Pandemic provides sneak peak at high school basketball tournaments

  • Bow’s Shaun Lover Jr. (left) goes up for a shot against Hopkinton during the season-opening basketball game on Jan. 11. Bow will open its Division II postseason with a trip to Hanover on March 4, while Hopkinton will host a D-III playoff game on March 3. JEFF SULLIVAN/

  • Concord’s Elizabeth Blinn (right) posts up against a Bedford defender during a girls’ basketball game in Concord on Jan. 22. Blinn and the Tide will open their playoffs on March 5 at home. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Bishop Brady on Monday, Feb. 16, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Bishop Brady’s Ami Rivera (right) rises for a layup against Conant during a Feb. 16 game in Jaffrey. Rivera and the Giants look like the favorites to get out of Region I in the Division II girls’ basketball tournament, but they will have to go on the road to do it. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monitor staff
Published: 2/23/2021 6:14:30 PM

The regular season isn’t finished, but high school basketball teams across the state already know where they’re going for the playoffs.

With the pandemic playing havoc on schedules, the tournaments are open to any teams that want to participate, regardless of record. That allowed the NHIAA to release its boys’ and girls’ basketball brackets last Friday, or one week ahead of the end of the regular season.

Teams were put in four regional brackets to limit travel and maximize safety, and “seedings” were selected at random. The same format was successfully used in the fall for the postseason in soccer, a sport that has a comparable number of teams to basketball.  But don’t make plans to attend any of these games – the NHIAA is recommending two fans per player, although stricter school policies will take precedent.

It’s a safe and equitable way to have playoffs given the circumstances, and it creates some odd tournament matchups that fit the odd theme of the season and year.

The Concord boys, for example, end their regular season with two games against Trinity this week, and then were randomly selected to host Trinity again in the Division I first round on Monday. It will be a challenge for the Crimson Tide, which was 2-7 before Tuesday night’s game. The Pioneers were 9-2 going into the contest, which began after the Monitor deadline. Those two teams are in Region 1 along with Goffstown (8-1), Manchester Memorial (4-4) and Manchester Central (5-5).

Region 1 of the D-II boys’ tournament features three area schools – Pembroke Academy (8-3), Coe-Brown (5-7) and Bishop Brady (0-13). Even though PA and Coe-Brown were in the same local cohort this year and their districts border each other, they didn’t meet during the regular season. But they will square off in the postseason on March 4 at 7 p.m. The game will be in Northwood since Coe-Brown was selected as Team 2 and PA as Team 3 and the lower number Team gets the home court advantage.

Brady was drawn as Team 4 and has to play in a first round game on March 1 against Team 5 Oyster River (6-6). The winner of that contest will travel to Team 1 Sanborn (7-3) on March 4, and the winner there will meet the PA/Coe-Brown winner in a quarterfinal matchup on March 6.

Bow (12-1) was selected as Team 3 in Region 3 and will travel to Team 2 Hanover for a second round game on March 4. The Marauders are usually a dangerous opponent and have put up a 7-2 record this year, but they have faced D-III teams in seven of their nine games. John Stark (2-7) drew Team 4 and will host Team 5 ConVal (3-4) in a matchup of teams that have been two of the most limited in the state regarding practice time and games played due to strict safety guidelines in their respective districts. The winner of that game will go to Team 1 Lebanon (8-0), and whoever advances from there will face the Bow/Hanover winner in the March 6 quarters.

Like it was during the soccer season, Merrimack Valley was placed in a region with teams it did not face in the regular season. MV got stuck with the Team 5 draw in Region 4 and will travel to Team 4 Plymouth (3-4) for a first round game on March 1. Whoever advances there will travel to Team 1 Laconia (7-3) for a second round game on March 4. The other half of the bracket is Team 3 Kennett (7-3) at Team 2 Kingswood (1-0).

The D-III boys’ tournament features a pair of local teams who played against mostly D-II competition during the regular season, held their own and could be primed to make a postseason run  – Hopkinton and Kearsarge.

Hopkinton (7-4) drew Team 1 in Region 3 and on March 3 will host the winner of  Team 5 Monadnock (4-1) at Team 4 Conant (7-2) first round game. If Hopkinton can win that one, the Hawks will face the winner  of the Team 3 Mascenic (3-1) at Team 2 Hillsboro-Deering (1-8) second round matchup.

Kearsarge has to play a first round game after drawing Team 4 in Region 2. The Cougars (8-3) will host Team 5 Newport (0-1) on March 1 at 7. The advancing team will go to Team 1 Fall Mountain (0-9) for the second round. The other half of Region 2 has Team 3 Mascoma (7-4) at Team 2 Stevens (0-4).

Pittsfield will be Team 2 in the six-school Region 1 of the D-IV boys’ tournament. The Panthers (9-4) will host a second round game on March 3 against the winner of Team 6 Portsmouth Christian (10-6) at Team 3 Nute (1-6). That’s a tough draw for Pittsfield, which has had a good season, and it won’t get any easier. Team 1 Newmarket (4-1), which beat the Panthers on Saturday, 47-32, could be waiting in the quarterfinals if Pittsfield makes it past Portsmouth Christian.

The Concord girls were selected as Team 2 in Region 2 of the D-I girls’ tournament and will play on March 5 against the winner of Team 6 Trinity (6-6) at Team 3 Goffstown (4-7). Like the Tide boys’ team, the Concord girls are also finishing their season with two games against Trinity this week. The other half of Region 2 has Team 5 Memorial (5-5) at Team 4 Central (4-4) in the first round with the winner advancing to face Team 1 Bedford (7-2). These teams were all in the same cohort during the regular season and Bedford clearly established itself as the top squad in the group.

The Bishop Brady girls were 12-1 headed into their final game of the season (Thursday at Bow), but they will have to play in the first round of the D-II girls’ tournament as Team 3 in Region 1. The Giants will host Sanborn (5-5) on March 2 and the winner there will travel to Team 2 Timberlane (1-6) for second round game on March 5. Coe-Brown (4-9) drew the top spot in this region as Team 1 and will meet either Team 5 Pembroke Academy (4-7) or Team 4 Oyster River (6-6). Those two have a first round game on March 2 in Durham.

The Bow girls also got a tough draw after going 10-2 with just their regular-season finale left against Brady. The Falcons are Team 5 in Region 3 of the D-II tourney and will travel to John Stark (2-7) for a first round game on Tuesday. If Bow wins there, they get to travel to Hanover for a game against the undefeated Marauders (11-0). The same thing happened in the soccer season when Bow and Hanover were two of the best girls’ teams in D-II but met in the first round of the playoffs.

Merrimack Valley (6-6) is Team 4 in Region 4 and will host Team 5 Kingswood (0-1) on March 2. The winner there will go Team 1 Laconia (9-1) two days later. The other half of this region sees Team 3 Kennett (10-2) at Team 2 Plymouth (4-5).

The Kearsarge girls will hit the road for the D-III tourney after drawing Team 5 in Region 2. The Cougars (5-4) travel to Newport (0-1) for a first round game on March 2 and, if they win there, will go to Team 1 Fall Mountain (6-3) for a second round game on March 4. Team 3 Stevens (1-2) will travel to Team 2 Mascoma (1-10) in the other half of this region.

Hopkinton (6-5) gets to play a home game in the first round as Team 4 in Region 4, but the Hawks have to play Team 5 Conant (10-0). The Orioles are the defending D-III champs, have won 32 straight games and have beat teams from all four divisions this season. The Hawks did play a tough D-II schedule this season and they will need all of that experience against a big, talented and experienced Conant team. The rest of the teams in this region are winless according to the NHIAA website – Team 1 Monadnock (0-3), Team 2 Hillsboro-Deering (0-8) and Team 3 Mascenic (0-3).

The Pittsfield girls are Team 3 in Region 1 of the D-IV tourney. They will travel to Team 3 Farmington for a second round game on March 4. 

The winners of each region will advance to the semifinals. All four boys’ divisions will play their semis on March 10 with the finals all scheduled for March 13. The girls’ semifinals will be held on March 11 with the finals scheduled for March 14. The NHIAA is looking for neutral sites to play all the final four games, but if it can’t find any it will determine home teams by random draw and the ability to host two fans per player.

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