The Division IV final is a dream come true for the Pittsfield boys’ basketball team

Monitor staff
Thursday, March 08, 2018

When Pittsfield meets Newmarket on Saturday in the Division IV boys’ basketball championship game, it will be a dream come true for the Panthers taking the floor. It will also be a dream shared, and rekindled, for the Panthers in the stands.

“The community has really been behind us, I can’t say enough about the community and the backing, the alumni,” Pittsfield coach Jay Darrah said. “The ’90 guys, the ’81 guys, they’ve all reached out to us. It’s been great, it really has. It’s great for the boys to have a following like this and it’s even better for our community.”

The ’90 guys were part of the last Pittsfield team to reach a boys’ basketball final, that one coming in Division III (Class M at the time) and resulting in a 72-60 loss to Littleton. The ’81 guys also made it to the Class M final where they lost to Newmarket, 49-47, in overtime. And the only other finals appearance for the Panthers came in 1969 when they lost to Woodsville, 97-41.

The current Pittsfield team is led by six seniors, the ’18 guys, who have been playing together since elementary school … and dreaming about playing on the big stage at Plymouth State University, site of the D-IV final four, for just as long.

The second-seeded Panthers (20-1) handled their first appearance in the dream-come-true spotlight at PSU with a runaway 62-42 win against No. 3 Littleton in the semifinals.

“We were really excited, you could tell we were trying to play it off and be cool, but we were really, really exited,” said Cam Darrah, Pittsfield’s 1,000-point scorer and point guard, and the coach’s son.

There were also nerves mixed in with the excitement, and the Panthers played with some hesitation for most of the first quarter. But Darrah went off in the final 1:30 of the frame – a drive that drew gasps from the crowd, an NBA-range 3 off the dribble, a heave that banked in at the buzzer – giving Pittsfield a five-point lead and all the swagger it needed to roll to the convincing win.

“That fueled us,” senior center Josh Whittier said, “but everything fuels the fire for us. Even if it’s a bad thing, we just pick our heads up and keep going.”

It makes sense that everything fuels the Panthers, because they get contributions from everyone on the floor.

There’s no doubt it starts with Darrah, who grew up around the program his father has led for 16 years. Cam was on the varsity team as an eighth-grader, he passed the 1,000-point mark as a junior and he’s one of the favorites to be named D-IV Player of the Year this season.

“They’ve got a player of the year candidate, I mean I voted for him. He’s that good,” Epping coach Nick Fiset said of Darrah after Pittsfield beat his team, 85-65, in the quarterfinals. “Our game plan was basically to shut him down as much as we could and hope the other guys who aren’t in the position to be the main guys most of the time (don’t) make chances.”

Unfortunately for Fiset, those other guys are pretty good and they converted their chances. With two Epping defenders shadowing Darrah, senior guard Casey Clark hit six 3-pointers and finished with 21 points. Senior guard Garrett Guerrero-Hadley had 15 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, Whittier wound up with 17 points and junior Dylan Bocash, the only non-senior in the starting lineup, had 11 points and eight rebounds.

There was similar balance in Pittsfield’s 95-34 first-round win against Wilton-Lyndeborough (Darrah with 28 points, Whittier with 20 and Clark with 16) and in the semifinal against Littleton (22 points for Darrah, 15 for Whittier, 11 for Bocash and 10 for Guerrero-Hadley).

Not only do the Panthers share the ball and the scoring load, they fit together to form a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Guerrero-Hadley, who has improved dramatically since last year, gives Pittsfield another ball handler to take the pressure of Darrah and allow him to play off the ball at times. Clark, like Guerrero-Hadley, has the athleticism to fill lanes on the fast break and the skills to finish from anywhere on the court. Bocash is the defensive stopper, and showed why when he held Littleton star Danny Kubkwoski to nine points on 2-for-10 shooting in the semifinal. And the 6-foot-2 Whittier is the big man who provides rebounding and balance.

“Josh Whittier is a difference maker,” coach Darrah said. “If he’s not in the paint area, solidifying the basket area, it’s tough for everyone else. Everyone can defend the wings better.”

How do you beat a well-balanced squad like that? Only one team had that answer this season, and it’s the same team Pittsfield will face on Saturday – No. 5 Newmarket (17-4).

The Mules won in Pittsfield on Jan. 5, 66-60, but the Panthers got their revenge with a 58-57 comeback win in Newmarket on Feb. 6. It seems only fitting that the rubber match comes in the final.

The Mules, like the Panthers, get contributions from multiple players and also have a star to lean on, senior guard Anthony Senesombath. He had 18 points in Newmarket’s 61-55 semifinal win against top-ranked and previously unbeaten Derryfield, but the Mules also got 17 points from both Jared Woodman and Craig Hounam.

If the first two games are any indication, Saturday’s contest will be tight… and could very well be decided by free throws. Newmarket went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter of the first meeting to hang on for the win. In the Feb. 6 meeting, however, the Mules were 0-for-4 shooting free throws in the final moments as the Panthers claimed the one-point decision.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)