Winter season comes to close

AMHERST – Souhegan High boys basketball coach Peter Pierce, even as his season came to a close prematurely, sounded like a man still in it for the long haul.

Immediately after the Sabers’ elimination, he talked about the team and the program’s commitment to defense. It’s a choice that should serve Souhegan basketball well for a while.

“I’m proud of the defense we played all year long. These kids worked really hard at it,” said Pierce. “This group has set a foundation for the kids coming up behind them.

“We did well this year. In places, we did very well.”

In a race to 40, like last Wednesday night’s Division II playoff opener morphed into, six points can be huge – especially if they come in the span of about four seconds.

No. 9 Kearsarge, trailing by as 12 early, rode the momentum of that brief, wild and devastating (to host Souhegan) flurry, stunning the No. 8 Sabers, 42-39 on Wednesday night.

It happened in a blink, Cougar Nick Leblanc nailed a wing three and teammate Noah Tremblay stole the ensuing inbounds pass at the top of the key and hoisted a triple of his own that banked in off the glass.

A 31-27 Sabers lead turned into a 33-31 hole. Souhegan just was never the same.

“Less than five seconds,” said Pierce. “For a team that doesn’t shoot that well, to give up points like that, it’s hard to come back, no matter how hard you are playing defense.”

To their credit, the Sabers fought and clawed, actually getting off a pretty clean look at a baseball three from Jeff Kiesewetter in the final seconds, but as was the case for Souhegan all night, it rattled out at the buzzer.

The loss ended the Souhegan season at 11-8, while Kearsarge takes the same mark into a Saturday night quarterfinal battle at No. 1 Oyster River.

The night began just the way Pierce might have drawn things up, with the Sabers busting to an 11-0 lead, holding Kearsarge scoreless for the opening 6:40.

“I didn’t know if we were going to score tonight,” said Kearsarge coach Nate Camp. “The kids are super resilient. They kept battling to the end.”

Souhegan pumped the ball inside, led by Matt McCool who had a baker’s dozen in a 25-18 first half.

“He was dominant in places,” said Pierce. “We just weren’t good enough, consistently for 32 minutes to get a ‘W.’ We just weren’t.”

Kearsarge found something late in the first half, with its 1-2-2 zone defense, and the Cougars went with it the rest of the way.

“Keeping them on the perimeter (in the second half) was huge,” said Camp.

It’s a strategy Pierce expected and his team had planned for.

“The last three or four games of the season, people threw zones at us and we struggled because we just don’t have a knockdown shooter,” said the Sabers’ coach. “It’s no mystery now.”

Still, with a monster effort on the defensive end, Souhegan carried the 31-24 advantage to the fourth. Again, in this one, seven looked like a comfortable lead.

But the hoop sealed for good on the Sabers in the fourth, and Kearsarge found a way.

“We needed a couple of them to fall, and we would have been fine,” said Pierce, whose club stubbed its toe from the free-throw line as well, hitting just 8 of 19. “It just didn’t happen.”

McCool, who was saddled by a couple odd touch fouls and sat a stretch in the fourth in foul trouble, finished with a team-high 17 points, including a rim-rocking dunk, to close out his strong sophomore campaign. Senior Jeff Boehm had 10 points, while Trey Johnson and Kiesewetter had five apiece.

Along with the dynamic Boehm and sharo-shooting Kiesewetter, Souhegan bids farewell to slasher Khaled Nazeer and grit guy, Ries Grondstra, along with role players Wynn Ames and Vincent

Bowman.

No. 2 ConVal 47,

No. 15 Milford 39

The Spartans recovered from a tough first half, trailing 25-15, to close to within 34-32 after three quarters. Then something happened. ConVal, now 19-1, changed up its defense, forced the Spartans (6-13) to shoot from the outside.

“Then we couldn’t make any outside shots,” Milford coach Dan Murray said, lamenting that his team’s 1-for-22 performance from beyond the 3-point line. “They went into that zone, and it broke us.”

Milford got 12 points from Max Fortin, while Sam Santaniello had eight and Gavin Urda 7. The Spartans expect to have four of their top seven back next year.

Santaniello and Fortin are major pieces that will be missed along with Colin Pynn, Cam Meyer, Kendrick Leroy, Jacob Brewer and Kyle Nostrand.

One final girls note

A year after winning the title, Hollis Brookline didn’t make it past the quarters this year but that may have had more to do with the draw – a tough quarterfinal opponent in eventual champion Hanover on the road – than anything else.

Next season? All-State point guard Christina Balsamo will be a senior, and if her game develops even further, the Cavs will be a factor. When she gets going so does her team.

How about the two local teams?

Milford and Souhegan, both 3-15, may find it tough to compete. Milford is struggling with numbers – not enough for a JV team – but they lose just two seniors. Souhegan went through the growing pains of losing eight seniors from last season, so expect a step forward.

In Division IV, Wilton-Lyndeborough is also trying to climb its way out of a down period in Division IV. The Warriors went 3-15 (just four wins last two years) but have been very underclassmen-laden. Once the numbers get better, and the players get older, the wins will increase.

All-State hoop teams announced

In Division II, Souhegan’s Matthew McCool was on the Second Team while Hollis Brookline’s Grant Snyder and Milford’s Max Fortin were Honorable Mentions.

Here’s a look at the teams in Division II

Girls

Player of the Year: Rebecca Wright, Lebanon.

Coach of the Year: Larry Meader, Kennett.

First Team – Rebecca Wright, Lebanon; Isabel Wrobleski, Kennett; Maddie McCorkle, Hanover; Chelsea Woodsum, John Stark; Ami Rivera, Bishop Brady; Carly Huckins, Merrimack Valley.

Second Team – Olivia Gagnon, Pelham; Diana Schwarz, Hanover; Christina Balsamo, Hollis Brookline; Lindsey Carey, ConVal; Maddie Stewart, Kennett; Anna Wolke, Lebanon.

Honorable Mention: Kaylee Smith, Bishop Brady; Eliza Brault, Spaulding; Julia Golder, Hanover; Elizabeth Atkinson, Hollis Brookline; Autumn Nelson, John Stark; Meg Roy, Kearsarge; Liz Cote, Kennett; Sally Rainy, Lebanon; Lauren Goyette, Bow; Natalie Simonds, Oyster River.

Boys

Player of the Year: Noah Cummings, Pembroke.

Coach of the Year: Larry Meader, Kennett.

First Team – Noah Cummings, Pembroke; Kyle Landrigan, Oyster River; Mather Kipka, ConVal; Derek Crowley, Pelham; Kyle Dube, Merrimack Valley; Noah Tremblay, Kearsarge.

Second Team – Joe Morell, Oyster River; Charlie Adams, Hanover; Matthew McCool, Souhegan; Sean Menard, Pembroke; Christian Barr, John Stark; Max Richard, ConVal.

Honorable Mention – Grant Snyder, Hollis Brookline; Luke McCusker, Coe Brown; William Spencer, Bishop Brady; Max Lewis, Oyster River; Kyle Hernon, Kearsarge; Shea Shackford, Pembroke; Thomas Fraser, Bishop Brady; Benjamin Henry, ConVal; Max Fortin, Milford; Wade Rainey, Lebanon.

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