Campbell boys basketball falls in semifinals

MANCHESTER – The Campbell Cougars proved they could defeat the top-seeded Hilltoppers of Somersworth in late February, but they couldn’t do it again on Wednesday night, falling 61-39 in the NHIAA Division III boys basketball semifinals at Southern New Hampshire University.

Campbell began the first 2:46 of the contest on an 8-2 run, with all eight points coming from senior Jonah Crema, but that marked the Cougars’ high-water mark.

By the end of first quarter, the Hilltoppers had negated Campbell’s early advantage, building their one-point lead at the end of the first quarter into a 28-19 edge at the half.

Somersworth’s momentum continued to grow as Campbell found difficulty equaling their opponent’s tempo, forced into difficult shots after Somersworth’s interior defense limited Campbell’s ability to penetrate to the hoop.

Campbell shot just 24 percent from the floor by the end of the game, going just 4 for 23 in the paint. Meanwhile, Somersworth scored 17 baskets from the paint alone. That growing deficit, combined with Somersworth’s defense and the Cougars’ difficulty finding easy baskets proved pivotal over the stretch, stopping any hope of a comeback.

“They were smothering us all over the place, we took (shots) further out than we would have liked to,” said Campbell coach Frank Girginis. “They did a hell of a job, they will be a tough team to beat.”

Girginis also noticed that Wednesday’s tempo was slower than in their February 20th ten-point win over the Hilltoppers, as Somersworth dictated the pace of play: a persistent and continuous approach forcing mistakes throughout the evening.

Another key difference was Campbell’s reliance on Crema, who accounted for 16 of Campbell’s points. Somersworth’s Evan Gray nearly matched him with 15 points, also adding eight rebounds, but the Hilltoppers did not rely on Gray for their offense.

Out of eight Somersworth players, seven ended with at least one field goal, as four more almost joined Gray in double-digits.

Somersworth Head Coach Rob Fauci attributed the result not just to a team mentality his squad bought into, but also an increased emphasis on physicality in recent practices that ultimately provided more confidence in the rematch.

“Our big thing was we got caught off-guard in (February), we didn’t have our legs under us and we looked panicked in the first quarter at home,” said Fauci.

Somersworth returns to SNHU on Saturday night for a shot at the Division III state championship against second-seeded Conant. Conant defeated Saint Thomas Aquinas 57-39 earlier in the evening.