Gatorade's Granite State Player of the Year can sum up his team's season in 10 words.
“Despite our lack of size, we were the bigger opponent,” said 6-foot 5-inch senior Connor Green, a season-long stat sheet stuffer for Nashua's Bishop Guertin High.
Case in point: the Division I boys' basketball final March 19 at UNH's Lundholm Gym. Top-seeded BG overcame a significant height disadvantage to top Manchester's Trinity High, the No. 2 seed, 54-46.
Green, who transferred from Division II Bedford High after his sophomore season, didn't disappoint in the final. He shook off a cold first half from the field to finish with 22 points and 11 rebounds. The double-double was his 21st of the season. BG closed its campaign 20-2.
Senior-laden and pegged as the preseason favorite, the Cardinals erased a two-point halftime deficit. They also erased the memory of last year's semifinal setback, in the process clinching the school's first hoop crown since 1983.
The championship pairing marked the first all-Catholic school final in the tournament's 89-year history.
BG opened the playoffs with a 63-50 win over No. 16 seed Concord High. Guertin punched its ticket to UNH with a tough 62-59 quarterfinals decision against No. 8 seed Spaulding High of Rochester.
The team treated its return trip to the college campus with a businesslike mentality.
“We had to be totally ready to play. We knew we had to play smarter,” fourth-year BG coach Jim Migneault said of the lesson learned from the previous Final Four appearance. “Both games up at Durham this year, we were very smart. I thought we played within ourselves the whole time.”
In the semifinals, a late-surge lifted the Cards past No. 4 seed Manchester Central, 64-55. Queen City hoop fans were extremely close to having their second all-Manchester championship in three years.
“I thought we could win last year,” said Bedford's Green, set to attend Phillips Exeter Academy for a year of post-graduate study. “I knew we could this year.”
Much was made this winter about BG's relentless scoring attack.
Sean McClung was the other half of BG's 1-2 scoring punch. The 6-foot-3 forward tagged Trinity, paced by Wol Majong and Mabor Gabriel (36 points combined), for 22 points and seven rebounds.
Migneault said BG's offense overshadowed the team's play at the other end of the floor. Aggressive full-court, man-to-man defense and a collective effort to box out under the defensive glass negated any lack of height.
McClung had five steals in the title game. Classmates Kyle Remillard, Steve Cuipa, Nick Pyzocha and Mike Kelly carried their strong defensive play into the final, too.
Trinity (18-4) owned slim leads at the conclusion of the first, second and third frames. But the team scored 10 points over the final 8 minutes, compared to BG's 19 points – aided greatly by McClung's consecutive late-game dagger 3-pointers.
“This team just played with the heart of winners,” Migneault said. “The effort they put forth in that game, they did it all year. When something got close, got tense, they always knew how to respond.”
The last time Trinity celebrated a Division I championship in boys' hockey, coach Mike Connell was a winger for the varsity club.
The year was 1988.
Trinity's title drought ended March 13 at Verizon Wireless Arena. The top-seeded Pioneers, hardly considered a threat in Division I when the season started, knocked off No. 3 seed and eight-time champion Hanover High, 3-2.
"I've been on both sides of this thing. We won in '88. We lost in '90," Connell said. "I much prefer this way, I'll tell you that."
Ryan Slatky played a starring role between the pipes. The sophomore goaltender stopped 40 of 42 shots, including the first 37 fired at him. He took a shutout bid into the game's final minutes.
He only allowed three goals in Trinity's three playoff wins, which included a 2-0 quarterfinals triumph against eighth-seeded Exeter High and a 2-1 semifinals victory against No. 5 seed BG.
"It was tough for guys to get pucks by him. Every shot that he could see, they were like beach balls to him," Connell said of Slatky's championship-game effort.
David Gagnon netted the title-clinching goal. Tyler Theodoulou's 2-on-1 feed set up the winning score, which gave Trinity (17-3-1) a commanding 3-0 lead. Second-period goals by Mike Beaudet and Chris Moquin gave the young club momentum – and confidence.
As the lead shrunk, Trinity stood tall.
“We knew there was going to be a flurry (from Hanover),” Connell said. “We got panicky a little bit. But, overall, I thought they played pretty poised. We got the puck out when we needed to.”
STILL NO. 1
Milford High last year went 21-1 en route to its first Division II championship in boys' basketball since 1975.
Talk about a season that's tough to top. But the Spartans did it.
Favored to repeat, top-seeded Milford outlasted No. 3 seed Portsmouth High March 19 at UNH. The 48-42 decision capped a perfect season for the Spartans, whose 22nd win clinched the program's second straight crown.
"It's more of a relief (to win) this year," Milford coach Dan Murray said. "Last year it was real exciting. This year, if we didn't win, it was like we didn't accomplish anything."
The star of last year's game, Mike O'Loughlin, scored nine of his team's 12 first-quarter points. The 6-foot-2 senior guard finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. He also notched nine steals as the leader of Milford's pressure defense that forced 21 turnovers.
Shortly before halftime, fellow senior standout Jamie Holder joined O'Loughlin as a 1,000-point scorer. He closed his career with 14 points.
The Spartans ended the season on a 40-game win streak dating to January 2010, when Portsmouth beat them in the regular season.
"Both (championships) feel great. But I'm going to say this one's better. It's our second championship in a row. Not many people get a chance to do that.
"Undefeated season, 40 wins in a row, back-to-back titles," he added. "It doesn't get much better than that."
THIRD TIME'S A CHARM
Dover High avenged two regular-season losses to powerful Merrimack High in the Division II boys' hockey final.
The No. 2-seeded Green Wave struck for three goals in the first period. It propelled them to a dominant 5-1 win over the top-seeded Tomahawks March 13 at the Verizon.
Ian Duffy sandwiched goals around Liam Murphy and Eric Groleau markers, giving Dover (15-5-0) a 4-0 lead through two periods. Dylan Stohrer added a late-game empty-netter after David Downie made sure Merrimack (18-2-1) wouldn't be shut out.
“Merrimack played as a team all year. We finally started getting it together at the end,” Duffy told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “At the end of the season, we were, by far, the best team in the state.”
GRANITE STATE GREATS
Kristen O'Neil (17 points), Carly Gould and Aviana Morrison (12 points apiece), and Samantha Corcoran (10 points) paced top-seeded Winnacunnet High to its fifth straight Division I girls' hoop crown March 12 at the Southern New Hampshire University Fieldhouse. The Hampton squad finished 22-0, topping No. 2 seed Londonderry High in the final, 55-46.
Jane White drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play and added two free throws, lifting top-seeded Souhegan High of Amherst to a 47-44 win in the Division II girls' hoop final against No. 2 seed Lebanon High March 12 at SNHU. White finished with 28 points, Christan Wojtas added 13 points, and Souhegan finished 22-0.
Jake Clement (14 points) fueled fourth-seeded Lisbon Regional to the Division IV boys' hoop title with a 40-33 win over Manchester's Derryfield School, the No. 3 seed, March 12 at SNHU. Mike Heath and Dylan Chase added nine and eight points, respectively.
Petter Bulling, Steve Wolf and Jaret Canney combined for six goals and five assists as Somersworth High (21-0-0) won its first Division III boys' hockey championship March 13 at the Verizon. The top-seeded Hilltoppers beat third-seeded and two-time defending champion Kennett High of Conway, 8-3.
Maddie Dewhirst and Tessa Hill recorded three points apiece, and goaltender Emily Eickhoff closed her career with 24 saves as Hanover (18-0-0) repeated as Division I girls' hockey champ. The Marauders beat No. 3 seed Oyster River High of Durham March 13 at the Verizon, 7-4.
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read his blog, "New Hampshire GameDay" and follow him on Twitter @marc_thaler.