Boys’ basketball: Kearsarge, Hopkinton, Belmont all hosting playoff games as D-III tournament tips off Tuesday
|Published: 02-12-2024 12:44 PM
Three area teams will compete in the Division III boys’ basketball playoffs that begin on Tuesday. Kearsarge finished the season at 15-3 and will be the four seed. Hopkinton will be the five seed after posting an 11-5 regular season record, while Belmont will be the seven seed at 11-7.
All three will host first-round matchups. Here’s what to look out for as each team begins its quest for a championship:
After a 4-14 campaign in 2022-23, the Cougars turned things completely around this season, posting an 11-win improvement. They’ll do battle against No. 13 Stevens (7-9) in the first round. Kearsarge won both regular season meetings narrowly, 51-48 on Jan. 17 and 56-54 on Jan. 20.
Whipple, a junior, led the way for the Cougars for much of the season after missing last year with an injury.
“He’s just so dynamic,” head coach Nate Camp said in an interview. “He’s hard to guard because he’s a guard, but he can play inside, too. You don’t think he can shoot it, well then he drills two 3s in your face. He’s got the ability to play inside and outside and be a good leader while doing it, and he’s bringing everybody else along. Everybody’s believing now that we can contend, and he’s helping do that.”
Camp also pointed to contributions from all over the roster helping complement Whipple’s game and make their offense harder to slow down.
He highlighted seniors Eddie Kinzer and Parker Goin, juniors Austin Needham and Ajay Tremblay and sophomores Bragen Kinzer and Drew Huff as other players who will be key to a playoff run.
Kearsarge closed the season with a 12-game winning streak, including a 28-26 win over previously-unbeaten Conant to catapult the Cougars into the playoffs.
The Hawks reached the D-III semifinals last year, and while they lost three starters from that team, senior forward Abram Standefer and junior guard Noah Aframe have provided steady leadership on and off the floor all season.
Standefer — at 6’7 — presents an obvious mismatch for any team, with his ability to knock down 3s, control the ball and protect the rim on defense.
“The biggest thing I was going to highlight with him is, obviously he’s a skilled player, and he would start and excel in any program in the division...but what he brings to the table that I think really makes him valuable is the leadership across the board,” head coach Matt Miller said. “For a guy with his skillset, with his ability to score, he (has) as team-first a mentality as you could ask a guy to (have).”
Aframe, meanwhile, is one of the best defenders in the division, Miller argued.
“There are a couple guys that are phenomenal in the division as well, but I just think what he does for 32 minutes every single game, he’s the best at it,” Miller said. “He’s added in a healthy chunk of scoring as well to pick up some of what we lost in the offseason with graduations and stuff. He’s really transformed his game and become a threat to score consistently as well as taking away a team’s best ball-handling player most nights.”
Hopkinton will host No. 12 Newport (8-10) on Tuesday, a team it beat on Feb. 2, 68-42.
Wins by both the Hawks and the Cougars in the first round would set up a quarterfinal contest between the two teams at Kearsarge on Friday night. They’ve already faced off twice during the regular season, with the Hawks winning both games, 44-40 on Dec. 21 and 47-46 on Jan. 5.
For more on Hopkinton, stay tuned for Tuesday’s episode of the Monitor Sports Podcast.
The Red Raiders started the season just 2-4 but finished the year winning nine of 12 to snag the No. 7 seed and a first round playoff game in their home gym. They’ll take on No. 10 Fall Mountain (9-9), a team they didn’t face in the regular season.
Head coach Tony Martinez’s team has two key players to keep an eye on: junior forwards Anakin Underhill and Keegan Martinez. The duo has posed challenges for opposing defenses all year, and their play helped spur the turnaround for Belmont’s younger team.
“I truly believe that they’re two of the best big men in the division,” Martinez said last week. “Anakin has really stepped up his game this year and been in more of an assertive role. Keegan keeps getting better and better and has added a 3-point shot to his skill range, with his post moves and starting to take guys off the dribble. They’ve done a lot for us, and they’ll continue to do that for us.”
Martinez also emphasized the versatility throughout the rest of his roster, allowing him to mix and match lineups depending on who’s shooting well or how their strengths align with their opponents’.
Belmont has a harder slog ahead if it wants to make the final four. A win on Tuesday would mean a date with No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas (16-1) in the quarterfinals on Friday. The Red Raiders lost to the Saints 68-35 on Jan. 5.
But, the team is also much improved since then, and as Martinez, Camp and Miller all emphasized, anyone can beat anyone on any given day in Division III.