Central outlasts Merrimack for D-I title

DURHAM – Merrimack High School had two chances to win at the buzzer Saturday afteroon. Both failed.

Ian Cummings’ steal and shot from just beyond the 3-point arc at the other end of the court hit rim, then backboard, before falling to the floor as regulation ended to set up overtime.

Tomahawks teammate Noah Beygelman drained his attempt, a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net, as overtime ended.

For a brief moment, both teams were celebrating on the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium floor. Game officials then silenced Merrimack’s cheering section with the wave of two arms.

Beygelman’s basket was ruled no good, as time expired just before it left his hands, and third-seeded Manchester Central (18-4) continued its victory dance with a 60-58 win over fifth-seeded Merrimack (15-7).

As the buzzer sounded to end OT, Central coach David "Doc" Wheeler rushed the floor mimicking officials, then his hands went up in celebration.

"I swear. I thought I saw the red go off before the kid let it go," Wheeler said. "I guess there will be videos and stuff like that later to show us one way or the other."

As if surviving regulation’s last-second, two-thirds-court shot from Cummings wasn’t enough to deal with.

"I wish I could tell you there was some magic," Wheeler said about handling those emotional moments. "You’ve just got to live through it."

The Little Green did just that, and Wheeler felt going into overtime was a positive for his squad.

"It’s perfect for us," Wheeler said he told his players between the fourth quarter and OT. "The way we practice, we always think we are the most fit team going into a game. So this is our time. It’s our time, and we’re going to come out and win the game now."

Central senior Jaylen Leroy scored seven of his game-high 25 points in overtime, including a free throw with 5 seconds remaining to close the scoring prior to the game’s dramatic conclusion.

Merrimack senior Zak Kerr left everything he had on the court, scoring a team-high 21 points in the loss.

He was leading the celebration at game’s end believing his teammate had just nailed the game-winner.

"Beygelman, what can I say? He’s our shooting specialist," Kerr said. "He came off the bench and was ready to go. It was an amazing shot. We all thought it was good, but the refs waved it off. So be it, we’ve got to deal with it.

"We all gave it our all. We really just played as hard as we could. Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way."

Joining Kerr in double digits for Merrimack were Cummings, who scored 14, as well as Ian Roberts and Andrew Wojciak, who chipped in with 11 each, in the loss.

The Little Green was led by the trio of Leroy, Jonathin Makori (13 points) and Evan MacDonald (nine points)

Central utilized an 8-0 run midway through the first quarter to grab a 15-12 lead. After the Little Green expanded their lead to eight to open the second quarter on a Osiah Lewis 3-pointer and Leroy jumper, Merrimack reeled off its own 8-0 run to tie things 20-20 with 4:14 to play before the half. The teams traded baskets the remainder of the frame until Leroy set Central up with a 26-25 halftime lead by making one of two free throws with 3 seconds remaining.

There were five lead changes in the third quarter, the last going to Merrimack on a coast-to-coast layup by Kerr with 2 seconds remaining for a 38-37 Tomahawks lead.

There were six more lead changes in the fourth until Leroy tied the game 49-49 on a pair of free throws with 32 seconds remaining in regulation – setting up Cummings’ steal and long-distance attempt that missed to stage overtime.

Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge felt his Tomahawks were playing catch-up most of the game, which left the game in Beygelman’s hands as time expired.

"We just gave ourselves an extra shooter to get in there," Goodridge said of putting Beygelman into the game at that point. "A fraction of a second more, I think we would have been a little happier."