Boston High School: Dover (N.H.)

N.H. football squads eye postseason play

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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The final weekend of the New Hampshire high school football season is upon us.

New HampshireEight teams from each division -- two per conference -- will advance to next weekend’s conference championship games, which will serve as the postseason’s quarterfinal round.

Here’s what’s still at stake in each division:

DIVISION I

Four teams have already qualified for postseason play in Division I: Concord (8-0), Nashua South (7-1), Pinkerton Academy (6-2) and Londonderry (4-4). Londonderry will play at Pinkerton Academy in next weekend’s Division I South championship game.

Keene (6-2) can clinch a playoff spot by beating Alvirne (1-7) Friday. If Keene wins, it will play Nashua South in the Division I West title game. Keene handed Nashua South its only loss (42-28) last weekend.

Spaulding (5-3) and Exeter (5-3) will be the two teams that move on from Division I East if each wins Friday. Spaulding plays at Dover (2-6), and Exeter is home against Nashua North (3-5). If either Spaulding or Exeter loses Friday, the door will be open for Winnacunnet (5-3) to reach the postseason.

The winner of Friday’s game between Manchester Central (6-2) and Bedford (7-1) will face Concord in the Division I North title game.

DIVISION II

Seven of the eight playoff teams have been determined in Division II: Monadnock (8-0), Portsmouth (7-1), Plymouth (7-1), Windham (7-1), Trinity (6-2), Sanborn (5-3) and Kennett (4-4).

Sanborn will play Monadnock in the Division II West title game, and Trinity will face Windham in the Division II South title game.

Merrimack Valley will clinch a postseason berth if it beats Plymouth on Saturday, or if St. Thomas (6-2) loses to Trinity. A St. Thomas win and a Merrimack Valley loss would make it possible for St. Thomas to advance, depending on results of other Division II games this weekend. Either Merrimack Valley or St. Thomas will face Portsmouth in the Division II East championship game.

Kennett will face Plymouth in the Division II North championship game.

DIVISION III

The matchups in two of the four Division III conference championship games are set in Division III: Epping-Newmarket (3-4) will face Bishop Brady (3-4) in the Division III East title game; and Bow (6-1) will meet Pelham (7-0) in the Division III South championship game.

Stevens (5-2) and Gilford (6-2) have also qualified. Stevens will face the winner of Saturday’s game between Mascoma Valley (5-2) and Newport (5-2) for the Division III West title, and Gilford will meet either Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough (4-3) or Winnisquam (3-4) in the Division III North championship game. Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough will advance if it beats Epping-Newmarket on Saturday, or if Winnisquam loses to Newfound (2-5).

NHIAA WEEK 9 SCHEDULE
DIVISION I
Friday
Spaulding at Dover
Nashua North at Exeter
Bishop Guertin at Timberlane
Winnacunnet at Nashua South
Manchester Central at Bedford
Goffstown at Concord
Manchester West at Manchester Memorial
Salem at Londonderry
Pinkerton at Merrimack
Alvirne at Keene
DIVISION II
Friday
Kennett at Kingswood
Pembroke at Mondadnock
Hanover at Portsmouth
St. Thomas at Trinity
Milford at Laconia
Lebanon at Kearsarge
Hollis/Brookline at Souhegan
Sanborn at Windham

Saturday
Merrimack Valley at Plymouth
Con-Val at John Stark

DIVISION III
Friday

Raymond at Stevens

Saturday
Franklin at Bishop Brady
Epping/Newmarket at IL/Moultonborough
Pelham at Farmington-Nute
Winnisquam at Newfound
Campbell at Bow
Fall Mountain at Somersworth
Newport at Mascoma Valley

UNION LEADER/WGIR/WMUR POWER POLL
1. Concord (8-0)
2. Bedford (7-1)
3. Pinkerton (6-2)
4. Nashua South (7-1)
5. Keene (6-2)
6. Manchester Central (6-2)
7. Bishop Guertin (5-3)
8. Portsmouth (7-1)
9. Exeter (5-3)
10. Plymouth (7-1)

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader, and publishes the New Hampshire Football Report. Follow him on Twitter: @603sportsmedia.

Week 2 New Hampshire football preview

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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Keene football coach John Luopa won't be walking into the unknown this weekend. He's very much aware of what his team will be up against when it faces Exeter on Saturday night (7 p.m.) in Keene.

New HampshireExeter has won New Hampshire's last two Division I championships and is considered by many to be the team to beat again this season. The Blue Hawks have a roster of more than 100 players and have won their last 17 games against Division I competition.

“It's a daunting task playing Exeter,” Luopa said. “They're hands down the best team in the state – and the best program. When you've won the last two Division I championships I think it's fair to say that.

“It's the same Exeter team. They've just changed the names and numbers.”

Keene is coming off a 34-0 triumph over Nashua North. Exeter received three touchdowns from fullback Jay Inzenga in Saturday's 48-6 triumph over Dover.

“I thought we tackled well and we didn't turn it over, which is always a concern when you have all new backs,” Exeter coach Bill Ball said. “Getting out of the gate with a win is huge. It gives you momentum heading into the next week.

“The road gets tougher. Keene is a lot like us – physical. It'll be a physical game."

Luopa said slowing down Exeter's running game and cashing in on scoring opportunities will be the keys for his team Saturday night.

“Offensively you have to find a way to get it in the end zone,” he said. “In years past we've moved the ball well from the 20 to the 20. Inside the 20 is where they really buckle down.

“I think we match up well with teams that run the spread because defensively we can run with the spread teams. The big question entering this game is how will our defense hold up against a big, powerful team that runs the ball?

“It will be interesting to see if we do have the horses to give them a game.”

DIVISION II
Trinity (Manchester) and Plymouth were the best teams in Division IV last season, and they may be the two best teams in a reconfigured Division II this year.

Plymouth, which beat Trinity 7-0 to win last year's Division IV title, rolled over Kingswood, 49-28, last weekend. The Bobcats will play at Windham on Saturday. Windham, which lost to Trinity in last year's Division IV semifinals, opened its season with a 28-7 triumph over Hanover.

“I saw their film (against Kingswood) and they flow to the ball real well,” Windham coach Bill Raycraft said. “(Plymouth coach Chuck Lenahan) has 11 guys who make it look like they have 13 out there. Plymouth will be one of the top teams in the division.”

Perhaps no team posted a more impressive victory last weekend than Trinity, which made a statement by beating Portsmouth, 58-37, Friday night. Portsmouth has won the last two Division III championships and was a preseason favorite to win this year's Division II title.

Trinity may get a stiffer test from Milford tonight. The Spartans returned their entire offensive backfield from last year's Division III playoff team, and showed plenty of offensive punch in Saturday's 48-23 victory over Sanborn (Kingston).

“Obviously it was nice to get that win, but we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do,” Trinity coach Steve Burns said.

DIVISION III
Fall Mountain (Langdon) played a junior varsity schedule last season because of low participation in the program, but will have a chance to improve its Division III record to 2-0 when it travels to Raymond tonight (7 p.m.).

Fall Mountain is coming off a 40-8 victory over Newfound, and Raymond dropped a 53-35 decision to Bishop Brady (Concord) in its opener.

Tonight's game between Newport and Pelham is this weekend's only Division III matchup between teams that each won last weekend.

(Read full post)

New Hampshire football preview

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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New Hampshire's high school football season will kick-off Wednesday, when teams are allowed to hold their first practice in preparation for the 2013 season.

New HampshireFootball in the Granite State has a drastic new look this year. The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association scrapped the six-division format it had used since 2008 in favor of three larger divisions that have four conferences in each division. The divisions are still based on enrollment and here's how the teams were divided:

Division I
  • East: Exeter, Winnacunnet, Dover, Spaulding and Timberlane.
  • West: Keene, Nashua North, Nashua South, Bishop Guertin and Alvirne.
  • North: Concord, Manchester West, Manchester Central, Manchester Memorial and Bedford.
  • South: Pinkerton, Salem, Londonderry, Goffstown and Merrimack.
Division II
  • North: Kennett, Hanover, Plymouth, Laconia and Lebanon.
  • South: Milford, John Stark, Windham, Souhegan and Trinity.
  • West: Monadnock, Con-Val, Hollis-Brookline, Sanborn and Kearsarge.
  • Central: Portsmouth, Pembroke, Merrimack Valley, Kingswood and St. Thomas.
Division III
  • South: Pelham, Campbell, Bow and Somersworth.
  • Lakes: Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough, Gilford, Winnisquam, Franklin and Newfound.
  • West; Raymond, Epping-Newmarket, Bishop Brady and Farmington/Nute.
  • East: Mascoma, Newport, Fall Mountain and Stevens.

“From the conversations I've had, more coaches like the new alignment than don't like it,” Manchester Memorial coach Peter Colcord said. “I''m just not happy that we've gone down from tenB (regular season) games to nine. That's a lot of work, and you want to play as many games as possible.

“I also understand that you can't please everybody.”

New Hampshire teams will no longer have room for a non-league game, so the Pinkerton-Brockton rivalry is among the casualties of the new alignment.

Eight teams will make the playoffs in each division (two from each conference), so the number of playoff teams (24) is the same as it was last year, when four teams qualified from each of the six divisions. The top two teams from each conference will meet in the quarterfinals. Teams will be reseeded for the semifinals using a point-rating system that will factor in each team's record and strength of its victories. A victory over a strong team is worth more that a victory over a lesser opponent.

“I like it,” Nashua South coach Scott Knight said. “I'm not one of those guys who's afraid of change.

“The only thing I don't like is the two teams in one conference playing in the (quarterfinals). I don't see why you have to play a team twice in a 20-team division. I'd like to play different teams in the playoffs.

“After this year I'm sure they'll tweak it, but we're definitely headed in the right direction.”

TEAMS TO WATCH
Here are 10 teams that should be in the hunt for a championship this season:
  1. PINKERTON ACADEMY -- The Astros have the state's premier running back in senior Manny Latimore, who rushed for 1,477 yards last season.
  2. NASHUA SOUTH -- South quarterback Trevor Knight, a three-year starter, has committed to the University of New Hampshire.
  3. EXETER -- The Blue Hawks are seeking their third straight Division I title.
  4. WINNACUNNET -- The Warriors won last year's Division II championship. They make the move to Division I this year.
  5. CONCORD -- If there's a surprise team in Division I this season it will likely be the Crimson Tide.
  6. PORTSMOUTH -- Clippers are also stepping up in class (to Division II) after winning the last two Division III championships.
  7. TRINITY -- Quarterback Carmen Giampetruzzi is headed to Boston College … to play baseball.
  8. PLYMOUTH -- Plymouth coach Chuck Lenahan has guided the Bobcats to 19 state titles.
  9. BISHOP GUERTIN -- There's plenty of talent left over from a team that reach the Division II semifinals last fall.
  10. BEDFORD -- The Bulldogs competed in Division III two years ago, moved to Division II last year and are in Division I this season.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
First-year head coaches this season: Mark Phillips (Alvirne), Dante Laurendi (Merrimack), Rob Pike (Salem), Jeff Hunt (Spaulding), Rich Bergskaug (Hollis-Brookline), Brian Pafford (Portsmouth), Mike Lochman (Souhegan), Greg Gush (Campbell), Vance Sullivan (Manchester West), Jeff Kaplan (Franklin) and Chris Marden (Gilford).

NIGHT VISION
Pinkerton Academy in Derry has added lights around its football field and, with one exception, will play its home games on Friday nights this season. Pinkerton's game against Londonderry will be played in Derry on a Saturday night, Sept. 28.

Last year, Pinkerton was the only Division I school without lights.

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and publishes the New Hampshire Football Report. Follow him on Twitter: @603SportsMedia.

Exeter (N.H.) ready to host Northeast 7v7

July, 19, 2013
7/19/13
9:50
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Some of the best high school football talent in New England will gather at Exeter (N.H.) High School on Saturday, where the third annual Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 tournament will kick off with the North Regional.

Exeter is one of three tournament sites. The South Regional will be held Sunday at Oliver Ames High School in North Easton, and the East Regional will take place July 27 at Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody. Each site will feature 40 teams.

“These 7-on-7 tournaments are really big in other parts of the country, and they're starting to grow here,” Dover (N.H.) coach Ken Osbon said. “If other teams are doing it, you have to do it or you're going to be left behind.”

The finalists from each regional and four wildcard teams will advance to the New England 7-on-7 championship, which will be held July 30 at Bishop Fenwick.

Three states -– Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire -– will be represented in Exeter. Each team is guaranteed four games in pool play, and then two teams from each pool will advance to the single-elimination portion of the event. The first games are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.

St. John's Prep of Danvers and Exeter are among the teams that will compete in the North Regional. St. John's Prep, which won last year's Division I Super Bowl, has the top-ranked recruit from Massachusetts in running back Johnathan Thomas. Thomas has committed to the University of Maryland.

Exeter has defeated Pinkerton Academy of Derry in New Hampshire's last two Division I championship games. For Exeter, which runs a Straight-T offense, competing in 7-on-7 tournaments is as much about defense as it is the passing game.

“There are a lot of spread teams out there,” Exeter coach Bill Ball said. “It helps your linebackers and the secondary.”

The field also includes Methuen, which defeated The Pingree School of South Hamilton to win last year's North Regional.

Marshwood High School of South Berwick, Maine, reached the Class B championship game last season and is also entered. Former Longmeadow coach Alex Rotsko is entering his second year as Marshwood's head coach. Rotsko guided Longmeadow to 11 Super Bowl championships in 19 seasons.

“We came last year and the kids loved it,” York, Maine, coach Randy Small said. “It allows your quarterback and his receivers to work on their timing. The competition is great. Makes you better.”

New England Volleyball Players of the Year announced

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
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In its 28th year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, The Gatorade Company, in collaboration with USA TODAY High School Sports, has announced its nationwide High School girls' volleyball state Player of the Year awards.

Here's a look at the New England-based winners:

(Note: Vermont does not sanction high school volleyball.)

CONNECTICUT: MARINA ROSE, SR. OUTSIDE HITTER, COVENTRY
The 5-foot-9 senior outside hitter led the Patriots (24-0) to a seventh consecutive Class S state championship this past season. A three-time Class S First Team All-State selection as named by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association, Rose amassed 447 kills, 409 digs, 99 service aces, 34 blocks and 10 assists. She compiled a .708 hitting percentage and .781 kill percentage. In a Class S state championship sweep of Holy Cross, she recorded 17 kills, 16 digs, three blocks, two service aces and two assists, earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors.

Also a basketball standout, Rose has maintained a 3.05 GPA in the classroom. In addition to donating her time as a youth volleyball and basketball coach, she has volunteered on behalf of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, the Covenant Soup Kitchen, Operation Shoebox serving America’s armed forces and the 30 Hour Famine end-hunger initiative.

“She is so, so smooth a player in all aspects of the game,” said Paul Thees, head coach of rival Trumbull High. “It’s amazing. Her team was No. 1 in the state for a reason. That’s the main reason. That kid. She was just unbelievable. Everything she did—in the All-Star Game, too—was just so smooth.”

Rose has signed a National Letter of Intent to play volleyball on scholarship at Providence College beginning in the fall of 2013.

Rose joins recent Gatorade Connecticut Volleyball Players of the Year Kyley Reed (2011-12, Rocky Hill High School), Madison McCaffery (2010-11, Fairfield Ludlowe High School), Tessa Smolinski (2009-10, RHAM), Erika Videtto (2008-09, RHAM) and Janice Ehorn (2007-08, Amity Regional) among the state’s list of former award winners.

MAINE: MARIAH HEBERT, SR. SETTER, BIDDEFORD
The 5-foot-7 senior setter amassed 350 assists, 56 digs, 48 service aces, 25 kills and 12 blocks this past season, leading the Tigers (16-1) to the Class A state championship match. Also the Player of the Year as named by the Maine Sunday Telegram and Journal Tribune, Hebert compiled an .800 kill percentage. In three playoff matches, Hebert averaged 7.5 assists, 1.6 digs, 1.3 kills and 1.3 service aces per set before suffering a concussion midway through a 3-1 Class A state championship loss to Greely.

Hebert has maintained a 4.95 weighted GPA in the classroom and serves on her school’s homecoming committee. In addition to donating her time to Biddeford’s peer mentorship program, she has volunteered locally on behalf of the Salvation Army, the United Way, the Biddeford Recreation Department, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program, Rotary International’s Interact club, a community Thanksgiving fundraiser, a breast cancer awareness campaign and a charity bottle drive.

“She had the best hands I’ve seen in a high school player,” said Todd Brophy, head coach of rival Mt. Desert Island High. “She made excellent decisions setting and mixed up her sets really well. The quality of her ball was probably the best in the state, as far as unbelievable consistency. She dominated the All-Star Showcase and won MVP between her setting and serving. She really stood out.”

Hebert remains undecided upon a collegiate destination.

Hebert joins recent Gatorade Maine Volleyball Players of the Year Brittany Bona (2011-12, Scarborough High School), Keila Grigware (2010-11, Biddeford High School), Michaela Campbell (2009-10 & 2008-09, Greely), and Mariah Grover(2007-08, Mount Desert Island) among the state’s list of former award winners.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: MOLLY WOTTON, JR. OUTSIDE HITTER, DOVER
The 5-foot-11 junior outside hitter recorded 272 kills, 148 digs, 76 service aces and 44 blocks while posting a hitting percentage of .402 and a kill percentage of .564 this past season, leading the Green Wave (17-4) to the Division I state semifinals. The 2012 Coaches Division I Player of the Year and the New Hampshire Union-Leader Player of the Year, Wotton is a two-time First Team All-State selection. She concluded her prep volleyball career with 552 kills and 147 service aces.

Wotton has maintained a B average in the classroom. She has volunteered locally on behalf of the Special Olympics, her church nursery school and as a youth basketball coach.

“Molly Wotton is one of the more gifted and talented players I have seen at the high school level,” said Sean Hogan, head coach of Timberlane High. “Molly can completely take over a match with her attack or her serve.”

Wotton has verbally committed to play volleyball on an athletic scholarship at the University of New Hampshire beginning in the fall of 2014.

Wotton joins recent Gatorade New Hampshire Volleyball Players of the Year Kelsey Berry (2011-12, Hollis Brookline High School), Katie Schwarz (2010-11, Londonderry High School), Maria Kuehl (2009-10, Farmington), Amanda Saab(2008-09, Farmington) and Lauren Laquerre (2007-08, Concord) among the state’s list of former award winners.

RHODE ISLAND: TAYLOR STEVENS, SR. SETTER, PONAGANSET
The 5-foot-6 senior setter and outside hitter recorded 442 assists, 219 digs, 215 kills, 63 service aces and 40 blocks while posting a kill percentage of .455 this past season, leading the Chieftains (8-9) to the Division I state quarterfinals. The 2012 Rhode Island Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year, Stevens was a two-time First Team All-State selection and a 2010 Second Team All-State honoree. She concluded her prep volleyball career with 2,026 assists, 324 kills and 262 service aces.

Stevens has maintained a 3.80 weighted GPA in the classroom. A member of the Ponaganset High student council, she has volunteered locally at Isaac Paine Elementary School in Foster and as a peer mentor.

“Taylor Stevens is clearly an intelligent, knowledgeable player who combines her athleticism to create a dynamic presence on the court,” said Victoria Tefft, head coach of North Kingstown High. “She filled a number of holes for Ponaganset this season, displaying her overall skill set and comfort in a variety of roles.”

Stevens remains undecided upon a collegiate destination.

Stevens joins recent Gatorade Rhode Island Volleyball Players of the Year Kelsey Lace (2011-12, Mount Saint Charles Academy), Elise Walsh (2010-11 & 2009-10, The Prout School), Katie Walsh (2008-09, The Prout School) and Sam Andreozzi (2007-08, North Kingstown) among the state’s list of former award winners.

Doctor wants Dover, N.H. to cut football

October, 3, 2012
10/03/12
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During Monday's school board meeting in Dover, N.H., a startling proposition was made to drop the sport of football at Dover High School.

SportsNation

What do you think of the physician's proposition to end football in Dover, N.H.?

  •  
    7%
  •  
    45%
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    16%
  •  
    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,158)

The Associated Press talked to the proponent of the measure, retired physician Dr. Paul Butler, on Tuesday. While admitting the action would not be popularly viewed by the public, Butler told the AP, "I suspect it’s going to take a long time. This might be the first volley. It took a long time for people to wear bicycle helmets. It took a long time for people to stop smoking."

While making his plea during Monday's meeting, Butler, a board member, cited the risk of multiple concussions in football and the link to brain damage, depression and dementia when developing brains are subjected to such conditions.

The Dover School Board has since released a statement reiterating that the cancelation of football is not on its agenda.

Dover High athletic director Peter Wotton told the AP that there was a greater occurrence of concussions in girls' basketball last year than in football.

"Any sport is a target, because it feel [sic] like anytime you put kids in motion—there is an inherent risk to playing sports and taking part in athletics, and for some reason the target is on football," Wotton told the AP. "I don’t think it should be on anything,’’

So what do you think? Is there any merit to Butler's claims, or is this simply trying to grab attention? Will there ever come a day where football is deemed too violent to play at the high school level? Sound off below in the Comments section and be sure to vote in our poll.

ESPN Boston Week 1 football picks

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
11:06
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FRIDAY
NO. 1 EVERETT AT NO. 7 LEOMINSTER
The Skinny: Leominster has never beaten the Crimson Tide since this series began in 2002, but the Blue Devils have usually been a tough out. In 2009, the teams played to a 14-6 Tide win. The last two meetings, the Blue Devils got under the Tide’s skin early before Everett’s talent took over. But Leominster is brimming with excitement, its proud football culture awakened again following their first Super Bowl championship in a decade last fall. Everett, meanwhile, seems to be settled at every position but quarterback – and with a line averaging over 315 pounds, that will suffice. If Leominster is to pull off the upset, they’ll have to a find a way to contain electric wideouts Jakarrie Washington and Jalen Felix.

Scott Barboza: Leominster turns it into a game, but still too many horses in the stable for Everett despite the questions. Everett, 27-20.

Brendan Hall: It’s going to be a majestic crowd at Doyle, and some readers will undoubtedly conclude I’m biased towards Leominster because their defensive coordinator coached me 10 years ago at Oakmont. But I’m not. Even I’m not foolish enough to pick against the Tide in this one. Everett, 24-13.

NO. 2 BC HIGH AT NO. 22 BROCKTON
The Skinny: Injuries were an overarching theme of the preseason and both of these teams were affected. Bad news for BC High is Luke Catarius is out with a hairline ankle fracture, but Brockton should have Micah Morel in the lineup for their Week 1 challenge. We’ll get a look at the reigning Div. 1 Super Bowl champions new-look offense with Brendan Craven under center and Brandon Owens in the backfield while the Boxers will be sporting a Georgia Tech-inspired scheme with Auggie Roberts back at quarterback.

Barboza: A Jackson Bockhurst field goal will be the difference. BC High, 17-14.

Hall: Things unraveled for Brockton pretty quickly in last year’s meeting in Dorchester. The Boxers are fighting an uphill battle again this year, but at least it will be respectable. BC High, 28-14.

NO. 23 SPRINGFIELD PUTNAM AT NO. 14 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL
The Skinny: With the schools sitting less than a mile from each other along Roosevelt Ave., the season-opening battle between these rival schools has become must-see as of late. Putnam won this contest last season, kick-starting an historic 2011 season that ended with their fifth Super Bowl title in eight seasons. Central will be looking for revenge, but it’s not easy replacing 2,000-yard rusher in Sacoy Malone. Putnam, meanwhile, turns to a plethora of new faces to replace record-setting running back Melquawn Pinkney, including quarterback Kayjuan Bynum and running back Wayne Lowery.

Barboza: I came away very impressed from talking to Central QB Cody Williams last year at Gillette. He blossoms into the real deal this year. Central, 21-16.

Hall: I like the direction Central is headed in over the long run, but Putnam is still Roosevelt Ave (See what I did there?). Putnam, 7-6.

LA SALLE ACADEMY (R.I.) AT NO. 16 NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH
The Skinny: Big Red will have its hands full opening night with their challenger from just across the state line. The Rams feature a high-octane attack led by reigning Gatorade Player of the Year running back Josh Morris and senior quarterback Anthony Francis. The key to this one will be in the trenches where North’s offensive line led by Eric Beckwith and Sean Peters could have the advantage.

Barboza: This Rams team is very talented, but North holds on – just barely. North, 28-26.

Hall: Josh Morris and Co. have been dying for that elusive win over a Massachusetts squad, and I think they finally get it here. La Salle, 17-13.

NO. 12 KING PHILIP AT DOVER (N.H.)
The Skinny: Self-admittedly, we don’t know as much about Dover as we do KP, but we can be some what certain what the Warriors will be showing them on defense. And, of course, that’s a variety of different looks and blitz and coverage schemes. Dover, which sits just outside of ESPN Boston correspondent Marc Thaler’s Granite State Top 10 poll, will also have to contend with KP quarterback John Dillon, who will enjoy a greater role directing the offense in his second year as starter.

Barboza: KP’s “Psycho” package gives Hockomock League teams fits, nevermind an offense that hasn’t seen it. KP, 28-8.

Hall: Knowing little about Dover outside of what our loyal New Hampshire correspondents tell us, I’m going to trust their convictions on this one and say it will be close. But I’m still going with the team closer to Boston. KP, 20-10.

NO. 4 ST. JOHN’S PREP AT DRACUT
The Skinny: The Middies have been a bit of a bugaboo for St. John's Prep in recent years and some around Danvers feel Dracut has simply posed a matchup problem for the Eagles with its spread attack. Good news for Prep is that their secondary, with Lucas Bavaro, Gerry Kahari, Alex Moore and Johnny Thomas, has matured into a strength of the team. Dracut senior linebacker Zach Bassett could be the key to the game, trying to slow down Prep's running attack.

Barboza: Looking for a defensive struggle here. Prep, 14-7.

Hall: Classic trap game for The Prep, against a classic trap opponent that’s had their number in recent years. Dracut, 10-6.

NORTH ANDOVER AT ANDOVER
The Skinny: North Andover's season starts with a Walsh at quarterback, but of another name. Brendan Walsh's younger brother Casey takes the helm of the Scarlet Knights' offense. It also marks North Andover's first Merrimack Valley Conference game. The Golden Warriors will counter with a high-flying attack that impressed during this summer's Northeast 7v7 passing tournament. Quarterback C.J. Scarpa has plenty of targets including Cam Farnham and Will Heikkinen.

Hall: I know it’s a familiar rival that’s been on the schedule for years, but North Andover is still in for a whole new ball game. And since it’s now officially an MVC game, there will be no less than 172 points scored and 1,000 yards of offense. Andover, 35-30.

Barboza: Ditto. Andover, 31-20.

MARSHFIELD AT CATHOLIC MEMORIAL
The Skinny: Last year at this time, Catholic Memorial entered Marshfield’s stadium with plenty of hype, behind three Division 1 FBS commits and a No. 4 preseason ranking in ESPNBoston.com’s poll. They promptly got shut out by the Rams, 24-0, fueling their ensuing seven-game win streak. The Knights will no doubt be looking to exact revenge, and they’ll look to Preseason All-State defensive end Peter Ngobidi to stifle the Rams’ vaunted run game.

Barboza: Ngobidi is a dominant force and asserts his will here. CM, 7-0.

Hall: The Knights got embarrassed last year in Marsh Vegas, and I expect them to exact revenge here. CM, 16-13.

SATURDAY
NO. 24 HOLY NAME AT NO. 17 ST. JOHN’S (SHREWSBURY)
The Skinny: For all of Holy Name’s success under Mike Pucko, the Naps have never beaten St. John’s during his tenure. Could that change on Saturday? Holy Name turns to one of the state’s most elusive scatbacks in Quron Wright, and will hope for a big day. St. John’s has already hit the injury bug, with incumbent QB Connor Kurtz (knee) out for the season, but RB Shadrach Abrokwah is a nice fit for their hurry-up scheme, and is poised for a breakout senior season.

Hall: If the Naps are ever to beat St. John’s, this has to be the year. Holy Name, 9-8.

Barboza: Hate to do this to the Naps, sorry. St. John's, 22-21.

NO. 9 DUXBURY AT NO. 8 BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM
The Skinny: B-R is itching to get over the hump after dropping its season-opener to the Dragons the past two seasons. The Trojans have some terrific talent between the tackles, led by Joey MacInnis, to pave for a big afternoon for junior tailback Arcel Armstead. Duxbury graduated one of its most talented classes ever from the 2011 Super Bowl champion squad, but still has plenty of talent left over to keep the state’s longest active win streak (26) going. Look for guard Rob Kosharek, linebacker Marshall McCarthy and running back Jon Hurvitz to have big days.

Barboza: Now that Dan Buron's nephew Andrew (former Duxbury standout) has graduated, expect the Trojans to get back to their winning ways. B-R, 14-10.

Hall: After graduating one of the program’s most talented classes ever, Marshall the Missile gets the full spotlight. And he usually gives the fans their money’s worth. Duxbury, 14-10.

CONCORD-CARLISLE AT BEVERLY
The Skinny: C-C heads into its non-league tilt with the heavy NEC/CAL Tier 2 favorite already limping, losing its star running back Tim Badgley (ACL tear) for the season. If the Patriots are to repeat last year’s Super Bowl championship success, sophomore quarterback Will Blumenberg will have to grow up quickly. Meanwhile, Beverly features one of the North Shore’s most feared rushing attacks with the three-pronged approach of Kenny Pierce, Brendan Flaherty and Dom Abate.

Barboza: ETA on when the Kenny Pierce hashtag gets rolling again? We're looking at you James Coffey. Beverly, 27-14.

Hall: I’m excited to see what Will Blumenberg can do for the Patriots, but the Panthers just have too much in the tank to be stopped in this one. Beverly, 28-7.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
12:35
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Salem High's Nicole Gubellini notched eight strikeouts, but primarily pitched to contact.

New HampshireThe problem for Concord High hitters taking their cuts? Gubellini never allowed them to get the barrel of the bat on the ball.

The end result, aided greatly by strong infield defense, was a no-hitter for the senior hurler and 5-0 Division I softball win April 11. Two days earlier, she threw an abbreviated no-no in Salem's season-opening 14-0 mercy-rule win at Rochester's Spaulding High.

Concord's Lindsey Stevenson reached on an infield error to open the game. Then, Gubellini retired 21 outs in a row. Her complete-game masterpiece took 65 minutes to complete.

“I can feel it, when things are good,” said Gubellini, a four-year pitcher for the Blue Devils and scholarship recruit of Quinnipiac University. “Some days, some pitches are better than others.”

Gubellini claimed her changeup – among an array of pitches she throws with accuracy and confidence – wasn't consistently sharp against the Crimson Tide.

She could have fooled Concord coach Duke Sawyer. She did fool her share of hitters.

“She's tough. Salem's tough,” said Sawyer, who took last year's Tide team to the state final. “She pitched against us last year a little bit. She did well last year, too.”

In addition to fanning eight, Salem's ace induced 12 outs via grounders or weak infield pop-ups.

Everyone in the infield – from catcher Amanda Biron, third baseman Hannah Latham, shortstop Samantha Cloutier, second baseman Sarah Frahm and first baseman Emily O'Brien to Gubellini herself – played a part in recording at least one of those 12 outs.

Only one fly ball reached the outfield. Center fielder Stephanie Long tracked it down.

Strong pitching is nothing new at Salem, where Granite State legend Harold Sachs has led the Blue Devils to 14 state titles.

But last year's quarterfinal-round exit was a stunner. The Blue Devils, as the top tournament seed, were beaten by Nashua's Bishop Guertin High.

“We won the regular-season league last year. We believed we were the best team last year. That has not changed in our thinking,” said Sachs, who won his 500th career game last May. “And we just think we're better this year. I don't know what that's going to mean down the road.”

Should Gubellini give Salem a season worth of strong starts, it might mean trouble for the opposition.

MORE DIAMOND DOMINANCE
NHIAA baseball's April 9 Opening Day included a pair of mercy-rule-shortened no-hitters.

Jordan Bean tossed one for Division II St. Thomas Aquinas High of Dover. Nick Massa celebrated the other for Division II Kennett High of Conway.

STA beat Division I Dover High, 10-0, in five innings. Bean, a senior, tallied seven strikeouts and set down 14 batters to close the contest after issuing a one-out walk in the opening frame.

He also had the game-winning hit: a first-inning solo home run.

Kennett defeated Division III Berlin High, 10-0, in five innings. Massa, also a junior, fanned seven, walked one and contributed a run-scoring hit.

STILL GOING STRONG
Portsmouth High began taking aim at its fifth consecutive Division II baseball championship April 9. Coach Tim Hopley & Co. opened with an 11-1 win at Wolfeboro's Kingswood Regional.

The six-inning, 10-run mercy decision marked the 84th consecutive win for the Clippers.

Briefly the national record-holder late last spring, Portsmouth opened the 2012 campaign with an active win streak that ranked second to Martensdale-St. Mary's High (87) of Martensdale, Iowa.

Billy Hartmann ripped three hits, the biggest being an RBI double in the fifth. Hartmann's key hit snapped a 1-1 tie and sparked a seven-run outburst.

Rick Holt, the team's pitching ace this season, helped his cause with a two-run double. Dillon Crosby connected for a three-run, sixth-inning homer that capped the onslaught.

"I was pleased with the way we handled ourselves in the first week," said Hopley, whose club won its 85th straight game, a 12-1 decision at Northwood's Coe-Brown Academy, on April 13. "Our pitching was good, offensively we were okay. But we've got to do a better job on the defensive side of the ball. Our timing and judgment were off, and we'll have to pay more attention to that in the immediate future so that it doesn't become a problem."

'MID-SEASON FORM'
Since boys' lacrosse was first sanctioned by the NHIAA in 1994, only two programs in New Hampshire have celebrated a championship three-peat.

Bishop Guertin this spring aims to join Division I rival Pinkerton Academy of Derry (1994-97, 1999-2002) and Division II Bow High (2002-04, 2008-10) in accomplishing the feat.

Guertin's Cardinals, heavy preseason favorites to win a fifth overall title, started strong in their Division I opener April 10. The state's No. 1-ranked team in the New Hampshire GameDay top 10 (“X-factors: April 9-15, 2012”) overpowered No. 3 Hanover High, 15-3.

“They're, like, in mid-season form. We're still in preseason, I think,” quipped Hanover coach Jeff Reed, whose Marauders, Division I champs in 2007 and 2009 have teamed with the Cards to win all five titles from 2007-11.

Midfielder Paul Spinney powered BG's offense with a game-high four points (three goals, assist). His assist, on a dish to Hunter Allen late in the opening period, snapped a 1-1 deadlock.

It also set off a six-goal run to close the first half. Guertin's defense, when challenged, answered the call.

Close defenders Bob Fahey and Kyle Karaska, and long-stick midfielder Brody Smith, led the lock-down effort on Hanover's top threats. Attackman Christian Johansen and midfielder Christian Wolter didn't post a point.

“Our challenge to these guys is to come every day to practice, practice hard, get better by the time we leave the field,” BG coach Chris Cameron said. “And show up for every game.”

Marc Thaler is a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He co-hosts the “N.H. Sports Show” on Manchester's WGIR-AM 610 and the Seacoast's 96.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. Read his “New Hampshire GameDay” blog and follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

March, 31, 2012
3/31/12
2:41
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History will show Merrimack High survived the 16-team Division I boys' basketball bracket to win the 2011-12 tournament title as a 7-seed.

But these Tomahawks were hardly a Cinderella squad.

“We knew we were better than a 7-seed,” said coach Tim Goodridge, whose team overcame a season-long rash of injuries to key contributors, and rattled off four postseason wins, the last one a 65-56 decision over No. 4 seed Manchester Central High that clinched the state crown March 17.

Goodridge's group was a preseason pick to reach the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gym for the Final Four. Cutting down the nets was a distinct possibility.

Yet the injury bug bit early –- and often. Kyle Richardson, the 6-foot 4-inch starting center, suffered a nasty knee injury in the preseason.

Dimitri Floras, early on offered a scholarship by UNH, missed a bulk of the regular season. The star junior broke his right wrist in late-January. Days later, 6-foot-3 senior Jared Peabody was sidelined with arm trouble.

Football standout Jackson King, a suffocating defender for the hoop team, also dealt with a freak injury. The senior, landing awkwardly after making a game-winning block in mid-February, broke his wrist. Classmate Bryan Courtemanche suffered a concussion.

“It felt like I was running a M.A.S.H. Unit for a while,” said Goodridge, who led Merrimack to its third Division I title this millennium, and first crown since 2004. “The last game was probably the first time we had everyone in uniform – and we had no excuses.”

Floras was a definite difference-maker. He made a cameo just before the tourney, but tweaked his ankle in the regular season's final week. Goodridge opted to sit Merrimack's maestro until “win or go home” became the slogan for every squad.

Goodridge made a good call.

The 6-foot-2 star scored 76 points in tourney wins over defending champ and 10-seed Bishop Guertin High of Nashua (62-51 overtime), 15-seed and surprise quarterfinalist Dover High (74-54), 6-seed Spaulding High of Rochester (53-39), and Central.

Merrimack's resilience, however, was truly tested during the regular season. Out of necessity, roles changed.

And changed.

And changed.

As a result, though, lesser-known talents were called upon to play key minutes. Dylan O'Brien, Brad Jarry, Connor Whelan and, before his concussion, Courtemanche took advantage of the opportunity.

Meanwhile, Jeff Giannelli, a towering 6-foot-7 presence in the post, and brothers Tyler and Eric Gendron assumed additional responsibilities.

The trio didn't disappoint, particularly Tyler, a 6-foot-5 senior, who filled in at point guard, and continued to score when needed. Gatorade, in turn, named him the Granite State's Player of the Year.

“I'm going to really miss this group. Eight seniors, 15 on the roster,” Goodridge said. “For them to adapt all season long was tremendous.”

TITLE NO. 18
The best part about a season concluding? Coaches whose teams win a title finally tell you what they really think.

Take Jim Mulvey, Portsmouth High's six-year coach. His second-seeded Clippers overwhelmed 5-seed Bedford High, 58-33, for the Division II boys' basketball title March 17 at UNH.

“I always told them we were the best team. We were the hardest working team,” said Mulvey, whose star senior guard Kamahl Walker, erupted for 22 points, six steals, four rebounds and three assists. “Pressure usually gets to you, when you get to Durham, if you're not prepared. We were prepared.”

Portsmouth's 25-point pasting earned the program its 18th state title dating to 1923. The championship erased back-to-back frustrating finishes for the team's 11 players, seven of whom were seniors.

A year earlier, Portsmouth lost the final by six points to defending champion Milford High. Two years earlier, the Clippers were KO'd by those same Spartans in overtime of the semifinals.

Fair to say Portsmouth (20-2 Div. II) was motivated?

“From Day 1,” the Clippers coach said. “It's much easier to win with seniors. They're more prepared. They understand it. They get it.”

Mulvey said his team really hit high gear midway through the season. Kyle DiCesare, also a standout football player, returned from a broken ankle that sidelined him in the fall.

DiCesare's return gave Portsmouth yet another offensive weapon, and further strengthened a defense that rarely allowed easy buckets.

Undersized big men Charlie Duprey (6-foot-4) and Gregg Tsougranis (6-foot-2) stood tall, especially in the final. Portsmouth's “bigs,” plus DiCesare at 6-foot-2, matched up with Bedford's giant front line.

The Bulldogs boasted three players at least two inches taller than Duprey: Colin McManus (6-foot-10), Trevor Fahmy (6-foot-8) and Roger Larrivee (6-foot-6).

The mismatch never materialized.

“This team felt so much like 2009 to me,” said Mulvey, referring to Portsmouth's previous title-winning team. “It just came together. It felt right. Unselfishness and commitment from all the kids. You just knew the kids were in it for one reason.”

Marc Thaler is a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He co-hosts the “N.H. High School Sports Show” on Manchester's WGIR-AM 610 and the Seacoast's 96.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. Read his “New Hampshire GameDay” blog and follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

March, 16, 2012
3/16/12
4:49
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Pinkerton Academy's greatest strength this winter can be summed up in two words: potting pucks.

New HampshireYet a defensive play in the closing minutes of the Division I boys' hockey final helped the preseason-favorite club from Derry hold on for a nail-biting 3-2 win.

“The crowd was so loud, it was (about) settling them down (during a time out),” Pinkerton coach Casey Kesselring said. “I said, 'Hey, we're up one. We're in the driver's seat. All we need to do is play a solid 5 minutes and bring it home.”

Ryan Hall – in front of an estimated 3,000 fans – made the stop that cemented the victory March 10 at Verizon Wireless Arena.

The senior defenseman disrupted a golden chance for Manchester Memorial High to pull even with a furious third-period comeback. Brady Bilodeau on a mini-breakout charged toward netminder Matt Marchman with three minutes, 25 seconds left in regulation.

Hall, trailing the play, stretched and poke the puck away. Bilodeau never had the chance to launch the potential game-tying bid.

“That was big. He's going in to tie it. Ryan gets all puck,” Kesselring said. “He probably would tell you, honestly, that he got caught out of position a bit. But he made up for it. That was the main thing.”

The top-seeded Astros (19-2-0 Div. I) controlled play for the majority of the contest. They built a commanding three-goal lead with markers from J.D. Dudek (first period), Zach Sanford (second period) and Dominic Corsetto (third period).

But, as the clock dipped below the 7-minute mark, the second-seeded Crusaders (16-5-0 Div. I) erupted for two goals in a 25-second span.

“We got down three goals. We talked to the kids,” Memorial coach Mark Putney said. “There was no quit in this team.”

Colin Williamson one-timed Bilodeau's back-door feed. Jacob Boylan, on the next shift, lofted a backhand shot from the slot.

The comeback was on. Memorial – seeking its first hockey title since 1995 – was within striking distance with 6-plus minutes to play.

Then, the bid to tie emerged. Memorial's senior captain, the club's heart-and-soul leader, had the puck on his stick with the game up for grabs.

But he never pulled the trigger. Hall didn't allow it.

“We definitely put on the pressure,” Bilodeau said. “We fought hard. They played a great game defensively, even offensively. Great coaching. You really can't say anything bad about them.”

Division II – Sophomore goaltender Stevan Tempesta made 26 championship-game saves, the last 11 stops nothing short of sensational. Top-seeded Bedford High, also on the strength of Kurt Mitchell and Jason Campbell goals, dethroned defending champion and 3-seed Dover High, 2-1.

Bedford (17-3-0 Div. II), as a result, skated to its first hockey crown March 10 at Verizon Wireless Arena. Dover, unable to bury the equalizer in the final minute, finished 14-6-0 in league action.

Tempesta turned back multiple game-tying bids with the state title at stake. Dover's odd-man rush generated a golden chance. A scrum for the puck in heavy traffic also gave the Green Wave hope.

“You hold on for that final 10 seconds and it's the longest 10 seconds in your life. I just didn't want to blow it,” Tempesta told the New Hampshire Sunday News. “That was probably my best game all season.”

Division III – Kennett High of Conway claimed its third championship, each of them won during an unprecedented run of league dominance. The top-seeded Eagles, appearing in a league-record fifth straight final, edged No. 2 seed Alvirne High of Hudson, 4-3, in overtime.

Anthony LaRusso locked up the win. The junior forward buried a feed to the back door with 26.3 seconds remaining in the extra session March 10 at Verizon Wireless Arena.

The goal was LaRusso's second of the contest. Kennett capped its campaign at 20-1-0 overall (19-1-0 Div. III) and secured hardware to go with the 2009 and 2010 NHIAA plaques.

Alvirne, playing for its first hockey championship, finished with an 18-2-0 league record.

Division I (girls) – The first line of Maddie Dewhirst, and twin sisters Madison and Tessa Hill all closed their careers as 100-point scorers.

The senior trio also factored in all five goals of the final, fueling second-seeded Hanover High's 5-1 championship win over Upper Valley rival and top seed Lebanon High March 10 at Verizon Wireless Arena.

Hanover (16-2-0 Div. I) celebrated its third consecutive championship, and fourth No. 1 finish in the five years of NHIAA girls' hockey. Lebanon ended its season 16-2-0 in league play.

Madison Hill struck for a title-game hat trick. Dewhirst delivered two goals and two assists. Tessa Hill tallied five assists.

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
3:43
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Draining the game-winning shot is a dream shared by most, if not all, hoop junkies.

New HampshireNow add this element to the drama: Knocking down the 3-pointer that serves as the knockout punch to your former team.

Manchester Central High's Dawson Dickson didn't just dream such a scenario. He lived it Jan. 10. The sophomore point guard's trey earned the Little Green a 41-40 Division I boys' basketball road win over fierce Queen City rival Trinity High.

“I've wanted to hit a game-winning shot my whole life,” said Dickson, who transferred from Trinity, this year's championship favorite, after his freshman year. “I didn't even think about the situation. I was open, so I shot it.”

Reacting rather than thinking served the sophomore well. McHugh Gym – one of the smaller, yet most electric hoop venues in the state – was packed.

“It was my old school and bragging rights were on the line,” Dickson said.

It was hot. It was loud. And, hardly surprising, the home team's unforgiving student section didn't give Dickson a break for four quarters.

On the court, the game was tied at 38-apiece inside the final minute. Dickson, a year removed from shooting countless jumpers on Trinity's home court, hadn't attempted a single 3-point shot.

Until, that is, a defensive breakdown left him open beyond the arc.

Muscle memory – and a go-for-the-jugular mindset – kicked in. Dickson lofted the 3-ball with 52 seconds to play.

Dagger.

Central's one-possession lead, however, was trimmed to a point. The Pioneers also had a chance to take the lead in the final seconds, but couldn't convert the critical field goal.

Dickson's former team was saddled with its first league loss of the season.

As for the underclassman, hardly overwhelmed with the game in the balance, what was he feeling once the score went final?

“Relief,” Dickson said. “The Trinity kids were on me the whole game.”

(Read full post)

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

January, 5, 2012
1/05/12
3:54
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This had to be Merrimack High's mantra for the holiday tournament season: Why settle for just one title?

New HampshireIn the days after Christmas, the Tomahawks rolled to championships in arguably New Hampshire's top tournaments for boys' basketball and hockey.

The school's Division I hoop team, on the strength of a last-second 3-pointer from star guard Dimitri Floras, won the 48th annual Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament at Manchester Memorial High. The Division II hockey club, thanks to a fourth-round shootout goal from forward Chris Fortin, copped the Bauer Classic crown at Manchester's JFK Coliseum.

Talk about a wild week.

The hockey team's four-day run to the crown was the more surprising story. The reigning state runners-up, the Tomahawks were considered a mystery when the season started shortly before the holiday break. They graduated one of the state's top snipers (Erik Glendye) and said goodbye to their coach (Dan Legro).

They're a mystery no more.

After starting 3-0 in league play, the Tomahawks won four games at JFK. They beat three Division I teams, including defending champion Trinity High of Manchester, 3-1; reigning runner-up and perennial power Hanover High, 4-3 (shootout); and then-No. 1-ranked Memorial, 2-1 (shootout), in the final.

Goaltender Brett Glendye -- who made 45 title-game saves -- was named tournament MVP. Teammate and forward David Downie also earned a spot on the all-tourney team.

"I looked at (the holiday tourney) as a 'prove it' opportunity for the kids," Merrimack coach Kurt Mithoefer said. "Thus far, the kids have proven the naysayers wrong in terms of offensive ability and being a mystery team."

On the hardwood, the Tomahawks ended the feel-good story of the QCIBT.

Floras hit the big bucket that lifted Merrimack a 57-54 win over upstart Manchester West High. The 6-foot 2-inch junior guard -- named the tourney MVP -- drained a lead-changing 3-pointer from the left corner with 7 seconds to play. He finished the contest with 20 points, six assists and four rebounds.

"I missed a lot of easy ones tonight and felt like I let my team down. But I got the one that mattered most, I guess," Floras told the New Hampshire Union Leader after the Dec. 28 title-game win.

Merrimack's path to the title round included wins over Seacoast squads Dover High, 59-51, and Exeter High, 58-39.

But in the high-stakes round, it took a charging violation to clinch the win. Jeff Giannelli, a 6-foot-7 tower, held his ground as West's Jocarl Bureau drove the lane for a potential game-winning layup. The pivotal play came with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation.

The QCIBT runner-up a year earlier, Merrimack reached the championship game for the ninth time in the last 12 years. This year's title was the program's fourth in that span, and first since a three-peat from 2000-02.

"We played good. But my hats off to West," Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge told the statewide newspaper. "They made it come down to one shot."

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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
12:19
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The immediate goal for Pinkerton Academy's Astros is straightforward: Finish atop the regular-season standings this winter in Division I boys' hockey.

Sounds cliché, right?

New HampshireTurns out this very dangerous squad from Derry – the preseason pick to finish as rink royalty – has yet to earn a No. 1 playoff seed under nine-year coach Casey Kesselring.

“We've never finished first,” Kesselring confirmed before adding that his 2008-09 title team emerged from the bracket as the No. 4 seed.

Kesselring's club a year ago earned the No. 2 seed. But the Astros were a quarterfinals casualty, stunned at home by arch-rival Londonderry, 3-2.

Considering the talent returning on Pinkerton's roster, expectations are extremely high.

First-line wingers Zach Sanford and J.D. Dudek fuel Pinkerton's high-octane attack. Sanford, a junior, and Dudek, a sophomore, led the team in points a year ago.

Further illustrating the talent this team possesses: Freshman Devin Moore centers the top line.

There's no drop-off with the second line. Junior center Dominic Corsetto skates with classmate Connor Brady and sophomore Brendan Philippon.

Kesselring believes the trio would be the top line for most clubs in the state.

Clearly, Pinkerton's strength is potting pucks. Offensive output should provide insurance for the team's junior goaltenders. Nate Mitchell and Matt Marchman are first-year varsity stoppers.

Of course, the coach isn't the least bit worried about the lack of varsity experience his goalies possess. Nor is he concerned about the preseason bull's-eye painted on Pinkerton.

“It doesn't bother me. It gives the school recognition. It gives the kids recognition,” Kesselring said. “But they don't hand out rings in the preseason.”

(Read full post)

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
9:35
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Bill Ball and his Exeter High Blue Hawks, in their second season competing against the state's largest schools, took the express elevator from cellar to penthouse.

It's one way to explain Exeter's voyage.

New HampshireAs is this: "It's just the ultimate roller-coaster. That's what it is," massive lineman Brad Tiernan said after his team stunned heavy favorite and statewide No. 1 Pinkerton Academy, 23-13, for the Division I championship at Memorial Field in Derry.

The Division I final on Nov. 19 was supposed to be a formality. The Astros, after all, topped the statewide poll since the preseason, securing every first-place vote in the process. They were one win from completing the first wire-to-wire run at No. 1 in the four-year era of rankings.

They were facing a former Division 2 power, but a program that went 0-8 in its Division I debut (1-9 overall) last season.

The Blue Hawks (11-1 overall, 9-1 Div. I) didn't forget those season-long frustrations. But they didn't dwell on them, either.

This team was confident. This team was composed. This team was clutch.

How else to explain the title-game comeback? Exeter erased a 13-3 second-quarter deficit.

Conor Carrier scored the fourth-quarter touchdown that placed Pinkerton in panic mode. The senior's big run off-tackle went for 37 yards and six points. The score snapped a 13-all tie with 7 minutes, 10 seconds left in the season.

Touchback-machine Logan Laurent added the extra point. He also iced the contest with his 23-yard field goal -- a kick preceded by 35- and 40-yard boots -- in the final minutes.

Tyler Grant touched the rock 31 times. He totaled 120 yards in Exeter's old-school straight-T offense.

Jamie Tymann tossed a second-quarter touchdown to Lucas Gajewski. The 15-yard strike sparked the 20-point run to the title.

The toss was the second of Tymann's five attempts. Exeter's senior signal-caller entered the final with just 29 pass attempts on the season.

But defense was the biggest difference-maker. Grant, Carrier, Ethan Joyce and Brian Henry led Exeter's disciplined perimeter defense. It surrendered 77- and 78-yard touchdown runs to Emmitt Smith in the second frame, but little else.

Exeter celebrated its sixth championship under Ball, who capped his 19th season at the helm. The coach previously won five Division II championships in 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2007.

"To get this done is just amazing," Ball said. "It's amazing."

(Read full post)

New England Roundup: New Hampshire

October, 28, 2011
10/28/11
4:21
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Show of hands: Who's surprised by Spaulding High's success this season on the gridiron?

New HampshireAsk that question in Rochester and, truthfully, throughout New Hampshire. You'll find the team's head football coach is among many with an arm stretched high to the sky.

"Kind of. I didn't think we'd win three in a row," head coach Dennis Fontaine said shortly before his Red Raiders added a fourth straight win to their resume Oct. 21. "For the kids to grasp the new systems on offense and defense, they picked it up quick. They're executing what we showed them."

Those new systems on both sides of scrimmage are the result of Fontaine's appointment to the head coaching post this fall. Spaulding's once-proud program is under new leadership for the second time in as many seasons.

Fontaine is the fifth head coach since 1998, the first season after legendary Hugo Bolin retired with a 198-127-3 career record and five state titles.

The post-Bolin era hasn't been pretty.

Spaulding went 28-107 from 1998-2010, a span that included time in Divisions I and II. The program celebrated just one playoff season in those 13 campaigns. Jim Keays, known for his championship success at Somersworth High years ago, led the '06 Red Raiders to the Division II semifinals.

Considering the coaching turnover and run of football futility, there was nothing in the preseason that indicated Spaulding (4-4 overall, 3-3 Div. II) would compete for the playoffs.

There weren't any signs in September, either.

The Red Raiders went 0-4, including three consecutive setbacks to perennial contenders in league play. They suffered three shutout losses. They were outscored, 125-8.

Then came the turning point. Rather than fight the formula for winning -- from yet another head coach -- the players bought into it.

“They're realizing it's not just a bunch of hot air. They're taking it and applying it on the field,” said Fontaine, previously a longtime assistant for recently retired Rod Wotton, who owns New England's record for career wins (342), and led Maine's Marshwood High and Dover's St. Thomas Aquinas High to a combined 21 state titles.

Spaulding rattled off four straight wins from Sept. 30 to Oct. 21.

The Red Raiders stunned Keene High, 25-17. They whacked Manchester West High, 47-14. They slammed Merrimack High, 39-0, for the program's first shutout win since the '06 season.

Handling Hudson's Alvirne High with ease, 39-13, Spaulding celebrated its first four-game win streak since 1999, when Dave Keller was at the helm.

Fontaine said the turnaround has been a team effort.

There are, however, standouts in the group. The Scott brothers, Tyrone and Trey, are running the football with purpose. Linemen Dillon Couture and Ben Lafond are providing push up front.

Safety Nate Zriny “is playing fantastic defense,” Fontaine said. “He'll play anything for us. He'll play nose tackle if we ask him to.”

Fontaine's gridders have two regular-season games remaining, though they close their league slate Oct. 28 at Hugo Bolin Field against Plaistow's Timberlane Regional.

A win for the Red Raiders earns them the No. 3 playoff seed.

Surely, Fontaine is excited by his squad's stunning second half to the season. Right?

“Yes and no. I've been there before from prior coaching. You can't get too excited in front of the kids,” he said. “We just do our normal practice, work on what we need to do on offense and defense.”

Spoken like one very focused head football coach.

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