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Area boys basketball teams face tough foes in playoffs

It’s not yet March, and already there was madness.

High school boys head basketball coaches had the unusual feeling this past week of coaching games knowing in most cases exactly who their teams would face in the state tournaments that begin on Monday.

“It is so strange knowing the opponent,” Nashua South boys hoop coach Nate Mazerolle said before last week began. “But like every team, we still have things we want to work on, to improve on. Because the season is so condensed, we’re still trying to find the rotation, the substitution pattern.”

Remember the Nashua teams got a late start to the season due to a pause. And in all these tournaments, it’s certainly a possibility a team could have to opt out as it goes further.

“Yes, it’s strange,” Mazerolle said, “but I’m just so happy we get to do it.”

Here’s a look at the boys and girls tourneys, with the boys play-in games Monday and the girls on Tuesday.

DIVISON I BOYS

Locally, all the teams except Merrimack are in the same scheduling region. And right now, in Region Four, it will be Mazerolle’s Nashua South team visiting Bishop Guertin Monday night in a play-in game, the second meeting between the two at the Colligadome in less than a week.

The winner advances to face Nashua North on Thursday, in what will be an epic game no matter who it is. Keene and Alvirne will play at Keene on Thursday. The winners will square off in the regional final (overall the Division I quarters) on Saturday.

The favorites to emerge into the semis? Right now, North or Guertin. The Titans have what has become the dynamic duo of seniors Sam McElliott and Curtis Harris-Lopez, and Guertin has tons of talent led by Dylan Santosuosso and Nate Kane.

“BG has depth,” Mazerolle said. “Not to mention they’re always long and athletic. Both coaches do a great job, but at North Steve (Lane) does a fantastic job. Curtis (Harris-Lopez) is one of the best players in the state. He’s such a fantastic athlete, I just don’t think he gets enough credit for how good a basketball player he is.

“He can dominate any game. But he’s not the only one. They have kids who can shoot it, they have size.”

McElliot has become a scorer, almost out of nowhere, from being a role player as a junior. “If there was a most improved award in the state, I’d say he’s got to be far and away,” Mazerolle said. “He has had a fantastic season.”

South will be paced by Alex Hulfachor, 6-8 Rhett Medling, Cody Rochileau and a wave of players it can throw in and out of the lineup. The Panthers can defend; they just need to score. An upset of BG would mean a third North-South game, but the Panthers have lost to the Titans by double digits each time.

“We’ll shoot the ball better,” Mazerolle said.

“I keep telling the kids we haven’t played our best basketball, and we’ll have a night where the shots we’re taking are going to fall. If we do that, I think we can compete with anybody.”

Alvirne, led by senior guard Charlie Thomas and the tall (6-6, 6-8) one-two punch of Liam O’Neil and Brendan Graham, would be a very tough regional final opponent. The Broncos split with North in the first week of the Titans’ season; they lost by 36 in Nashua and won by three in Hudson. It’s all about pace and tempo.

In the other region involving a local team, Region Three, Merrimack will have to find a way to reverse what has been a tough season. The Tomahawks are led by Jack Tarleton and would play the winner of a Timberlane-Windham play-in in the Thursday prelims.

The Astros of Pinkerton would perhaps be the favorite to come out of this. At their best, they can run and have size. Should they emerge, they would play the winner of Region Four in the semis. “They are a sleeper,” Mazerolle said.

How about outside the area? Exeter, which went into the last week of the season unbeaten, would likely be the overall state favorite.

“I would think so, but it’s such a strange year,” said Mazerolle.

And rivals Exeter and Winnacunnet are slated to meet in the prelims. That is never, ever an easy game for either team, and could be the fourth time they play. Dover is also in that region.

How would it look? We say the Titans have what it takes to get to the finals.

THE PICK:North over Exeter.

DIVISION II BOYS

Hollis-Brookline, Milford and Souhegan are all in the same region, which is Region 2. The Sabers, who have struggled, will host Manchester West in a play-in on Monday, and the winner will then move on to face the Cavaliers in the second round on Thursday, in Hollis.

Souhegan has been led by the likes of Austin Jain and Matt McCool, and the Cavaliers meanwhile appear to be hitting their stride with Robbie Haytayan holding a recent hot hand.

Milford,which has had an emotional season, has young emerging talent in Caden Zalenski, Charlie Urda and Ryon Constable. Still, the Spartans will have a tough time with Pelham, a team that can shoot the heck out of the ball led by the two Jakes, McGlinchey and Dumont.

The guess is they emerge from this region, but whoever does would have to deal with tough teams Pembroke or Sanborn in Region One in the semis – especially Sanborn, which beat Pelham early last week, 74-58. As a tweet from Pelham Athletics said, “Stay away from (Sanborn) in the tournament.” Yikes.

And then? Lebanon or Hanover would be the favorites to emerge from Region Three and could probably handle anyone from Region Four.

THE PICK: Pelham over Hanover.

DIVISON III BOYS

The Cougars from Campbell are in Region Four, and while they had two games cancelled vs. Raymond at mid season, they should get a third as they take on Raymond in the prelims on Thursday.

Should the team, led by Dylan Rice and Jack Noury, among others, break out of the region against the likes of, say, St. Thomas, trouble could be waiting in the semis vs. Region Three. Ironically in that region, the final could actually be in the play-in game between Conant and Monadnock.

Tough to pick a winner here; the Cougars have strengthened themselves with some Divison II games as teams have played close to home. In other words, don’t sleep on Campbell.

“Playing higher division teams all regular season will help us come playoff time,” Cougars first year head coach Justin Dibenedetto said, and he could be right.

THE PICK: Belmont over Conant.

DIVISON IV

It’s been a tough winter for Wilton-Lyndeborough, playing mainly against higher division teams all winter, so the Warriors could be a sleeper in Region Two, facing Mount Royal in a play-in on the road. We like Sunapee to come out of this region and face Region One’s Pittsfield in the semis.

THE PICK: Littleton over Sunapee

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