Cavalier boys seek a second HB winter banner

Staff photo by TOM KING Hollis Brookline's Matt Simco and the rest of his Cavalier teammaates have their eyes on one thing: a boys Divison II title to go with the one the girls captured over the weekend.

And then there was one.

It’s been a long, winding tournament road, filled with upsets, reschedulings, gladness and sadness.

Through it all, the area gets to celebrate two girls basketball championships with Bishop Guertin (Division I) and Hollis Brookline (Division II).

Can one more title be in the offing? It’s up to the Hollis Brookline boys basketball team, who would love at the end of this upcoming week to have the police car and fire truck escort with horns and sirens blaring that the Cavalier girls received late Friday night when their bus hit the town line after winning the first girls basketball title in school history.

The top seed, 17-2 Cavaliers hope to land in the Division II finals, but to do it they’ll have to beat No. 5 Merrimack Valley in Monday’s semifinal matchup at 7:30 p.m. at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym.

It’s a hurdle the Cavs couldn’t get over a year ago, falling to then top-ranked Lebanon.

Now they’re in the favorite’s role. A potential threat in what had been a red-hot Kearsarge team has been eliminated, but now in the way is the team that eliminated them, 15-5 Merrimack Valley. The Pride advanced this past Friday on a miraculous Jake Hebert 3-pointer at the buzzer, whose video has made the usual internet/social media rounds. The Cavaliers and the Pride didn’t meet in the regular season, but HB’s signature has been defense, and the Cavs will look to prevent guard Ryan Defina from setting the tempo the way he did vs. Kearsarge en route to a game high 17 points.

The Pride can win close games, as it beat Windham 52-51 in the prelims. MV dealt with Kearsarge’s 6-9 center Tyler Mattos in that epic win, but can they deal with Cavalier seniors 6-6 Matt Dowling and 6-4 Mike Simco? The Cavs got over their long layoff to beat rival Milford in the quarters, and are now ready for the wide open spaces of the Lundholm floor.

“The guys have worked hard for this,” Cavs coach Cole Etten said. “They want it bad. You can see it as they work hard in practice every day for it.”

Just like the Cavalier girls did.

“Hopefully, we can put a couple of banners on the wall,” HB senior Scott VanCoughnett said.

In the other semi, No. 7 Oyster River faces No. 3 Pembroke at 5:30 p.m. The finals are Saturday at UNH at 3 p.m.

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Now granted, Bishop Guertin girls basketball coach Brad Kreick wasn’t even close to annointing his team as the state’s best during this season, but was there a point where he wondered if they’d have a title shot at all?

The answer is yes. The Cards went down to Attleboro, Mass.and got beaten 56-36 by a very good Bishop Feehan team in one of their four much-discussed out of state games.

“When we went down to Feehan in early January, I think we got beat by 18 or 20,” Kreick said. “We never had a question about whether or not we were going to be OK. We were still banged up, but you go on the road like that and you get hammered the way we got hammered, you scratch your chin a little bit and say, ‘You know, I know we’re eventually going to grow up here, but is it going to be this year, is it going to be next year, when’s it going to be?

“That was a really critical juncture of our season when we just really got it back together, the kids decided they were really going to make a commitment to each other, work consistently day in, day out and we just got better and better. We still lost a game or two after that (to Bedford and then Mercy High School of Bloomfield, Conn.), but that was probably the low point, if there was a low point of such a great season.”

And, Kreick added, “We got it put to us a couple of times early in the season by some real good basketball teams. And they just figured how to grow from it.”

Gone will be senior Caroline Hoffer, who drew the loudest cheers of anyone on Saturday, including from her own teammates.

“I’m running out of things to say about the kid,” Kreick said. “She just such an amazing kid, on the court and off the court. … We’re going to miss her dearly. I wouldn’t trade with anyone else with what we’ve got coming back, but that’s just a gaping hole, an intangible we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with.”

Leading the large contingent of returnees will be current sophomore guard Erin Carney, who struggled in the first half offensively, despite her big buzzer beating 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter. She responded with nine second half points.

“The kid’s a scorer,” Kreick said. “As long as she’s taking good shots in the flow of our offense, a scorer’s got to shoot the ball. I said to her as we were walking off the floor at halftime, ‘You’re taking good shots, keep shooting the basketball.The odds are going to be in our favor that you’re going to start scoring the ball. I though she did great in not getting tentative and looking for her offense.”

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The other area girls champion, Hollis Brookline, is also losing a senior leader in Joanna Balsamo. But that will just make her younger sister, current sophomore point guard Christina Balsamo even more important next season.

When the Cavaliers were regrouping after last year’s finals loss to Lebanon, Christina Balsamo was a little used freshman guard. But she ended up being the missing piece to what became a championship team.

“We left the locker room last year as a group saying ‘We’re going to come back here’,” Cavs coach Bob Murphy said. “I had a pretty good group coming back. The little Balsamo girl showed up to all of a sudden take over the point this year. And as you can see she did an unbelievable job at it.

“In a pressure game like (the Friday’s finals), I thought she was pretty nervous before the game started, but not when the game (was ongoing). Once the game started, she was fine.”

She’ll be a big key along with 6-1 junior center Elizabeth Atkinson next season. “She came to play (in the finals), and it was fun to watch,” Murphy said. “I was worried Liz was going to get in foul trouble early on and (Stark coach Bruce) Johnson was going to try to go at her to get her out of the game, but thank goodness she stayed in the game. That was key for us, to have her around.”

And they’ll have her around next season as well, plus a ton of others.

“It was really in the moment,” Atkinson, who scored nine points, said. “I was thinking the the last few games I hadn’t been able to hit my shots, so I was trying to relax.”

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It wasn’t all celebratory for local teams. The Campbell High School boys basketball team had high hopes but a sluggish final 12 minutes doomed the Cougars against Somersworth. But coach Sudi Lett wanted his team to remember how hard they fought to get to the finals and the brigh future that is ahead for the program.

“We lost, but we have nothing to hang our head about,” he said. “They played their heart out, they worked as hard as they possibly could.”

The Cougars will be boosted by the potential return of many of their key players, including juniors Jonah Crema and Justin Furlong, plus junior Joaquin Heller. No one would be surprised to see them back in the finals in 2019. But what made the difference for them this year?

“I think what made our year so successful is when they started buying into ‘team’,” Lett said. “Buying into each other. Buying into being concerned about each other’s play than their own play. Once we got the selflessness on our team – that was one of our main components –

we took off.”

They hope to pick up right where they left off last season. The Hilltoppers were clearly helped Saturday by their Final Four experience at SNHU last year, and perhaps that will help the Cougars in turn going into next season.

“I told them when you’re in the tournament, every round it gets harder and harder and harder,” Lett said. “And when you’re in the championship again on this different floor at this level, it’s really hard.”

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For two straight seasons, the Bishop Guertin High School boys hockey team lost to the eventual champion in the semis, the latest being last Thursday’s 3-2 defeat at the hands of Hanover, which beat Concord 2-1 on Saturday for the Division I title.

But there’s a common reason in Cards head coach Gary Bishop’s mind as to why his team hasn’t been able to get over that semifinal hump.

“We were hoping we could generate more offense,” Bishop said. “We haven’t finished. We didn’t finish last year (either). Peterson (Cards senior Ben) had 25 goals, and the next guy had 10. You need more than one guy. And it was the same thing last year, he was the number one guy in scoring last year, and there was no one close.”

The Cards will not only have to replace his scoring, but also the experienced defense of players like Jared Zeichick, Cam Fagan, and Jack Johnansen.

“We were happy with the overall effort (of the season),” Bishop said. “We just needed a little more offense.”

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New Hampshire and Vermont square off against each other in a lot of sports via the All-Star route, and bowling is no exception. The two states competed on Saturday with New Hampshire winning 4-3 in games, with triumphs in games 6 and 7 of 165-120 and 189-170 to rally from a 3-2 deficit.

Leading the way was the overall individual winner Mike Pavletich of Bishop Guertin, who rolled a 258 in the individual finals, beating Goffstown’s Ryan Gentes, 258-246.

Taylor Rendall of Souhegan also competed, rolling games of 188, 165 and 154, as did Saber teammate Jen McNally (139, 127, 121).

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The Nashua Lions Club presented two Nashua High School North and South basketball players with trophies at each school’s awards night last week. Nashua North’s C.J. Barrett and Nashua South’s Michael Beaudette each received the Tony Mirandos Award and the C.Wally Lawrence Award, respectively, as the Titans’ and Panthers’ unsung heroes for the 2017-18 seasons.

(Telegraph staff writer Hector Longo contributed to this report).