During the first 12 years of NHsportspage I’ve been lucky enough to have seen 45 of the 48 championship games played in all four divisions.
So I decided to rank the Top 10 games out of those 45 and write about what made each one so special.
I’ll add links to each game we covered on video and will also write a quick commentary on the other 35 championship games I’ve seen in person. What I remember about each and the impression they left looking back years later.
Today we go through the Top 10 games (actually 11 with a tie for #10), tomorrow we’ll re-cap 2008 through 2011, on Friday we'll cover 2012 to 2015 and on Monday 2016 to 2019.
A couple of notes before we begin;
1) The three championship games I missed were Conant over Prospect Mountain in 2009, Berlin over Prospect Mountain in 2012 (my friends Don Picard & Curtis Arsenault will never forgive me) and Epping over Sunapee in 2014.
Remember there was no Jennifer ‘The Franchise’ Chick-Ruth in our lives back in those days and ‘The Great’ Jon Kesty was our only videographer, beginning with the 2014 season. Both the Berlin and Epping wins were Top 10 worthy.
2) My Top 10 came down to simply what were the 10 most memorable to me. Taking into account not only the quality of the game but the storylines around it.
3) The five highest viewed game videos in our 12 year history are:
If you haven’t seen our ‘Four Greatest Games Special’ produced by Jennifer Chick-Ruth in 2017 I highly recommend it if you are looking for a sports fix.
Our second basketball greatest games special is coming this spring and will feature Jen, Justin McIsaac & I along with the players and coaches featured in each game.
Here is the trailer for that upcoming special:
Today’s column is sponsored by our friends and partners at Concord Orthopaedics, with locations in Concord, New London, Derry, and Windham.
Now let’s count down the Top 10.
Top 10 championship games covered on NHsportspage (2008-2019)
10. (tie) 2016 Division III final: Pelham 43, Kearsarge 39
Comments: This game was tied with 2:20 to go on a big-time basket by Kearsarge all-state guard Tommy Johnson. Pelham then took the lead for good on a Kyle Frank feed to Trevor Gagnon for a ‘We’ll be talking about this at our 10-year reunion’ 3-pointer in the final minutes.
All season long people had waited for Pelham/Conant III as the Orioles had been the only team to beat Pelham, and did it on their home floor in a game we covered, but Nate Camp’s team knocked them off in the semifinals.
Notable players: Keith Brown (his pull-up three in the fourth quarter was proof of how unbelievably good he was), Trent Noordsij (a terrific all-state guard for Kearsarge), Tayler Mattos (future player of the year), Kyle Frank (all-state guard) and Tommy Johnson (who was absolutely terrific in this game).
Plus Pelham head coach Matt Regan’s bright pink shirt which has never properly been explained to me.
10. (tie) 2010 Division I final: Pinkerton 61, Winnacunnet 59 (double overtime)
Comments: You would think a double-overtime game would rank higher but this was not the most atheistically pleasing game you’ve ever seen. In fact, it got downright ugly at times, I remember there being a quarter where only four points were scored.
The Astros had 6’8 player of the year Zach Mathieu who scored 37 of their 61 points with the game-winner being converting a Ben Proulx miss. Winnacunnet had no size and no standout all-state scorer but they were very tough, very well-coached by Jay McKenna, had a very good starting five and a great point guard in Ryan Dunn, who would go on to play soccer at Boston College. Winnacunnet’s Jesse Gould hit a 3-pointer to force overtime and Shaun Munson hit a 3-pointer for the Warriors to force double overtime.
9. 2012 Division IV final: Moultonborough 54, Littleton 50
Comments: This was a crazy game and the Saturday afternoon crowd was terrific.
This was #1 (Moultonborough) vs. #2 (Littleton) with the coaches choice for player of the year Marcus Swedberg of Moultonborough going against my choice Sam Brammer of Littleton.
This was a very physical game that was strangely officiated. At the moment it felt that way and now with eight more years of experience, it especially feels true. Drew Swedberg (he was terrific) hit a huge 3-pointer that Crusaders fans will tell you to this day should have been ruled a 2 (I think they’re right) and it went all the way down the wire.
The Division IV finals should always be played on a Saturday afternoon in Plymouth.
8. 2010 Division IV final: Groveton 52, Littleton 49
Comments: This was another terrific Saturday afternoon championship game in front of a packed house, which it always is when it’s North Country vs. North Country.
It was a Groveton team without a first-team all-state player but they had terrific chemistry and players that played big at the moment. Seth Fogg, Dana Meunier, Rod Swift, Matt Cook, and Joe Cassidy were the teams senior leaders while sophomore Nathan Smith stepped up with a huge double-double in a semifinal win over Newmarket.
For Littleton Justin Whipple was a first-team all-state forward who had an incredible semifinal performance in a win over Derryfield and Sam Brammer was a sophomore guard who was huge in a quarterfinal upset win over top-seeded Colebrook.
Whipple told head coach Trevor Howard his heart was racing in the second half so he sat during most of the comeback from a double-digit deficit as Brammer and Mike Shepard led Littleton back into the game.
Down three on the final play, it was the sophomore Brammer who took the final shot and he was the right person to call the play for. His shot was well defended and off the mark as Mark Collins won his 6th championship as the Eagles head coach.
7. 2009 Division II final: Portsmouth 61, Pelham 48
Comments: This one makes the Top 10 because of the storylines around it. The Clippers were my pre-season #1 but suspensions early in the season got them off to a slow start.
Pelham meanwhile under former coach and current athletic director Todd Kress came into the tournament as the favorites behind the divisions leading scorer Justin Hojlo, who averaged over 30 points per game. In a semifinal win over Laconia Hojlo injured his hand, affecting him for the rest of that game and the final.
The Clippers had a brutal road to the final. They beat their arch-rival Oyster River on the road in the quarterfinals in front of a packed house and a very good Pembroke team in the semifinals before beating Pelham behind John Mulvey (who was outstanding in that game), George Tsourgranis, Zach Abrams, Smilin’ Mike Barton, and Mike Fransoso.
That was one of the best Division II teams I’ve ever covered. I’d put them up against any team in the division I’ve ever covered, and they came into the tournament as the 6-seed.
6. 2008 Division III final: Conant 55, Newmarket 48 (OT)
Comments: This was the Orioles 3rd straight title in the middle of a run that would see them win 5 straight. Their head coach Joe Giovannangeli wore great plaid jackets, they were led by 6’7 center Kyle Todd and sophomores Jimmy Peard, Kemph Kim & Sean Martin.
They were joined by an assistant coach named Eric Saucier and former forward/current Mascenic Regional head coach Brandon Kear.
The Mules all-state duo of Curtis Williams & Joe Downing led the way for Jamie Hayes’ team and two missed free throws late might have cost Hayes his first title.
Conant won the title in a heartbreaking season during which they lost their teammate Stephen Record in a tragic car accident in December.
5. 2016 Division I final: Manchester Central 60, Merrimack 58
Comments: What a game…..featured on our Greatest Games video and still talked about to this day.
Jaylen Leroy was absolutely terrific down the stretch; Jonathan Makori scored the game-winner in their last three games and whenever Central needed a big 3-pointer Evan MacDonald drilled it.
Central beat Bedford in overtime (in a game we covered) in the quarterfinals, erased a big deficit late to beat Winnacunnet at UNH in the semifinals and then came back behind MacDonald, Leroy, Seth Shea, and Makori to win Doc Wheeler his 5th title.
For Merrimack Zak Kerr was terrific along with Ian Roberts, Mike Dudash, Andrew Wojciak, and sophomore Ian Cummings. If you don’t know the story I invite you to watch the Greatest Games Special linked above…..Noah Beygelman was half of a second away from being Jimmy Chitwood.
The image that will stay with me forever is Doc Wheeler waving the 3-pointer off while his good friend Tim Goodridge was 10 feet away arguing it was good and Merrimack had just won the championship.
4. 2015 Division IV final: Wilton-Lyndeborough 50, Epping 46
Comments: Another game featured in our first Greatest Games Special. Epping was the defending champion and was led by ‘My Man’ Colby Wilson, Brett Couture, Jackson Rivers, and Dylan Derosier.
Wilton-Lyndeborough featured Jordan Litts, the best Division IV player I’ve ever covered, who moved to New Hampshire from Texas. They also featured Trey & Ty Carrier, big man Duncan Rae and sophomore Casey Lane (son of Nashua North head coach Steve Lane).
Colby Wilson put on an absolute show and Sean Young’s team led throughout a lot of the game but Litts never let them get enough of a cushion to put it away. In the final minute, Litts buried a huge corner 3-pointer off of an inbounds play and then picked Derosier to roll in for the championship-clinching basket.
Great story about this one. On Litts’ final lay-up Trey Carrier jumps up and seems to touch the ball while it’s still on the rim, which would negate the game-winning lay-up and give the ball back to Epping down two with a couple of seconds left.
Years after the game Trey told me he had seen the special. I asked him if he touched that ball on the rim and he said, “Absolutely I did, I don’t know why I did it.”
3. 2015 Division I final: Londonderry 47, Pinkerton Academy 46
Comments: This one comes in at #3 not only for the fantastic finish but the players in the game. Pinkerton featured sophomore (and now all-Big Ten guard) Geo Baker (seen flexing in Jen’s preview video), who only played one season for the Astros along with David Faulks, Tommy Romick (a seacoast champion), Drew Green, Caleb Godin and Matt Rizzo (one of my all-time favorite players and a seacoast champ as well).
The Lancers were led by player of the year Cody Ball (who followed this up with a terrific career at St. Anslem), Marc Corey, sophomore Jake Coleman, and Joe Kwiatkowski.
Nate Stanton’s team came in undefeated after beating a very good Spaulding team in the semifinals while the Astros were the 3-seed and beat 15th seeded Cinderella Nashua North (led by Ronnie Silva & Nate Hale) in the other semifinal.
The last 10 seconds of this one was incredible and I encourage you to watch either the game highlights below or Jen’s terrific Championship Saturday video. Geo was trying to take the last shot but Londonderry doubled him and he kicked it out to Rizzo who had to evade a Lancer defender coming at him and still get off the shot before the buzzer.
Credit Londonderry’s defense. The Astros couldn’t get a clean look and Stanton’s team was doing the undefeated dance with Pete Tarrier 20 minutes after the game.
Side note: Coach Stanton and I are really good friends and we laugh every year about Pete mentioning Londonderry lost a holiday tournament game while interviewing him after the school’s first undefeated season and boys basketball championship in school history.
As the running joke goes; if your dog got run over when you were a kid or you got dumped on prom night, Pete is going to bring it up in the post-game interview.
2. 2017 Division IV final: Groveton 45, Littleton 43 (OT)
Comments: You’ll be getting a deep dive on this one in our upcoming special but let's run through what makes it maybe the game we’re most famous for covering (thanks to our friends at NH Chronicle).
Comments: These two teams played two games and each was won by two points in the final three seconds. The regular-season game by Portsmouth and the final by Bishop Brady.
How about the players in it? Brendan Johnson, Joe & Jourdain Bell for Bishop Brady, Charlie Lehoux (who changed the game when he fouled out), sophomores Joey Glynn, Shon Parham & Christian Peete along with freshman Cody Graham.
24 year old Cole Etten, named head coach in the off-season when Mark Yeaton stepped down, against Hall of Famer Jim Mulvey.
Glynn, Parham and Peete never lost another high school game, even though they would petition up to Division I after winning the 2011 Division II title over Lebanon, and Graham would win 3 state championships in a row. Think about that.
Pete absolutely nailed the call in the final minute, he was outstanding.
Jourdain Bell had a championship game performance for the ages, the steal by Johnson, the lay-up by Joe Bell and Cody Graham nearly hitting a shot from 70 feet that would have led Sports Center the next day.
Greatest game we’ve ever covered.
Coming tomorrow: The 34 games outside the Top 10.
Tag(s): Home Article Archives Boys Basketball NHIAA Division I Londonderry Manchester Central Merrimack Pinkerton Portsmouth NHIAA Division II Bishop Brady NHIAA Division III Conant NHIAA Division IV Groveton Littleton Newmarket