Central and Trinity ready to tip off
It's not for the state championship, not even a playoff game. But when two Division I first-place 15-1 city teams led by great competitors such as Carmen Giampetruzzi and Troy Pelletier collide, it will definitely feel like a post-season game at Simon Gym tonight.
It's Trinity and Central for the regular season boys' basketball title at 7 p.m. before an expected sellout crowd.
In every year except one since 2005, either Trinity (four times) or Central (three times) has qualified for the state final in Durham. Central won consecutive titles in 2005 and 2006 while the Pioneers topped Memorial for all the marbles in 2009.
This season, Trinity opened the campaign 10-0, lost its only game at Merrimack (60-56) on Feb. 5 and responded with five straight wins. The Little Green sustained their first loss of the season last Tuesday, dropping a 70-62 decision to visiting Nashua South.
Trinity head coach Dave Keefe added some perspective to tonight's clash.
"Tonight is obviously not going to decide who wins the state championship," said Keefe. "Whoever wins (tonight) will end up in first place and the loser will finish second, which is also not a bad thing. If anything, this game puts Manchester in the spotlight as being a great high school basketball city. There's going to be a great crowd tonight, which will include two very loud cheering sections. I also believe former players, including many who played back in the day, will show up to watch this game. It's going to be what high school basketball is all about, a great atmosphere watching two very good teams battling to the end."
Leading their respective teams are two of the top contenders for this season's Division I Player of the Year honors. "On our team, you've got Carmen coming off a 31-point, 14-rebound game against Dover, and for Central, Pelletier had 27 against Nashua South last Tuesday," said Keefe. "I said the same thing last year before we met in the tournament semifinals. If you're coming to watch two great competitors, those two are at the very top."
Last Tuesday for the first time all season, Central allowed 70 points. The Little Green behind Pelletier, Dawson Dickson, Brett Hanson, Mike Plentzas, Nick Makris, Abe Madra, Tyler Kelly and Colin Duffley have played stingy defense, allowing an average of 51 points per game.
Trinity, like Nashua South, will test that defense. The Pioneers have scored 70 or more points eight times this season, including four times over their last five games. Trinity behind Giampetruzzi, Wenjin Gabriel, Brad Rhoads, Ryan Otis, Jon Cullity, Mabor Gabriel, Romeo Masuku and Patrick Keefe are averaging nearly 69 points a game.
Keefe said while it won't take much for him or Central coach Doc Wheeler to get their teams fired up for this showdown, he knows the calendar still hasn't reached the month of March yet.
"It's still a regular-season game and we're going to treat it just like a regular-season game," said Keefe. "Central is coming off their first loss of the season and we're well aware they'll be focused for this game. We will, too."
Keefe recalled his 1979 season playing for Central. "We lost two regular-season home games late that season to Portsmouth and Trinity," he said. "We ended up in the state finals that season and beat Portsmouth for the state title. So with 10 or 12 days before the start of the state tournament, I want my team playing well right now and getting ready for the postseason. This game will definitely prepare us for the postseason. I'm looking forward to it, looking forward to the atmosphere tonight. As my good friend (Philadelphia Eagles head coach and former Manchester Central standout) Chip Kelly always would say "don't talk to me about seedings during the regular season. We'll know soon enough.' I'm taking a page out of his book."