Busy Week Two for local high school tourney teams

Telegraph file photo by TOM KING Nashua South's Andres Hulfachor drives to the hoop against Winnacunnet earlier this season. Hulfachor is one of the players the Panthers will count on in their Division I prelim tonight at Londonderry.

Now we get into the meat and potatoes of the local high school tourney season.

It may be a brief meal, depending on how the local Divsion I and II boys basketball teams can do, as all except Souhegan are playing on the road this week in their respective first round games.

But besides those events, three local teams – Bishop Guertin girls and Campbell boys basketball, plus Merrimack boys hockey – are playing in semifinals this week, hoping to extend things to a championship weekend.

First up tonight are the Division I boys basketball prelms, with No. 14 Merrimack (6-12) at No. 3 Spaulding (14-4) at 6:30 p.m., and at 7 it’s No. 13 Nashua South (8-10) at No. 4 Londonderry (14-4), No. 9 Alvirne (11-7) at No. 8 Concord (11-7), and No. 10 Nashua North (10-8) at No. 7 Keene (11-7).

Wednesday is the busiest tourney day. In the local Division II boys hoop prelims at 7 p.m., No. 8 Souhegan (11-7) hosts No. 9 Kearsarge (10-8), but defending champ Hollis Brookline (No. 13, 9-9) is at No. 4 Pelham (15-3) and No. 15 Milford (6-12) visits No. 2 ConVal (17-1).

Also on Wednesday, the upstart No. 6 Merrimack boys hockey team (10-7-2) faces No. 2 Dover (15-3) in the Division II semifinals at Concord’s Everett Arena at 5:30 p.m., and in the Division III boys hoop semis, No. 4 Campbell (16-4) faces No. 1 Somersworth (16-3) at Southern New Hampshire University at 8 p.m.

Thursday local basketball fans can return to SNHU to catch No. 1, 19-0 Bishop Guertin facing No. 4, 17-3 Manchester Memorial at 8 p.m.

Here’s a look at the week:

BOYS BASKETBALL

DIVISION I

Sometimes these tournaments always feature a lower seed that gets hot and climbs through the ranks. Can that happen with the locals, all of whom have to open on the road?

But in this one, there’s a clear favorite, No. 1, 18-0 Exeter. The strength of boys basketball the last couple of years has been on the seacoast.

“Exeter has obviously set themselves apart, from just steamrolling the rest of the group this year,” Nashua North coach Steve Lane said. “They’re the clear favorite.

“But if you get a disciplined Spaulding team, a disciplined Winnacunnet team, a dangerous Dover team. … There’s some weapons out there that can knock people off. Even teams like South and us and Alvirne are dangerous teams if things click at the right time.”

Back in mid-January, it looked like Lane’s Titans, led by sophomore point guard Curtis Harris and potential scorers Nate Kane and Branden Choate, would finish up in the standings. But they’ve hit a couple of bumps in the road and find themselves having to visit a Keene team that they fell to 56-48 just two weeks ago. Get past Keene and the Titans may have to visit the No. 2 Salem Blue Devils in the quarters, whom they did not play. That could be a great matchup.

Can South be one of those teams making a run? The Panthers, who can get scoring from anywhere but really get their tempo set by the hustling Andres Hulfachor and Ivan Nyantenji, have a tough road game at LHS. Londonderry and senior guard Ethan May were tough the other night at North, the Lancers beat South 65-43 at home back on Jan. 25, and it’s up to both defenses to take charge. The winner likely gets a hustling Winnacunnet team next, although don’t count out Dover vs. the Warriors in that seacoast rivalry.

“They know our defense is what’s going to get us to win,” Lancers coach Nate Stanton said. “We’re not a high scoring team, I think we’ve got to defend.”

It’s the same with Spaulding, which has one real scorer in Aries Breakfield, who will face Merrimack at the Rochester Recreation Center. Neither team is high scoring, and anything the Tomahawks can do in the postseason is a bonus.

An intriguing game is Alvirne at Concord. Can you believe this will be the Tide’s first home playoff game since the 2000-01 season? But since hitting a three -game snag in early January, the Marty Edwards-coached Broncos have gone 8-3. The first loss in that early January slide? To Concord at home, 55-52, thanks to 25 points by the Tide’s Scott Lampron. The Meshack Mujariri and Ryan Weston-led Broncos would love to return the favor.

But Exeter, with a first round bye, awaits that winner with scorers like Ryan Grijalva, Kevin Henry, and Josh Morissette (there’s that name again).

“With the exception of Exeter (nine back from last year), there are a lot of teams that have a chance,” Lane said. “With the right mindset, the ability to control tempo and play the style that they want.”

Can North do it?

“I would like to think so,” Lane said. “But we’re going to have to get back to playing a little bit better, smarter, and caring for the basketball.”

The Pick: Exeter over Winnacunnet.

DIVISION II

The Sabers are the best area team here, led by, among others, scorer Matt McCool and senior Jeff Boehm, and Kearsarge will have a lot of ground to make up after losing to the Sabers 65-43 at home back on Jan. 31. Souhegan, if it wins, has to travel to face No. 1 Oyster River, so there are early hurdles in the potential trip to Durham. But the Sabers played the Bobcats tough in a 58-52 loss this season in Amherst.

Thus we should all remember the cardinal rule, well spelled out by Hollis Brookline’s Grant Snyder: “Any team can upset any team, the competition has been pretty good all year.”

The Cavaliers hope to remember that on the road against a Pelham team it beat by a point, 58-57, back during its 4-0 start on the year. The Cavs may have a tough time to repeat, but if they win Wednesday they would face the winner of Coe-Brown-Merrimack Valley, neither of whom they faced. Could be interesting.

Milford coach Dan Murray likes the ConVal draw, even though they’re the No. 2 seed. “We match up pretty good against them,” he said. “But the top three teams (Oyster River, ConVal, and Pembroke) can be beaten by the Coe-Browns of the world.”

The Pick: Pembroke over Pelham.

DIVSISION III

The Campbell Cougars are right where they expected to be, in a rematch with Somersworth not only of last year’s finals loss but also a 61-51 regular season win at the Hilltoppers’ home two weeks ago.

But always beware of a Cougar team in a tournament – they will play you tough.

“Like I told the boys, things have a funny way of working themselves out,” Cougars first-year coach Frank Girginis said. “All you know is you just hope the past prepares you for the moment at hand. … Somersworth is the No. 1 seed and defending champions. Until someone beats them, they’re King of the Mountain.”

Can the Cougars make that climb? Yes, if they keep playing the way they have the last two games, using their depth and getting games like they did the other night from senior guard Jonah Crema (24 points).

In that first meeting, the Cougars jumped out to a 21-6 lead and held held Somersworth standout Evan Gray to 10 points.

DIVISION I GIRLS

Let’s face it, no one is really picking Manchester Memorial to knock off the Cardinals on Thursday, especially since BG routed the Lyric Grumblatt-led Crusaders 74-40 back on Jan. 15. But they play the games for a reason, right?

“We’ve got another chance to do some damage,” Cards coach Brad Kreick, who planned on practicing on a bigger floor (than the Colligadome) this week to prepare. “I’m glad we’ve got the three practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but yeah, I think we’re ready to go.”

Kreick knows it can be loud at SNHU so he will crank up music or some type of noise during practices. “We’ll try to get on a bigger floor, make it noisy,” Kreick said. “Memorial is a tough program, very athletic team. Not huge, but very, very athletic. They have an elite scorer, the xxxx kid can really score. Tough matchup but they’re all tough at this point.”

But tougher than the Erin Carney-Ava Owens-Aaliyah Forman-led Cards? Doubt it. If they win, Guertin gets either Pinkerton or Portsmouth in the finals, and either poses problems. Pinkerton played a good fourth quarter vs. BG in a loss back on Jan. 18 and Portsmouth nearly upset the Cards at home, up by five with 1:40 to go before falling 61-51 in OT.

BOYS HOCKEY

DIVISION II SEMIS

Back when they suffered injuries to players like Dom Carozza and Zach Richard, the thought of the Tomahawks being in the semis probably would’ve raised eyebrows. But here they are, basically because other players such as Kai Schimp and Noah Melker have picked up the slack, and scorer Zach Stimeling continues to be the glue.

“This team works hard and strives to get better every week,” Tomahawks coach Dan Belliveau said. “Their strength and character and never-quit attitude has led to our success.”

So has the play of goalie Ben Hardy, who will have to come up big vs. a Green Wave offense that has scored five or more goals in 11 of 18 regular season games and have good young players, including sophomore forward Asa Forbes. Everett is a small ice surface and that may work to the Tomahawks’ advantage.