Part IV of our four-part series looking back at the 45 championship games we’ve covered on NHsportspage takes a look at the championship games in all four divisions from 2016 to 2019.
Today’s column is sponsored by our friends and partners at Buffalo Wild Wings with their locations in Manchester, Nashua, Concord, Rochester, and Newington.
We are looking forward to when we can get back to hosting watch parties with the teams we cover at each location.
2016 Division IV final: Littleton 38, Portsmouth Christian 36
Comments: This one nearly made the Top 10. Ethan Ellingwood was a glue-guy guard for Trevor Howard’s Crusaders who were led by first-team all-staters Kuba Kubkowski and Logan Briggs.
Being a glue guy though is not what Ellingwood will be remembered for, and that is because of the game winning drive he hit over Drew McCormick with four seconds left in a tie game to bring Trevor Howard his first championship as head coach.
Littleton beat Groveton by double digits in the semifinals while Portsmouth Christian battled a very good Woodsville team to the wire. Engineers all-state shooting guard Jaret Bemis had a 3-pointer to win the game hit the rim and PCA, coached by ‘The Big Smooth’ Lewis Atkins moved on.
What probably kept this out of the Top 10 was the level of play in the second half. PCA and Littleton were terrific teams but they struggled to score all night. Littleton won the title even though they only scored 12 points in the second half.
Kuba Kubkowski was really good in the championship game while Kafani LaFleur was terrific all season long for PCA.
Also the Plymouth State student in charge of the in-game music played ‘Cherry Pie’ by Warrant at the request of Sam Natti & I during a timeout in the 3rd quarter.
True story….the best part were all the Groveton boys looking up at us, knowing from experience where the request probably came from. It was absolutely fantastic.
The 2016 Division III final between Pelham and Kearsarge was featured in our Top
2016 Division II final: Portsmouth 43, Lebanon 29
Comments: This one is more remembered for what it wasn’t.
That sounds terrible but going into this championship Saturday Pete Tarrier, Justin McIsaac & I talked on our radio show about the two championship games we’d be covering; Merrimack vs. Manchester Central in the first game and this one in the second.
The game of the day at that moment was clearly this battle of unbeatens. Lebanon and Portsmouth had been pre-season #1 and #2 and both came in undefeated.
But it was Merrimack/Central that ended up being featured in our first ‘Greatest Games’ special while this one, didn’t quite live up to the hype.
It was a very competitive game but neither team cracked 40% shooting and Lebanon, forced to take a lot of 3-pointers by the Clippers terrific defense, was off the mark all day.
After the game, Portsmouth head coach Jim Mulvey told me he would be asking to petition up to Division I the following season with all 5 of his starters (Joey Glynn, Alex Tavares, Cody Graham, Shon Parham and Christian Peete) returning.
They would, and went 22-0 in Division I in an accomplishment that I still don’t think gets enough attention. Lebanon would go on to win the Division II tournament the following year.
The 2016 Division I final between Manchester Central and Merrimack was featured in not only our Top 10 but in our Greatest Games Special
The 2017 Division IV final between Littleton and Groveton is featured not only in our Top 10 but in our upcoming Greatest Games Special
2017 Division III final: Kearsarge 51, Stevens 46
Comments: This was a really good final. Kearsarge had lost in the final to Conant by four points the year before and featured first team all-state performers Tayler Mattos and Tommy Johnson.
Stevens led through much of the game early including 20-12 at one point but Johnson and Mattos were terrific. Nate Camp’s team never got too far behind and closed Stevens out down the stretch in front of a packed house.
Johnson and Mattos would score 49 of the Cougars 51 points to lead them to Nate Camp’s first title.
Stevens was led by point guard Noah Spaulding, Parker Smith and the O’Brien brothers Nick & Zach. We had covered the Cardinals through their run in football where they upset Monadnock and Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough on back to back weekends to win the Division III football title in November. So we knew these kids pretty well and they were a really fun group.
This three year era (2015-2017) is not a good one to bring up the next time you find yourself out with a bunch of Division III coaches.
Of the six teams that squared off in those three championships (Pelham twice, Kearsarge twice, Stevens and Conant once each) five of those teams came down from Division II and were back up in the higher division soon afterwards.
Kearsarge and Stevens both went back up to Division II after playing this championship game.
2017 Division II final: Lebanon 59, Coe-Brown 42
Comments: Kieth Matte’s team was the best team in Division II wire to wire and broke poor Jen Chick-Ruth’s heart to win their fourth Division II title.
This was a very good Raiders team, led by player of the year Ryan Milliken, KJ Matte and Graham Chickering.
This was the culmination of a terrific four year run and with Portsmouth out of the way and going 22-0 in Division I Lebanon won both the Queen City Holiday Tournament in December and the Division II championship in March.
Coe-Brown went on a terrific run of their own. They beat a good Milford team in the semifinals and actually got Jen excited enough about her alma mater to go on camera with the entire team and Benny the Bear (who two years later would threaten to eat McIsaac on Twitter……..most people, predictably, sided with the bear).
David Smith’s Bears were led by Scott & Sean Spenard, Sam Lupinacci and Brody Ashley, who led the team with 14 points in the final. They were a really fun group and were right in the game at 31-29 before Milliken keyed a Lebanon run.
KJ was recently named captain of his Bowdoin College team and this is a group of seniors we covered in their first pre-season as a freshman in the jamboree against Spaulding, all the way to UNH as seniors when they went out winners.
Division I final: Portsmouth 63, Bedford 40
Comments: As I wrote in Friday’s column this Portsmouth team and Manchester Central’s 2014 team are the two best teams I’ve ever covered.
The Clippers were led by player of the year Joey Glynn (playing at UMass Lowell), Cody Graham (playing at Plymouth State), Christian Peete (playing football at UNH),. Alex Tavares (playing at Plymouth State) and Shon Parham.
They were almost a perfectly constructed high school basketball lineup. Parham was a terrific point guard who was an elite on the ball defender and ball handler. Glynn was a terrific high school center, he could score, defend and was one of the best rebounders I’ve ever seen. Graham could score anyway he wanted and was an underrated passer, in his high school career he won three titles in four years.
Tavares was the perfect power forward, he could score from down low or on the perimeter and he was a very good rebounder. Peete was the ‘3 and D’ guy. He routinely shutdown the leading scorers in the division and he holds the Division I championship record for 3-pointers in a game with five against Bedford.
All being coached by future Hall of Famer Jim Mulvey, who won 5 titles in 12 years and was a runner-up four times. Meaning the Clippers went to the championship game 9 times in 12 seasons in two divisions.
This was a very good Bedford team led by Max Chartier, Nolan Anderson, Liam Greene and Troy Meservey. Mark Elmendorf’s team knocked off Merrimack in the quarterfinals before beating a Cal Connelly-led Spaulding team in the semifinals at UNH.
Meservey suffered a really bad injury that delayed the game for about 15 minutes. It was a tough moment for everybody in the gym and I’ll never forget NHIAA president Jeff Collins, who was 10 feet away when Meservey went down, rushing to be by his side as trainers came out on to the floor.
The good news is ten months later Jen & I were at Bedford for a game and Meservey was there with his friends, fully recovered.
Jen did a terrific preview video for this one in which Chartier told her Bedford was going zone, as Greene and Meservey looked at him like he had a horn growing out of his head for revealing their game plan.
She kept it out of the video…..another reason she’s The Franchise.
2018 Division IV final: Pittsfield 43, Newmarket 40
Comments: This was a terrific Pittsfield team and a really fun group to cover.
They were led by player of the year Cam Darrah, Casey Clark, Garrett Guerrero-Hadley, Dylan Bocash and all-state center Josh Whittier.
Whittier had missed the previous season to work so he could buy a truck and he forever was beloved among North Country coaches for that fact.
Pittsfield beat Epping in the quarterfinals (in a game we covered) and Littleton in the semifinals before meeting their rivals in the final. Jamie Hayes’ Newmarket team was led by all-state guard Anthony Senesombath, Craig Hounam, Simon Cote, Jared Woodman and Travis Moseley.
This was a very good game throughout but Cam Darrah took over late. He made a couple of big plays and it was a Garrett Guerrero-Hadley bucket in the fourth quarter that remains the forgotten huge basket.
This was a group we liked a lot and seeing our friend Jay Darrah win a title with his son a year after they were shocked in the first round by Portsmouth Christian as a 3-seed was a pretty good way to wrap up a terrific season.
2018 Division III final: Somersworth 53, Campbell 38
Comments: These columns are all about my memories of each final four so I’m not going diverge off that path when we have gotten all the way to 2018 but…well this was not a final four or Division III tournament I like to look back on.
We had a very strange incident with Campbell after their quarterfinal win over White Mountains (Pete Tarrier covered the game) that seemed unnecessary in the moment and only more so over time but we’ve all moved on so let’s keep going.
The final four had to be moved from Southern New Hampshire to Exeter high school after a snow storm. Meaning Monadnock, who toppled top seed Hopkinton in the quarterfinals, had to drive an additional hour to the seacoast for a 5 pm tip off on a Friday afternoon.
Jim Hill’s Monadnock team was the story of the tournament coming in but their all-state guard Joe Minson was suspended for their semifinal game against Campbell. The Cougars beat them easily without their leading scorer in the first semifinal game and did it in front of a sparse crowd.
The second semifinal game between Somersworth and Berlin was the game of the night. Rob Fauci’s team had beaten pre-season #1 Berlin on the road in the season opener before Berlin went to Somersworth later in the season (in a game we covered) and beat the Hilltoppers.
It set up a great final four game but it never materialized.
Berlin’s Seth Balderrama picked up 3 fouls very quickly and what we did not know then but would find out the following week was all-state guard Evan Arsenault was coming down with mono. He never looked like his usual self after a terrific performance in a quarterfinal win over Gilford and Berlin could never get in front of a terrific Somersworth team.
The following afternoon Somersworth took control of the game against Campbell in the second half. Fauci had managed the minutes of his all-state trio of Bryton Early, Evan Gray and Tyler Clark against Berlin and they were just fresh enough to close out to Cougars.
A very good Campbell team was led by James Scafidi, Jonah Crema, Brendan Rice and Joaquin Heller.
2018 Division II final: Hollis-Brookline 56, Oyster River 40
Comments: Cole Etten wins his second title at his second different school, this time at his alma mater.
We got our first look at the Cavaliers in our Coaches for a Cause Jamboree when they beat Bedford.
The Cavaliers beat you the old school way, with very few 3-pointers and by pounding you on the glass and in the paint.
Matt Simco was our Division II player of the year and he led the way along with all-state forward Matt Dowling and all-state point guard Jonathan Brackett. The 6’3 point guard, Brackett, hadn’t played on the team as a junior but it took about 10 minutes against Bedford for me to get Etten’s attention and ask. ‘ Who is this kid??’
Scott VanCoughnett was the glue guy and Hollis-Brookline won their first Division II title since 2005.
Oyster River had gone 2-16 the season before and was the story of the season. Beating a good Timberlane team on the road in the season-opener and rolling from there behind Kyle Landrigan, Brennan Oxford, Joe Morrell, Max Lewis and Cam Thibodeau.
Lorne Lucas’s team beat Pembroke in overtime in the semifinals in a game that is getting the deep-dive treatment in our upcoming 2nd ‘Greatest Games Special.’
Basketball is all about match-ups though and Hollis-Brookline was a terrible match-up for the Bobcats. Oyster River was a team that beat you with their pressure defense and pace. They weren’t a very big team at all but they were fast and very athletic.
Hollis-Brookline was 6’4 across the frontcourt and even their point guard was as tall as Oyster River’s center. They dominated the glass (Simco led the way with a double-double) and when neither team shoots well, the team that wins the boards wins the game.
Hollis-Brookline led throughout and at one point I can remember on air with McIsaac saying, “ Hey kids, do you like rebounds?”
There were a lot of them as Oyster River never got comfortable. Hollis-Brookline won the title and celebrated with us on camera afterwards.
As far as crowds go the Oyster River side was predictably overflowing. I’d say the two crowds back to back on that side of the floor, behind the benches with Dover being featured in the second game, were the two biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at UNH.
2018 Division I final: Portsmouth 46, Dover 38
Comments: This was a really good game and it featured not only a packed crowd but a Dover student in a dinosaur costume.
Dover’s semifinal upset of Exeter (I had predicted they were going to get thumped) gets the deep dive treatment in our upcoming special but don’t sleep on what was a very good final.
The Clippers were not the machine they had been in 2016 and 2017 but they were still the team to beat along with Exeter. They were led by Alex Tavares and our player of the year Cody Graham, who was absolutely terrific in the final.
Graham had suffered PCL tear playing football against Alvirne in his 5th game as a junior. He played through the injury during Portsmouth’s undefeated 2017 season and had surgery in Boston two days after the win over Bedford.
Cody recovered enough to limp through his senior season of football but was never 100%, and that included through this championship run in 2018.
For better parts of the season Alex Tavares was the best player on the team and was as good as any player in the state. Max Lincoln played very well all season long at the forward spot along side sophomore Cal Hewett and all-state shooting guard Mike Sanborn.
Dover was led by Ryan Coleman, Johnny Cantwell, Ty Vitko and Devin Cady.
Matt Fennessy’s Green Wave was that team no one wanted to see in Round 1 and they proved those people right with an upset road win at Londonderry to open the tournament. They then went to Bedford and won a close low scoring game over a Bulldogs team looking to get back to UNH for a second straight season.
Portsmouth led this one throughout and jumped out to a double-digit lead early but Dover never let them run away with it. They never stopped fighting and a Ty Vitko drive off window with 2:40 to go made it a two point game.
The Clippers though drew a huge charge call late (the Dover fans will be talking about that one for years..) and Tavares & Graham were perfect from the free throw line to seal the championship in Jim Mulvey’s final game as head coach.
2019 Division IV final: Epping 72, Littleton 61
Comments: This was the best played championship of the four in 2019. Epping had not played well in a close win over Woodsville in the semifinals on Monday night and I can remember being heckled by everyone in the North Country when I picked Epping to beat Littleton.
That was because Nick Fiset’s team had a gear I had seen and they hadn’t. Hunter Bullock was the player of the year and he was terrific in this one. Peyton Rivers had a big night attacking the basket and Sean Hill & Adam LePage, knockdown shooters all season long, went out with a bang in combining for six 3-pointers in the final.
Trevor Howard’s team played very well in this one. Parker Briggs and Jason Brammer were terrific for the Crusaders, combining for 45 points. Epping though played one of their best games of the season at the right time and rolled to Fiset’s first title as a head coach.
This was a really fun group. Bullock moved on to play point guard at Great Bay Community College for head coach Alex Burt and Noah Bilodeau would go 4 for 4 from the floor in the final.
2019 Division III final: Conant 61, Somersworth 38
Comments: Sort of a ho hum final four as none of the three games were decided by single digits.
Conant jumped out on St. Thomas early and earned a spot in the championship with a 57-39 win. Meanwhile Somersworth did the same to Campbell, jumping out early and winning 61-39.
In the final Anthony Gauthier and Jake Drew were terrific. Head coach Eric Saucier mixed in a match-up zone to surprise the Hilltoppers who expected the Orioles usual man to man defense. Peyton Springfield was the team’s leading scorer and Connor Hart was very good for Conant at SNHU.
It would be Saucier’s 5th title as head coach, tying him with Jim Mulvey among active coaches at the time and trailing only Groveton’s Mark Collins who has won seven titles in Division IV.
2019 Division II final: Pembroke Academy 47, Kearsarge 35
Comments: This one was about Noah Cummings, Sean Menard, Jack Lehoullier and head coach Rich Otis.
The senior class had been touted as the next wave of Pembroke basketball since Cummings came on to the scene as a sophomore point guard. The rep on this group was they could score all day but their attitude towards defense could best be described as ‘passive’.
When Otis took over as head coach he knew they were going to have to become a good team defensively to win the school’s 8th title.
The players and coach didn’t click at first as Otis kept stressing defense to a lineup who knew they could beat any team in the division 75-70 but midway through the 2018 campaign it began to click.
Pembroke lost an all-time game in that seasons semifinals, a game that is featured on our upcoming Greatest Games special and then returned even better in 2019.
Cummings was the player of the year, Shea Shackford and Menard had all-state campaigns and Rich Otis won his first championship as head coach.
They beat a very good Con Val team in the semifinals, in a game that wasn’t decided until the final two minutes, before beating underdog Kearsarge in the final.
Nate Camp’s team had shocked the division when Adrian McCarthy hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to knock off top seed Oyster River in the quarterfinals and continued their run with a win at UNH over a very good Merrimack Valley team in the semifinals.
2019 Division I final: Exeter 53, Salem 30
Comments: The Blue Hawks were a wagon all season long, rolling to an undefeated season and winning head coach Jeff Holmes his first title.
Exeter was led by the all-state trio of Kevin Henry, Josh Morissette and Ryan Grijalva. Cam Clark and Max Rose were two point guard who would have started for any other team in the division (Rose came off the Exeter bench) and there were few teams that could match the Blue Hawks depth.
Salem had a terrific season under head coach Rob McLaughlin and were led by Zack Caraballo, Kyle Poulin, Trevor DeMinico and center Ben Laycock. We covered the Blue Devils in their opening night win over Spaulding and all way the way through a huge late season win at Londonderry and their trip to the final.
Kyle Poulin picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of the final, forcing McLaughlin to take him out of the game. I can still remember sitting across the court with McIsaac calling the game and looking at Poulin. He looked like a kid in the back of a police car with no idea what he did wrong.
Salem was going to have to play one of their best games of the season to beat Exeter with their leading scorer but without him they fell in an early hole. A Caraballo drive in the 3rd quarter would have drawn them within striking distance but the basket was waved off and Exeter jumped on them to pull away.
Exeter trailed Londonderry late in a very physical semifinal game and when they were able to exercise their 2018 demons and pull away behind Morissette for the win you felt like they were not going to be stopped.
Kevin Henry went on to play for Plymouth State while Morissette had an all-conference year at Phillips Exeter Academy this season. Grijalva returned and was our player of the year for the top seeded Blue Hawks before the season was canceled.
Coming this week we’ll have our tournament highlight videos for both the boys and the girls.
Stay home and stay safe everyone……….let’s all follow the rules for the next two months and hopefully return to some sense of normal in June.