Boys’ basketball: Kearsarge off to D-III semifinals after win over Hopkinton

Hopkinton’s Noah Aframe attempts to block a layup from Kearsarge’s Drew Huff during Friday night’s Division III quarterfinal.

Hopkinton’s Noah Aframe attempts to block a layup from Kearsarge’s Drew Huff during Friday night’s Division III quarterfinal. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Ajay Tremblay (55) defends Hopkinton’s Abram Standefer during Friday’s D-III quarterfinal at Kearsarge Regional High School.

Ajay Tremblay (55) defends Hopkinton’s Abram Standefer during Friday’s D-III quarterfinal at Kearsarge Regional High School. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Kearsarge junior Noah Whipple looks to make a pass as Hopkinton’s Colby Boissy defends him on Friday night.

Kearsarge junior Noah Whipple looks to make a pass as Hopkinton’s Colby Boissy defends him on Friday night. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-17-2024 12:52 AM

NORTH SUTTON – At this point in the season, it’s usually a good thing when a coach emerges from the locker room drenched. After Kearsarge head coach Nate Camp walked back onto the floor with his blue quarter zip completely soaked following his No. 4 Cougars (17-3) eking out a 40-35 win over No. 5 Hopkinton (12-6) in Friday night’s Division III quarterfinal, he could only smile.

He’d just watched his program go from 4-14 a year ago to now be one win away for playing for a state championship. What’s not to smile about?

“You want these experiences for your program and most importantly for the kids,” Camp said. “Last year was a struggle. Everybody made a goal at the beginning of the season. … The kids all said we wanna get to the final four and go have a chance to go win a championship. You say that, but coming off of 4-14, talk’s cheap. You gotta go perform. In a game like this, it’s nice to be able to deliver in front of your home crowd, knowing that Hopkinton beat us twice at the beginning of the season.”

The two regular season meetings were decided on a razor’s edge. The Hawks won the first meeting 44-40 and the second 47-46. It was no surprise that Friday night also came down to the wire. 

Hopkinton led 10-5 at the end of the first quarter, but Kearsarge carried a 27-22 lead into halftime and a 31-29 lead into the fourth. Clutch free throw shooting down the stretch, particularly from Cougars’ senior Parker Goin who made all four of his free throw attempts, helped them seal the deal. For Goin and seniors Eddie Kinzer and Jack Goen, there was no better way to end their final game at home.

Friday was a game of defense — particularly in the second half — and Kearsarge did just enough to walk away with the win.

“They’re just so active,” Hopkinton head coach Matt Miller said of the Cougars’ defense. “So athletic across the board. It’s the same stuff that gave us trouble the first two times we saw them. ... They’re just great defensively, and their length makes things difficult when you try to get into the lanes.”

Hopkinton senior Abram Standefer led all scorers in the game with 12 points in his final game as a Hawk, while fellow senior Vincent Louca added 11. Kearsarge received nine points each from juniors Noah Whipple and Ajay Tremblay.

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Whipple, a strong contender for Player of the Year, didn’t connect on a field goal attempt in the first, third or fourth quarters. Hopkinton locked him down as well as it could’ve hoped, yet it still wasn’t enough.

The Hawks finish the season 12-6 after starting the year 1-3. It ends on a sour note, but Miller said the team’s turnaround to put itself in position to make a final four speaks volumes about his group.

“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t really supposed to be as good as I think we ended up being, and that’s a testament to the work and community that those guys built as a team this year,” Miller said. “We don’t walk away sad because of what we’ve done this season. We walk away with our heads up.”

Kearsarge, meanwhile, now turns its attention to its next opponent, No. 1 Conant (18-1) in the semifinals on Tuesday. The Cougars handed the Orioles their only loss of the season, 29-28, on Feb. 8, but Camp knows they’ll come in with a target on their backs when they face off again with a trip to the championship on the line.

“They’re a great team. They very well coached,” he said. “Down there, it was an absolute grind. It was a defensive battle. It could be similar to that.

“They’ll be hungry for us because we were the only team to beat them, but as I said to our guys, ‘You’ve got your goals from the beginning of the season. Stick to it.’ It’s 32 minutes now, and it’s going to be another grind. I’m happy for them, but don't settle for just getting there.”