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Local teams navigating way into playoffs

It’s different, new, and deemed a necessity in an open tournament due to the pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean every local girls high school basketball coach has to like it. They just have to navigate their team’s way through it as things get underway on Tuesday with play-in games and then prelims Friday plus quarterfinals Sunday in all four divisions for the NHIAA girls basketball tournaments.

In Division I, many will look to see whether or not Bishop Guertin and Bedford will emerge into what is an expected final the way things are set up.

And there are some good matchups in other divisions as well with the regional pods with a blind draw, records from what ever regular season games were able to be played not mattering

“I think people are doing the best they can,” Guertin coach Brad Kreick said. “If I were king of the world, would I have done it that way? Probably not. But there’s lots of other factors in play.”

“It’s going to be super competitive,” Merrimack coach Bryan Duggan said. “Anyone out of that region can get out.”

DIVISION I

The young Cardinals will get their first real tournament experience, led by sophomores Meghan Stack and Kailee McDonald, among others, and Thursday will face the winner of an Alvirne at Nashua South play-in slated for Tuesday, and then that winner takes on a Keene-North winner in the regional finals next Saturday.

The Panthers and Broncos had a dress rehearsal last Monday, won by South, and another scheduled for Friday. South has a senior laden group led by Iruka Obinelo, Julianna Martin, and Aryanna Murray, and Alvirne has a younger group paced by Paige McKinley and Jaime O’Connor, among many others.

The Broncos had trouble early last week dealing with Obinelo inside.

“She’s just a monster in there, she’s tough and she out-sizes us,” Broncos coach Frank Girginis said.

“We’re climbing the mountain but I like the direction we’re going.”

North has struggled, but have developed a go-to player in Oliva Mazerolle, and it would be a feather in the Titans’ collective cap to win a tourney game. But let’s face it, Guertin is the overwhelming favorite to emerge from this region.

The Region Four winner faces Region Three, in which Merrimack is the only local. The Tomahawks take on the winner of a Tuesday Windham-Pinkerton play-in game.

“It’s going to be a very competitive region for sure,” Merrimack coach Bryan Duggan said. “I knew, to get out of that, Pinkerton and Windham would be the teams we’d have to beat.”

The Tomahawks split with Windham and were slated to face the Astros this past week. They have a tough, competitive group that fights to stay in games, led by senior guards Gillian Waller and Keira Bike. Pinkerton would be the favorite to get out of this region and face BG in a potential semi, one would think.

Of course, many expect Guertin to face Bedford, led by senior Isabella King, in the finals, continuing the teams’ storied rivalry. The Bulldogs will have to get out of the Manchester-based Region One, which with Goffstown, Central and Memorial isn’t a piece of cake but doable. It looks like Exeter or perhaps Spaulding are favorites in the seacoast region, Region 1, which is pretty even and a great unknown for this side of the state since there were no regular season games against those opponents.

Still, looks like BG and Bedford. The Bulldogs had the regular season matchup in control before Guertin started a stunning comeback for a 69-64 win. Both teams should be better than back on Jan. 17.

THE PICK: BG over Bedford. Barely.

DIVISON II

Hollis Brookline, which is the best local team in this division, will have to fight its way through Pelham in an expectd Region Two final. The Cavs go as guard Elisabeth Stapelfeld goes, it seems, and they should be favored over a young Milford squad in a Thursday prelim. Souhegan, which has some gamers like Hunter Stonebreaker and Kate Canavan, will have to get past Manchester West in a prelim but then has to visit Pelham, although they played a tough eight-point game in Amherst recently. The Pythons already own a 56-40 regular season win over HB.

Who else will be tough? Bishop Brady in Region One would be the team that could face a Pelham or an HB in the semis. In the other two regions, we’d be thinking Kennett in Region Four and Hanover or Lebanon in Region Three.

THE PICK: Bishop Brady over Hanover.

DIVISION III

Watch out for the Campbell Cougars, who have played above the Division III level for part of their season.

In Region Three, where the Cougars are, St. Thomas should be the top competition, with Conant a potential semis opponent from Region Four. The Cougars did not play either during the regular season.

On the other side, perhaps Newfound in Region One could emerge and it looks wide open in Region Two.

But the Cougars could have what it takes to make the finals.

THE PICK: Campbell over Newfound.

DIVISION IV

There are no locals, as Wilton-Lyndeborough played a JV season, but defending champ Colebrook still looks like it’s a power, but it has to get past Littleton in its own region.

THE PICK: Colebrook over Newmarket.

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