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The NHTI Division II Boys Basketball Semifinal Scouting Report

By Dave Haley, 03/07/23, 6:15AM EST


Mason Tatarian and the Cinderella Bobcats take on Pembroke (photo by Madelyn Marthouse)

 Every year we turn our football and basketball semifinal previews over to the people who know these teams better than anyone; the coaches who faced them during the season.

 We asked coaches to break down tomorrow night’s semifinal teams and match-ups using blind quotes.

 Our preview is brought to you by our longtime partners at NHTI in Concord!

 We’ll have coverage of both semifinals and every semifinal game being played all the way to Durham on Sunday.


 Division II

      (1) Laconia vs. (5) Pelham

     Laconia Team Page

      Pelham Team Page

      Box score of the regular season meeting

 The top-ranked Sachems were pushed to overtime by a tough Merrimack Valley team, while Pelham dominated the fourth quarter at Manchester West to advance to the semifinals.

 We asked the coaches to give their scouting reports on both teams, beginning with Steve McDonough's Sachems.

 "Keaton Beck is the best player two-way player in our division. He allows Laconia to be very aggressive defensively on the perimeter and crushes you on the offensive glass."

 "Kayden Roberts can score at all three levels, and where he used to be strong hand (left hand) dominant, he now will take the ball to the rim with his right (hand). They give him a lot of looks, he's a volume shooter, and he's an excellent scorer."

 Another coach talked about the Sachems' offensive tendencies.

 "Roberts can knock down shots from all over, and Beck understands where the rebounds will go when he misses. You need to put two bodies on Beck. When we matched him up one on one, he buried us."

 “They don’t run much for Beck, they will just rely on him to rebound.”

 "Carson Tucker has emerged as a good third option for their offense. When he squares up, he can really stroke it. He might be their most improved player."

 "They will go man to man. Steve (McDonough) used to mix in zone more often and play a 2-3 on their out-of-bounds plays, but they have become a man defense because they have the players to be effective.”

“Rowan Jones is a tough defender; Logan Sanchez is also a plus defender, and the Tucker brothers (Carson and Caden) understand their positions and will be aggressive out front."

 "They can pressure the ball well because they have the best rim protector in the division (Keaton Beck) at the back end of their defense."

 "Offensively, they have been very good because they understand that Roberts and Beck are getting most of the looks, and they get open shot opportunities from opposing defenses' attention."

 "One issue they have is, when Roberts gets into foul trouble and has to come out of the game, they stop scoring. That was a big issue in the quarterfinals against Merrimack Valley, and it almost cost them their season."

 We then asked coaches to break down Joe Morin’s Pelham Pythons.

"They are balanced, and they play unselfishly. They are physical with you defensively, and all season long, I thought the two best defenses we saw were Pelham and Souhegan."

 "Dom Herrling has emerged as one of the top players in our league. He can handle the ball and score and has the athletic ability to score at the rim. You combine him with shooters like Zach James and Peter Hemmerdinger, and that is a tough combination to stop."

 Toughness was the word that kept coming up with the coaches we spoke to.

 "We knew this group was tough, but to go into West, trail by four points going into the fourth quarter, and do what… outscore West 36-14? That's incredible."

 "Alex Carroll and Jake Travis are the glue guys; they defend, rebound, and Carroll hit two huge threes against West to help put that game away on the road."

 "They angle you defensively, so there is no clear route to the basket. Jake Cawthron is the guy who holds it all together. He's maybe the best defender in our league, and I'd expect him to battle Beck on Tuesday night."

 "Zach James is a knockdown shooter. Last year you could see the moment got to him a little in the semifinals. Then you watch him these first two playoff games, and he goes for 31 and 27. He's been outstanding and has matured into a player you can go to with the game on the line."

 Another coach talked about head coach Joe Morin.

 "I give Coach Morin a lot of credit; he didn't try to change everything and understood the players he had and their strengths. They run good sets and good motion offense."

 "Herrling is a stud, and James is hitting everything. People talked about the West Big 3, and deservedly so, but Pelham has their own Big three and a half with Herrling, James, Cawthron, and (Peter) Hemmerdinger."

 So what about the match-up on Tuesday night?

 "Pelham is going to be physical with Beck, and they'll make someone other than Roberts beat them."

 "The Pelham team I watched highlights of Friday night isn't losing to anyone."

 " Can Laconia keep Zach James in check? When he is hitting shots it opens up the offense for everybody else."

 So who wins the game?

 "I'll go with Pelham by eight."

 "Laconia wins a close one."

 "Pelham by twelve."

 My pick: Pelham by eight


 (2) Pembroke Academy vs. (14) Oyster River

Pembroke Academy Team Page

Oyster River Team Page

Box Score of the first meeting


 The Pembroke Spartans square off with Cinderella Oyster River in the first semifinal game on Tuesday night.

 Oyster River lost on opening night to Souhegan by twenty points and by thirty-one to Coe-Brown two weeks ago and eliminated them both from the tournament.

 They now face a Pembroke Academy team that beat them by twenty-five points in their only meeting this season, which somehow might be bad news for the Spartans.

 We asked our coaches to break down both teams and the match-up, beginning with Mike Donnell's Spartans.

 "Pembroke was the best offensive team we played this season. They have three players who can hurt you and a good combination of speed and size."

 "I like Mike Strazzeri a lot. Our guards couldn't stay in front of him, and he can find shooters on the wings when you close him down in the paint."

 "I'm not a big fan of the drive and kick offense, it has an AAU feel to it, but it works with this group because it plays to their strengths. Strazzeri is lightning-fast with the ball."

" Joe Fitzgerald can knock down mid-range jumpers as well as any player we faced, and Josh Pilotte can beat you by himself for stretches of the game."

 One coach talked about his impressions of Pilotte.

 "He's a terrific athlete, bigger and quicker in person than he was on film. He can be a shutdown defender with his length and speed. Fitzgerald and Strazzeri are more polished players, but Pilotte has the most upside."

 "They shoot the ball extremely well. Pelham and Pembroke are our division's two best shooting teams, so it's no surprise they both made it to the semifinals."

 "We said as a coaching staff that Shondell Hadley hitting his first corner three might play to our advantage because although he can hurt you on the low block, he would rather stand 20 feet away and shoot threes."

 "Oyster River's forwards (Sean Lynch and Ben Kelley) are very physical; you saw how they fought in the post with Tommy Flanagan and Hugh Hamilton in the quarterfinals. Hadley doesn't like it when it's physical. If you push him out of the paint, he will go to the perimeter."

 "They are not a very good team defensively, but when they need to get a stop, they are capable because they have the personnel.”

“ I'm excited to watch the match-up between Strazzeri against Mason Tatarian at the point guard spot. I expect Brady Luczek to guard Joe Fitzgerald. The mismatch might be Drew Dulac on Josh Pilotte."

 "I'm not sure Oyster River has the player to cover Pilotte."

 Our coaches then broke down Oyster River.

 "To me, it starts with Lewis Atkins and Mason Tatarian. Coach Atkins has become an excellent coach; his teams are prepared, he scouts everyone, and runs very good sets."

 "When I watched highlights against Coe Brown, I saw a head coach who did a good job managing the game, and you have to have a smart point guard to carry that plan out, and they do in Mason."

 "They are controlling the pace of these games. They made Souhegan play a slow it down game, to the point (Souhegan) held the ball in the second half to kill the clock and they would not let Coe Brown run on Friday night."

 "Atkins has them running sets, and if they don't get the look they want, they pull the ball out and run something else. They are going to make Pembroke play defense for 40 to 50 seconds, and that's something other than what Pembroke likes to do.”

“ Pembroke could be a more disciplined defense; they'll gamble for steals and rotate slowly at times. That's what Oyster River wants to do, frustrate them with the slower pace."

 "Drew Dulac is shooting the ball with a ton of confidence, and this is a kid who averaged four points a game during the regular season. Since he has stepped into the lineup late in the season they've gotten much better."

 "Brady Luczek drove us crazy. He talks to your players and the officials, but I have to give him credit. He will take charges, and he plays hard. He gives them an attitude out there, making them a stronger team."

 "Their bigs Kelley and Lynch are not that big but they will bang with you. They will try and push Hadley out to the post and keep Adam Heldman off the glass."

" I really like Heldman as a player. He won't score on you, but he will keep the ball alive on the offensive glass, and when they kick to open shooters like Fitzgerald, they knock those shots down."

 “ The hole in (Oyster Rivers) zone is the short corner. It’s open all night, you just have to have the right player to make them pay. Kids today do not want to shoot from the mid-range, therefore you see a lot of zones now designed to make them take shots they rarely practice.”

 What about the match-up tonight?

 "It is a bad matchup for Oyster River. Souhegan was very good, as was Coe Brown, but neither team shot the ball well from deep. So you could pack in a zone late in games and dare them to beat you. Neither team could."

 "Pembroke can. They are an excellent shooting team, and those guards have a ton of confidence."

 "What cost Coe Brown the other night is they had chances to take the lead and make Oyster River play from behind, but they never got over that hump. If Pembroke can get a ten-point lead, I don't see how Oyster River can come back. If Oyster River can play in front, then all the pressure shifts to Pembroke."


 So wins the game?

 “ I like Pembroke by twelve.”

 “ Hard to dismiss Oyster River, but I think Pembroke just has too much offense for Oyster River to keep up.”

 “ Oyster River will keep it close, and if they do, they have a good chance to win. I’m not counting them out.”


 My pick: Pembroke wins it by eight.


 Coming tomorrow: Division I


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