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Rivalry rekindled

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Mascenic on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Mascenic on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Mascenic on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Mascenic on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Mascenic on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant boys' basketball team hosted Mascenic on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, February 14, 2018 11:17AM

Mascenic and Conant clashed like steel on steel Tuesday night in the the forged-in-flames Oriole/Viking rivalry. Tempered and honed by each of their three meetings this year, both teams looked sharp and deadly, but it was Conant who struck the killing blow.

“Both teams are right there,” said Oriole head coach Eric Saucier. “On any given night, either team can win. Both teams are in the upper standings of Division III. Each night, you know both teams are going to battle. It’s not just a rivalry game now, it’s a game between two solid teams that both have players on them.”

The marquee matchup between Conant’s Peyton Springfield and Mascenic’s Sam Stauffeneker did not disappoint early on, as the two dueled, firing deep threes back and forth. Springfield scored 18 of his game-high 23 in the first half with four three-pointers, each seemingly deeper than the last.

“They hit a lot of good shots,” said Mascenic forward Zack Barthel. “Peyton was feeling it first half and then they just kind of cooked us down low.”

Stauffeneker was equally tough, knocking down three threes himself, and the teams were tied at 26 with 1:30 to go in the first half. Then, Conant went on a run, with two straight buckets from Springfield and a steal and layup from Jake Drew to close the half strong and go to the locker room with a 32-26 lead.

“We just had to start playing defense,” Drew said. “They were hitting shots in the first half but we just had to get in a stance and play defense.”

Conant extended the lead to nine to start the second half, but the Vikings clawed back, working the ball down low to Jake Zina (11 point) and running the pick-and-roll to Barthel, who put in 13 of his team-high 19 in the second half. That play seemed virtually impossible for the undersized Orioles to stop, despite a great defensive effort from de facto Conant center Ryan Smith (11 points), but Mascenic coach Jay Starr said his team wasn’t able to run it as much as they’d have liked.

“The effort was definitely there,” Starr said. “It came down to executing what we needed to do. I think we got caught up in the emotion a little bit and didn't make the plays we needed to.”

Conant’s co-captains, the senior Smith and junior Drew, called upon their experience to play through the intensity.

“We have veterans,” Drew said. “We've played in playoff atmospheres like this before.” 

Drew pinpointed their 2016 semifinals trip – his freshman year – as a major building block for their maturity.

“That was big for us,” Drew said. “We understood how to learn from veterans and things like that.”

Barthel tied the game at 46 with a backdoor layup with five minutes left in the game, but after a Springfield free throw, the Orioles would never surrender their lead. Stauffeneker (17 points) was shaken up after a hard fall and left the game; though he returned, he wasn’t quite the same, hitting just one hoop in the fourth quarter.

Mascenic made things interesting nonetheless; down six with 4.4 seconds left, Drew Rines intentionally missed a free throw off the front of the rim, got his own rebound and passed it to Barthel for a bucket to cut it to four, but nothing would come of it, and Conant held on, 60-54.

“These big rivalry games, you've got to step up to the challenge, and I think [Conant] did that tonight,” Starr said. “Especially in the third and fourth quarter, when it came time to lock down, get a stop or get a bucket, they seemed to be able to do that better than we did.”

The Vikings (12-3) now must close out a tough final week of the regular season, traveling to Sanborn (5-9) Friday at 7 p.m. and then to ConVal (4-8) Wednesday before hosting a huge game against No. 2 Hopkinton (12-2) next Friday.

Barthel and the Vikings are confident they can bounce back down the stretch. 

“I know my team's capable of outhustling [any team],” Barthel said. “We don't give up … It's now game-by-game to try to get a good seed for playoffs.”

Conant (13-3) jumps up into third place in Division III, behind Hopkinton and No. 1 Somersworth (13-2). The Orioles host Monadnock (11-5) Tuesday at 7 p.m. and travel to Newport (3-10) to conclude the season next Friday.

“I just want to make sure we're playing hard each game and we're playing defense,” Saucier said, “because if we do that, we'll always have a chance. That's the biggest thing right now, making sure all the guys are buying in, making sure we're playing the defense we have to. You can say whatever you want, but when it comes playoff time, you gotta defend.”