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Storybook ending: Pittsfield edges Newmarket in D-IV final to win first boys’ basketball crown

  • The Pittsfield crowd cheers during Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield's Casey Clark (2) kisses the championship plaque following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield's Cam Darrah (1) shoots and scores in the fourth quarter during Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield's Cam Darrah (center) hugs the championship plaque surrounded by fellow seniors Garrett Guerrero-Hadley (left), Casey Clark (2) and Josh Whittier (33) following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield senior Cam Darrah (1) awards his father and coach, Jay Darrah, the medal given to himself just seconds earlier following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield celebrates their 43-40 over Newmarket to win the first basketball title in the school's history following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield's Josh Whittier (33) shoots the ball during Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield's Dylan Bocash (23) goes to the basket during Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield's Garrett Guerrero-Hadley (24) shoots the ball during Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield's Josh Whittier (33) drives to the basket during Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • The Pittsfield crowd cheers during Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield celebrates their 43-40 over Newmarket to win the first basketball title in the school's history following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield celebrates their 43-40 over Newmarket to win the first basketball title in the school's history following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield celebrates their 43-40 over Newmarket to win the first basketball title in the school's history following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield celebrates their 43-40 over Newmarket to win the first basketball title in the school's history following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Seniors Cam Darrah (1) and Matt St. George embrace following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield celebrates their 43-40 over Newmarket to win the first basketball title in the school's history following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield celebrates their 43-40 over Newmarket to win the first basketball title in the school's history following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield defeated Newmarket, 43-40, to win the first basketball title in the school's history during Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Pittsfield celebrates their 43-40 over Newmarket to win the first basketball title in the school's history following Saturday's Division IV boys' championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth on Mar. 10, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Saturday, March 10, 2018

PLYMOUTH – The story ended Saturday. That’s when Pittsfield pulled out a gritty 43-40 win against Newmarket in the Division IV boys’ final to claim the first basketball title in school history.

The beginning of this championship story is harder to name.

It could start at the opening of the fourth quarter, when Cam Darrah, the coach’s son and senior star, buried a 3-pointer. Darrah scored nine of his game-high 17 points in the fourth, including a pair of enormous free throws with 6.4 seconds left on the clock, as he willed the second-seeded Panthers (21-1) to the title.

Or maybe it begins during the Panthers’ two regular-season games against No. 5 Newmarket (17-5). That’s when Pittsfield coach Jay Darrah decided not to put Casey Clark on Mules star Anthony Senesonmbath and not to use some offensive sets, saving all of it for a potential third game with Newmarket in the playoffs.

Maybe it begins last summer at the Maine Gold Rush Basketball Camp. That’s where the Panthers rededicated themselves to winning the school’s first championship after they were upset in last year’s first round despite going 16-2 during the regular season. Or maybe it starts back in elementary school when this team’s six seniors first started playing together. That’s when coach Darrah introduced them to the kind of fast-paced basketball that is best-suited for a big college court like the one at Plymouth State, where D-IV titles are won and lost.

Keep going back to May 14, 2000. There’s Jay and Heidi Darrah traveling to Concord Hospital for Cam’s birth, but stopping at Toys R Us first to buy a little basketball for their son, because Jay wanted that to be the first thing in his hands.

Keep going and there’s the 1990, 1981 and 1969 Pittsfield teams and players who reached the finals but lost. Many of them were back on Saturday, packing the stands and then joining the on-court festivities after the game. The Pittsfield throng looked like it could have stayed there all day, the past mixing with the present to celebrate their story.

“It’s always important as a basketball coach, but I guess I didn’t realize how important it was until all the outreach I’ve gotten from the community members for the past month, and especially the last two days,” said coach Darrah before he pulled a handful of runner-up medals from his pocket. “I have guys handing me their ’90 medals, their ’81 medals, telling me, ‘It’s long overdue, put this old one with the new one.’ It’s crazy.”

The game itself fit perfectly into the whole crazy, winding thing.

The Panthers closed the first quarter with a roar, going on an 8-2 run in the final 2:10 to take a 17-11 lead into the second. That kind of offensive spurt is the norm for this Pittsfield team. It’s also the kind of high-octane basketball that is so effective on a big court like the one at PSU, the kind of basketball that led the younger Darrah to say, “We’re built for this court,” after Pittsfield’s 62-42 semifinal win against Littleton.

It looked like the Panthers might roll to a fourth-straight 20-point playoff victory, but the Mules put the brakes on that in the second quarter. Pittsfield didn’t score for the first 6:27 of the second and scraped together just six points in the frame.

But the Panthers still took a 23-19 lead into halftime thanks to their own defensive efforts, which were spearheaded by Clark’s work on Senesonmbath. The Newmarket star finished with a team-high 14 points, but got up just nine shots from the floor. Clark followed him everywhere, standing practically on top of Senesonmbath even when the clock was stopped, and talking some trash on top of that.

“I said a few words to him,” Clark said. “I had to do everything I could to get in his head. We couldn’t have him going off for 30 points.”

“I thought Casey did a tremendous job on Senesonmbath, and we purposely didn’t play Casey on him the first two times we played them,” coach Darrah said, referring to the Mules’ 66-60 win at Pittsfield on Jan. 5 (the Panthers’ only loss) and Pittsfield’s 58-57 win at Newmarket on Feb. 6. “We were doing it just in case we saw them in the tournament.”

The two teams kept up the defensive intensity in the third quarter. Sometimes “a great defensive game” is a polite way of saying “a lousy offensive game.” This isn’t one of those times. The two teams traded chase-down blocks, charges taken and pockets picked in the third, and by the end of the quarter Newmarket held a 29-27 lead.

After scoring just 10 points in the second and third quarters combined, the Panthers could have hung their heads on the bench as they waited for the fourth to start. But there was none of that.

“One of the big things we said in between the third and fourth quarter when they had the lead was to remember our composure and our poise,” coach Darrah said. “That’s been one of our strong suits all year.”

They remembered. Darrah hit a 3 on the first possession of the fourth to put Pittsfield back on top and senior center Josh Whittier (12 points, four rebounds) followed up with a short jumper to extend the lead, 32-29. Newmarket countered with a 6-1 run sparked by Craig Hounam (nine points), but Darrah swiped the momentum back when he came up with a hustle steal that turned into a layup and a 35-35 tie with 3:40 left.

Senesonmbath delivered an assist on a 3-pointer from Jared Woodman (his only points of the game) and two free throws to give the Mules a 40-37 lead with 3:00 on the clock. That’s when coach Darrah called for one of the offensive plays he had been saving for this winner-take-all match with Newmarket, and Garrett Guerrero-Hadley (four points, four assists, nine rebounds) turned it into a layup to bring the Panthers within a point.

Guerrero-Hadley forced a turnover on the other end, and then Darrah put the Panthers on top, 41-40, on a knifing drive through traffic with 1:35 to go. After two more great defensive plays (a deflection from Darrah and a charge drawn from Newmarket’s Noah Pardy), Darrah drained two free throws with 6.4 seconds left to give his team a critical three-point cushion.

“Coach said rebounds, defense and free throws were going to win this game,” the younger Darrah said, “and they did.”

Newmarket got a good look at a 3 to tie, but the shot went off the back of the rim, ending the game, the season and the story that has been years in the making.

Well, almost.

After coach Darrah hung the long-awaited championship medal around his son’s neck, Cam took it right off and gave it back to his dad, along with a hug and a few whispered words.

“I made a promise to him when I was little that we’d make it here and I’d do my best to get the job done,” Cam said. “So I told him I loved him and that we did it. We finally did it.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on  Twitter @timosullivan20.)