffins hit the skids a bit last week, losing 10-0 against Hollis-Brookline at home Wednesday and then 4-2 at Sanborn on Saturday. 

ConVal-Conant (2-4) is at Belmont-Gilford Friday. 


ConVal competes in first race of season

The Cougars finally hit the slopes on Friday afternoon after weather conditions delayed the start of the alpine ski season at Crotched Mountain up until that point. ConVal’s traditional Thursday afternoon races have been bumped back to Fridays due to Crotched’s scaled-back early week hours, and the Cougars got right after it last Friday.

The girls’ team, led by senior star Molly Dishong, took second place. Dishong, who is a top contender for the Division II championship this winter, was first overall in 1:00.37 in the GS race, ahead of Souhegan’s Lyla Kimball (1:01.92).

ConVal’s Jen Hopkins was seventh overall in 1:04.45; Caitlin Beal (16th), Eva McCullough (18th), Laramie Wilson (22nd), Zoey Lazzaro (32nd), Kendall Larson (33rd), Lucy Jackson (35th), Holland Calcutt (36th), Lydia Cleveland (39th), Lily Heck (45th), Eliza Bull (48th) and Merrit Kotula (66th) all finished for ConVal.

The boys’ team is not nearly as large; the Cougars brought only five skiers and finished sixth as a team.

Ben Fraley was ConVal’s best, finishing seventh in 1:02.06; Owen Kotula (12th), Garret Rousseau (27th), Carter Rousseau (45th) and Fletcher Maggs (53rd) also finished for the Cougars. 

ConVal is set to race at Sunapee Tuesday and at Crotched Friday. 

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