Fasten your seat belts, it’s high school tourney time
The fun is about to begin in earnest.
The regular seasons, some of them gauntlets for local teams, have been wrapped up.
Now we get into the meat and potatoes of tourney time as the pairings are out for Division I and II girls basketball and all of boys and girls hockey.
The tense atmosphere of lose-and-go-home, win-and-move on begins tonight when the No. 2 Hollis Brookline girls basketball team, nearly two full seasons removed from a state title, host No. 15 Manchester West (9-9) in a preliminary round game at 7 p.m.
And in boys basketball, No. 6 Campbell (12-6) hosts No. 11 Conant (9-9) tonight at 7.
Also, the Bishop Guertin and Souhegan girls hockey teams will play in the prelims on the road. The No. 9 Cards (9-9) will be at No. 8 Bishop Brady-Trinity-West (10-7-1) at Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett at 2:50 p.m. today while the No. 11 Sabers (7-9-1) visit No. 6 Exeter (11-6-1) today at 2:45 p.m. at the Rinks at Exeter.
Wednesday will be a busy night, highlighted by the Nashua North-Souhegan hockey team’s first Division I tourney appearance ever in the five years of the co-op. The No. 10, 6-9-3 Saber-Titans will face No. 7 Windham (11-7) at 4 p.m. at the Salem Icenter while No. 6 Bishop Guertin (12-6) hosts No. 11 Bow (7-11) at Skate 3 at 6:50 p.m. in the Division I prelims.
Second ranked Merrimack (13-4-1) in Division II and No. 3 Hollis Brookline-Derryfield (13-4-1) in Division III wait until Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, the Division I girls basketball tournament begins on Wednesday, and don’t forget Nashua North and South. The No. 11, 7-11 Titans had a great recovery from a slow start to win its last four and qualify as the final tourney team, and will head to face No. 3 Manchester Memorial (15-3) at 7 p.m., while No. 12 Nashua South (8-10) will visit No. 5 Manchester Central (12-6) at 6:30.
As things move forward, the biggest spotlight may be on the No. 1, 17-1 Bishop Guertin High School girls basketball team, which seeks the program’s fifth straight state title beginning with Saturday’s quarterfinals vs. the winner of Wednesday’s Concord-Salem prelim. The other top local team, No. 2 Merrimack (16-2), gets the other bye and will have to take on either No. 7 Pinkerton or No. 10 Londonderry this Saturday.
Incidentally, with SNHU dropping out this year as a tourney host, the Division I girls hoop semis will be at Exeter High School with the finals at the University of New Hampshire. Division II semis and finals will be held at Dartmouth College
Heres an overiew of what we might see:
Of course, it’s BG’s title to lose. This year will be a bit different as the Cardinals will be relying on their freshmen to provide depth. They lost senior Aria O’Connell two months ago and also have senior guard Hannah Muchemore on the shelf with a leg injury, but she is expected back at some point during the post season.
“With Aria getting hurt,we’re down to four seniors who have played in that environment before,” Cards coach Brad Kreick said. “We’re still working at it. I think we’re playing our best basketball right now. But no question there are challenges. I think everything tightens up in the state tournament.That’s just the way it goes.”
Merrimack, Manchester Memorial, and Bedford all want their shots. The Crusaders gave BG a tough game, a 16 point win a single digit lead going into the final quarter. Same with Bedford.
But for tonight, the focus is on North and South. Titans coach Curt Dutilley took part of the blame for the team’s slow start, saying he didn’t know the personnel well enough, but once he did he put in a system that worked.
“I’m really proud of the girls,” he said. “What we said (down the stretch) was every game was a playoff game.”
North got good scoring from 6-4 center Tori Conrad and Lillian Brooks down the stretch, plus superb defense from Jordyn Choate. Against Memorial and scoring threat Lyric Grumblatt, which beat the Titans 51-38 six weeks ago, Dutilley says North can’t get caught up “in and up and down game with them.”
The Panthers, meanwhile, lost to Central 48-33 at home a month ago. Still, South has had a good nucleus with seniors Kirsten McIntire and Catherine Covert leading the way. There’s tourney experience here.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the culture we’ve built as a tea,” Panthers coach John Bourgeois said. “For now, we’re looking forward to the Central game. We feel prepared and motivated to prove people wrong. It won’t be easy, though.”
It won’t be easy Saturday for whoever has to face the No. 2 Tomahawks, one of the best stories of the winter season, led by the spirited Theresa Twardosky. The Tomahawks beat both prospective quarterfinal opponents, the Astros and Lancers, on the road. They should at least make it to Exeter, but they will have to keep their tenacity going.
The Pick: BG over Merrimack
There are plenty of land mines for Hollis Brookline in the Division II tourney before getting to the finals, where they’d love a third shot at top seed, unbeaten Hanover – the only team to have beaten the Cavs. The duo of Christina Balsamo and emerging sophomore Elisabeth Stapelfeld can be tough for most teams to deal with. But there are always surprises in this Division. The Cavs were actually one three years ago in getting to the finals, the year before winning it.
Spaulding (15-3), with two of their losses to Divison I teams, might be a tough semis opponent; the Cavs did not play them during the regular season. It’s a deep tourney with a lot of good teams.
“Yes there is,” Cavs coach Bob Murphy said. “To get all the way through it, I’ve seen it before, you’ve seen it before, where people come out of nowhere, and all of a sudden they’re in the semifinals.”
West might not be one of those, though. The Cavs trailed the Blue Knights 7-2 early on before thumping them 55-22 in December. If HB wins, they host either Bishop Brady or Merrimack Valley on Friday.
The Pick: Hanover over Hollis Brookline.
There’s a lot of good feeling about North-Souhegan finally getting an invitation to the party.
“It feels great, it’s been a complete turnaround,” Saber-Titans coach Matt Osgood said. “This is what you build on.”
Overall, coaches always like to say it’s anybody’s title, and in hockey that’s usually true. Some were willing to say it’s No. 1 Concord’s crown to lose, but the Tide’s upset loss recently vs. Pinkerton gives hope. “You run into a hot goalie, it’s the equivalent to a pitcher in baseball,” No. x Exeter coach Paul DiMarino said this past week. “When Pinkerton beat (Concord) it showed them, ‘OK, we can skate with them.’ Since then, Concord’s had some (close) games.”
Guertin has been led by the clutch scoring and play of Pat Madden, and still are probably on that emotional high of their incredible win at the buzzer over Salem last week. The Cards beat Bow 5-3 back on Jan. 30, with five players scoring and Evan Butler in net. If the Cards win as expected, they’d come full circle by taking on No. 3 Exeter (13-3-2) in the quarterfinals. The Blue Hawks beat them 3-2 in the season opener.
If Guertin can get that far, it’s in the 2-3 bracket, which may mean an almost annual tourney matchup with Bedford. The teams split during the regular season.
North-Souhegan hopes the third time is the charm vs. Windham after 6-0 and 2-0 losses. The former, in Osgood’s mind, was due to lack of adjustment to the big ice surface at the Salem Icenter. “We’ll be better prepared for it this time,” he said. “We’ve conditioned them pretty well since early December.”
The Saber-Titans are also as healthy as they’ve been, adding senior forward Griff Masseur the last couple of weeks and now will also potentially have talented freshman Jordan Joyal back from a broken collarbone.
A win and the Saber-Titans are off to Saint A’s Sullivan Arena for a 1 p.m. Saturday quarterfinal vs. No. 2 Bedford.
The top ranked Tide would have Trinity or Salem as a potential semifinal stumbling block.
The Pick: Concord over Bedford
Oh, can we please have a Keene-Merrimack final? The teams tied at West Side Arena and then Merrimack dropped an OT game without top scorer Zach Stimeling just recently. It would be fabulous.
But you won’t get Tomahawks coach Dan Belliveau caught up in that.
“We’re not going to take anything for granted,” said Belliveau, whose team upset Goffstown in the quarters last year to make it to the semis. “We know we have our work cut out for us. We’re going to handle it like we’ve handled it all season long – one game at a time.”
A win over Dover would be nice for the ‘Hawks, who as a young team were thumped by the Green Wave in last year’s semis.
The Pick: Merrimack over Keene
Like we said the other, day, why not Hollis Brookline-Derryfield? The Warriors, who have clutch players in Aidan Chretien and Paul Vachon, could get there. They lost to first round opponent Kennett 2-1, but if they get past the Eagles and end up facing Belmont-Gilford in the semis, that would be a rematch of the Warriors’ dramatic overtime win just over a week ago.
Head coach Joel Sanborn says it’s wide open for all his team’s potential matchups. “The way we’ve played everybody, it’s anybody’s game,” he said. “It all starts in the defensive zone for me. We need good D zone coverage”
That puts onus on players like Conor Sanborn, Torin White, and Aidan Rowe.
The Pick: Berlin-Gorham over Hollis Brookline-Derryfield
There’s always two Bishop Guertin teams in any given year – the one that starts out slow, 2-6 this year, and the one that finishes strong – 6-2 to finish. The Cards feature one of the best players in the state in Lindsay Hult, who does it all – score, set up, and defend. Guertin interestingly enough split with first round opponent Brady-Trinity-West, winning 7-3 earlier this year and bowing 4-2 to end the regular season the other day.
So anything’s possible; but Concord would be a tough matchup for the Cards on Friday if they survive, but they played the Tide tough, losing just 6-5 back in late January.
Indeed, the Tide appear to be on course to face 10-time defending champion Hanover (all the Marauders losses were out of state). But that was a 1-0 Hanover win; Guertin only lost to Hanover on the road 3-2, and the Marauders do have an in-state blemish, a tie with Oyster River-Portsmouth.
“I think Hanover may have the upper hand experience wise,” Sabers coach Kelli Braley said. “When you get on that ice at SNHU Arena, it’s a different atmosphere.”
Meanwhile Souhegan lost to first round opponent Exeter just 3-2, and won three of its last five games to get in.
“We need to believe, just show up every game and just believe top to bottom,” Braley said. “We take Exeter to OT and got up to Leb and beat them on their senior night.”
It may be up to goalie Elle Byram; if she plays well in the opener and the Sabers can get the upset, they’d love another shot at Oyster River-Portsmouth, who beat them twice by a combind 9-2 tally.
The Pick: Hanover over Concord
In early January, the Campbell Cougars were annoyed at proclimations that their season was going to end up disappointing.
The Carter Vedrani-led team had started out 0-3, one of those losses coming at the hands of tonight’s opponent, Conant. But they bounced back, have gone 12-3 since, and avenged that Conant loss with a 47-41 win, part of six straight wins to end the season. Another of those wins was over No. 3 Somersworth (14-4), their quarterfinal opponent on Friday on the road if the Cougars take care of business tonight.
Hot teams can make lots of noise in tournaments. Expect the Cougars to do just that.
The pick: Gilford over Campbell