Kearsarge boys’ basketball falls short in D-III finals

  • Kearsarge’s Sam Carl (left) drives against Gilford’s Isaiah Reese late in Saturday’s D-III boys’ basketball championship. No. 1 Gilford defended its title with a 46-38 victory. Brackett Lyons / Monitor staff

  • Kearsarge’s Bobby Needham (20) dives for a loose ball in Saturday’s Division III boys’ basketball championship game. Brackett Lyons / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/27/2022 5:26:53 PM

The Kearsarge boys’ basketball team left everything they had on the floor Saturday night.

Under the brightest lights, the Cougars threw themselves around the court for 32 minutes. Every loose ball, every rebound, every pass, Kearsarge gave it all they could. But it just wasn’t enough. The No. 3 Cougars (17-4) pulled within two points with 1:13 to play, but just couldn’t get over the hump against the defending champion and top-ranked Gilford Golden Eagles (19-1).

In the end, the Cougars watched helplessly as Gilford’s Jalen Reese (game-high 15 points, nine rebounds) sunk clutch free throw after clutch free throw to ice the game to claim the Division III championship, 46-38.

“We were never out of it,” said Kearsarge head coach Nate Camp. “We were a few shots away from taking the lead and if we took the lead I think that would have been just exactly what we needed because we could have maybe gotten them out of that zone a little bit. And we had a couple of really good looks. They just didn’t go down.”

It didn’t look like a win would be within the Cougars’ reach in the first half. Gilford opened the game in dominant fashion, building an 11-2 lead in the first quarter — highlighted by a Jalen Reese dunk off a touch pass from his sophomore brother Isaiah — and going up 20-14 at halftime, even with shooting a paltry 1-for-4 from the charity stripe.

Kearsarge held its own thanks to a gritty defense against a taller and speedier Eagle offense, outrebounding Gilford 25-22 and forcing 18 turnovers while committing 14, but the Cougars were in dire straights offensively, shooting just 22.2 percent from the field.

After giving up the first bucket of the second half, Kearsarge hit the gas, with senior forwards Adrian McCarthy (seven points) and George Jallah, and senior guard Sam Carl (seven points) getting buckets in a 6-0 run to cut Gilford’s lead to 22-20 early in the third quarter.

Eagles junior Sam Cheek (13 points, seven rebounds) and a 3 from senior Riley Marsh (eight points) put Gilford back up by seven (27-20), but a steal and score from Cougar senior guard Chris Stanchfield (eight points, six rebounds) and a buzzer-beating 3 from senior guard Bobby Needham made it 27-25 heading into the fourth.

“I thought we did a better job in the third quarter,” said Camp. “We just had the fight and determination to hang in.”

The fight continued in the fourth and Stanchfield drove in for a layup to get the Cougars within one (28-27) with 6:25 to play.

Stanchfield brought fire and intensity on defense, blocking several shots and coming up with steal after steal to keep Gilford from pulling away.

Carl was also clutch late in the game, with a sensational layup between two defenders to make it 37-35 with about two minutes to go.

In the last minute, Kearsarge needed one stop to get a chance at a tie and force overtime, but Jalen Reese scored a layup and knocked down a free throw on Stanchfield’s fifth foul with 50.4 seconds left.

The scrappy Cougars showed no quit, contesting every ball, forcing Gilford to earn every inch, and Needham drained another spectacular deep 3 with 24.6 seconds left, but that effort also resulted in fouls, and the Eagles went 7-for-7 from the free throw line in the final minute, with Jalen Reese going a perfect 5-for-5 in that stretch to ice their back-to-back championship bid.

“I’d go to battle with these kids,” said Camp. “Any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I love these kids. Not the way we want it to end but certainly the fact that we were here on the last day is a big testament to this group. There was no quit.”




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