Previews of local schools’ NHIAA playoff matchups
High school tournaments today
Division III championship
At Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester
No. 2 John Stark-Hopkinton (18-1-1)
vs. No. 1 Berlin (20-0-0), 12:15 p.m.
HEAD TO HEAD: Berlin beat John Stark-Hopkinton in the Paper City, 8-2.
Previous tournament games: John Stark-Hopkinton cruised by No. 7 Moultonborough/Inter-Lakes, 7-1, and No. 3 Souhegan, 7-2. Berlin ousted No. 8 Portsmouth, 17-2, and No. 5 Kennett, 5-2.
Notes: First of all, don’t read anything into the score of the teams’ earlier meeting. John Stark-Hopkinton was playing shorthanded, and lost its starting goalie to a concussion in the first period. Granted, Berlin was winning 2-0 at the time, but there surely isn’t a six-goal difference in the teams. Berlin has been virtually untouchable since dropping two divisions from D-I to D-III this season. The Mountaineers have posted eight shutouts and allowed just 1.55 goals per game while scoring a whopping 7.6 per outing, breaching double digits five times. John Stark-Hopkinton has won 10 straight since that lone loss, and has nearly as gaudy numbers, yielding just 2.05 goals per game while averaging 6.4 itself. “Right from the start, even when I first got the job I knew the team had what it takes to get to the final,” first-year Coach Denis Kolehmainen said. An aggressive forechecking squad with a team defense mentality, John Stark-Hopkinton will come at Berlin in three waves, led by Jake Blanchette (15 goals), Robbie Ferguson (14 goals), Garrett Thomas (11 goals), Keith Galli, Simon Hunter, Kyle Kolehmainen and Callahan Loos (10 goals each). Thomas Zervos is the defensive sparkplug, along with Alex Lajeunesse, Alex Olson, Cooper Bourque and Hunter Goss, who has a booming slap shot from the point. Goalie Connor McDonald (1.76 goals-against average, .901 save percentage) will be back between the pipes, ready to go the distance against Berlin this time around. “I have complete confidence in him. I think he’s one of the best goalies in the state,” Zervos said of McDonald. They’ll have to contend with the state’s top scorer in Berlin junior Connor Jewett (60 goals) and linemate Justin Vien (26 goals), but after that the Mountaineers’ production drops off substantially. In goal, Berlin has alternated netminders. Sticking to the rotation, it would be sophomore Shane Mailhot’s turn, but Stark-Hopkinton could see either Mailhot (1.44 gaa, .908 save percentage), whom it faced in the regular season, or freshman Brenden Williams (1.74 gaa, .908 save percentage). John Stark (before joining with Hopkinton for the co-op team) has reached the final just once before, in 2007 when it lost to Souhegan. Berlin is making its 28th title game appearance (all others in D-I), its last in 2006. The Mountaineers have won nine championships, but none since 1976.
Division II quarterfinals
No. 8 Pelham (11-8) at
No. 1 Pembroke (19-0), 7 p.m.
HEAD TO HEAD: The Spartans beat Pelham, 66-47, in the season opener on Dec. 14.
Previous tournament games: Pelham edged No. 9 Plymouth, 44-37. Pembroke stopped No. 16 St. Thomas, 43-25.
Notes: The Spartans have been upset at home in the quarterfinals the last two years, losing in 2010 as the No. 2 seed to Souhegan, 53-45, and last season as the No. 3 seed to Coe-Brown, 57-52. Pembroke struggled to hit from the outside in those two losses, and finding ways to win when the long shots aren’t falling has been a central goal for the Spartans this season. They showed they could do it in the season-opening win over Pelham as defense set the tone (holding the Pythons to five points in the first quarter) and Pat Welch scored 33 points by attacking the rim and hitting from outside. The development of inside players Jordan Williams and Dominic Timbas also makes Pembroke more diversely dangerous this year. Spartan seniors Rene Maher and Matt Persons played in the final as freshmen, and have had great high school careers, and neither is ready to end things without another trip to UNH and the final four. Pelham won’t make it easy, however. The well-coached Pythons play with effort and have a very good point guard in Jake Vaiknoras and a dangerous scorer in Keith Brown (the two combined for 32 against Pembroke back in December).
No. 6 Bishop Brady (12-7) at
No. 3 Lebanon (15-4), 7 p.m.
HEAD TO HEAD: Brady lost to the Raiders twice, in Lebanon on Jan. 11, 60-37, and at home on Feb. 19, 49-48.
Previous tournament games: Brady eliminated No. 11 John Stark, 72-64. Lebanon beat No. 14 Merrimack Valley, 75-66.
Notes: The young Green Giants were full of emotion after their victory over John Stark, the first playoff win for the Brady boys in nine years. “I’m excited, I’m ready to go play Lebanon right now,” said sophomore Jourdain Bell, who had 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the first round. “I’m ready to beat them.” In order to do that, the Giants will have to handle the road better than they did the last time at Lebanon, when they fell behind early and ended up playing the bench for the entire fourth quarter. Things were different in the rematch at Brady when the Giants played solid defense and had a shot to win at the end. If Brady can play the kind of defense it did in the second Lebanon game, and get the offensive production it did Wednesday against Stark from Bell and sophomore Brendan Johnson (26 points), the Giants will have a chance against the deep and disciplined Raiders. “They’re a good, solid team,” Brady Coach Mark Yeaton said of the Raiders. “But, honestly, I’ve felt all year if we play 32 minutes up to our potential, we can have a crack at anybody, so we’re going to go up there and have some fun.”
No. 13 Coe-Brown (9-10) at
No. 12 Windham (10-9), 7 p.m.
HEAD TO HEAD: The teams did not meet during the regular season.
Previous tournament games: Coe-Brown upset No. 4 Hollis-Brookline, 66-63. Windham upset No. 5 Oyster River, 54-39.
Notes: Coe-Brown reached the semifinals last year as a No. 11 seed, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bears on another Cinderella run this year, even if they did lose their top three players from last season and had lost seven straight coming into this tournament. Senior forward Chris Laurion has stepped into the lead role this year for the Bears, and he had 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the first-round win, but he also had plenty of help. Andrew Langdon scored 14 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter in Coe-Brown’s comeback win, Damon Doyle also scored 17 to go along with four assists, and Beau Pingree and Josh Jackman combined for 17 points and eight rebounds. The Bears defense will have to slow down Windham’s Andrew Lowman, who scored 27 in the Jaguars’ impressive first-round win over Oyster River, a team that beat Coe-Brown, 35-33, in Northwood three weeks ago. Windham is coached by Todd Steffanides, the former Concord High coach.