Merrimack marches to D-I basketball final

DURHAM – Merrimack High School’s boys basketball team is making a habit of visiting the University of New Hampshire in March.

The fifth-seeded Tomahawks punched their second trip to the Division I title game in three years, beating ninth-seeded Manchester Memorial 49-41 Tuesday night in the tournament semifinals at UNH.

Merrimack (15-6) will face No. 3 Manchester Central (17-4) at noon Saturday for the championship. The Little Green beat No. 7 Winnacunnet 58-45 in the night’s other semifinal.

Things didn’t look good early on for the Tomahawks on Tuesday. Memorial (13-8) ran out to an 11-2 lead in the first quarter before Merrimack settled things down and returned the favor. The Tomahawks went on a 9-1 run to get within two at 13-11 heading into the second quarter.

The Tomahawks defense shifted from man to man-or-collapse-into-the-paint. It worked perfectly to deny the Crusaders from driving to the basket and allowed Merrimack to stay within one at halftime, trailing 28-27.

"We really just packed it in more," Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge said. "We started off with what we call Red, which is really our straight man. Then when they were just beating us off the dribble we went with what we call Blue, which is basically your man doesn’t have it you’re in the paint.

"So we took the dribble penetration away, and they got a little stagnant on outside shooting. We limited them to one shot. We got the ball, we came down, we were patient and got back into the game."

Merrimack’s defense and a healthy dose of Ian Cummings shut the door from there, as the Tomahawks transitioned from one end to the other smoothly to outscore Memorial 11-8 in the third quarter and 11-5 in the fourth, securing the victory.

Cummings scored 12 points, but only four in that second half. What the sophomore guard did do was control the tempo of the game and the defensive glass.

"We’ve been doing a lot of boxing out drills at practice," Cummings said. "They’ve been very good at offensive rebounds. So we just boxed out and did what we had to do. We can control the game with our defense."

He finished with a team-high 12 rebounds, 11 on the defensive end, as the Tomahawks out-rebounded the Crusaders 38-29 (29-21 defensively).

"I watched tape on them and they’re getting two or three shots, and I thought we did a really good job on the defensive boards," Goodridge said. "I think the keys for us tonight were winning turnovers, we were patient on offense and we rebounded."

Ian Roberts led Merrimack with 13 points, while Zack Kerr and Danny McKillop chipped in with eight each.