Time for title game
Eric Gendron was his usual self, scoring a game-high 24 points and coming up one rebound shy of a double-double with nine. Still, the focus of Monday night’s 58-46 Division I boys basketball semifinal win over Trinity wasn’t on the Tomahawks’ offense.
Third-seeded Merrimack (19-2) used a triangle-and-two scheme to perfection against second-seeded Trinity (19-2) on the Lundholm Gym floor at the University of New Hampshire.
Merrimack returns to UNH for a noon title game tip-off on Saturday against No. 1 Manchester Central – which needed double-OT to get past No. 12 Manchester Memorial 99-91 in the late semifinal.
In its semifinal, Merrimack mixed up a man-to-man defense with the triangle – implemented by assistant coach Mike Gasper. The shift accomplished something no team has done this season – keeping Pioneers sharpshooter Carmen Giampetruzzi out of the scoring column until the 7:29 mark of the fourth quarter. Those were the only two points the 6-foot-4 senior forward scored for Trinity all night.
Gendron and the Tomahawks take pride in their defense.
“Any time you can shut down one of the other team’s best players, I’ll take that,” Gendron said. “We didn’t know which one it would be. It was great we we’re able to shut down G, and play great defense, and that’s what it comes down to.”
With senior point guard Ryan Otis out of action for Trinity, the Tomahawks knew Giampetruzzi and 6-5 center Wenyen Gabriel would be Trinity’s go-to guys offensively. The triangle and two shut down one big man, funneling everything through the other to allow Gabriel a 20-point night of his own.
While Gabriel was the main source of Trinity’s offense and rebounding – 19 for a double-double – Merrimack shared the wealth. Shayne Bourque and Dylan Richardson scored 13 and 10 respectively in the win.
“We knew going in that the people who were going to hurt us were G and Wenyen,” Bourque said. “We’ve been working on that in practice, working on the triangle, and we threw it in there tonight. We thought that really disrupted the flow of their offense.”
Trailing by nine at halftime (31-22) the Pioneers chipped away three points in a low-scoring third quarter (38-32) and then made it even tighter from the outset of the fourth quarter.
Giampetruzzi cut the lead to four with his only basket to open the final frame. A Merrimack miss swung thing drastically as Trinity’s Brad Rhodes buried one of his three 3-pointers of the night to get the Pioneers within one at 38-37 with 6:41 to play.
Two straight layups by Bourque – the second off a steal, drive and feed from Gendron – helped open the Tomahawks’ lead back to five, 42-37, with 5:56 to play.
Things got a little scary for Merrimack shortly thereafter, as Gendron was called for his third and fourth personal fouls within three seconds of each other. His fourth sent Gabriel to the line for a pair of free throws to close Trinity’s deficit to three at 42-39 with 5:30 to play.
Trying to hold off Trinity’s late surge, Merrimack was unable to convert on its ensuing possession. However a sneaky Austin Franzen made what could have been the play of the night – or a least one of two that he participated in.
The Merrimack miss was pulled down by a Trinity player. As everybody else made their way up court, the 5-9 guard snuck in behind the Pioneer rebounder and took the ball in similar fashion to a running back receiving a hand off. Franzen collected the ball and drove directly to the basket for two points and a 44-39 lead with 5:02 remaining in regulation.
A jumper by Luke Testa kept Trinity alive at 44-41 with 4:38 to play. A Gabriel block, traveling call against Gendron and another pair of free throws by Gabriel got Trinity within one again at 44-43 with just over three minutes to play.
Gendron took over from there, sinking two of three free throws and finishing another Franzen steal with an easy layup for a five-point advantage at 48-43 with 1:57 remaining.
A Bourque layup and pair of Franzen free throws opened Merrimack’s lead to nine (52-43) with 1:15 to play.
The Tomahawks and coach Tim Goodridge never looked back from that point.
“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Goodridge said. “That’s an unbelievable basketball team we just played. It’s an unbelievable win for our program.
“They’re defending state champs. They’ve lost two games in two years. We’re fortunate to come up here and get the win. We’re happy as heck.”