DURHAM — It was stingy defense, as much as anything, that earned the Merrimack High School boys’ basketball team a spot in Saturday’s Division I championship game.
The third-seeded Tomahawks held second seeded Trinity to 33 percent shooting from the field (16 for 48) and advanced with a 58-46 victory in Monday night’s Division I semifinals at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium.
Merrimack threw a combination of zone and triangle-and-two defenses at Trinity, which missed 15 of its 19 attempts from behind the 3-point arc. Trinity star forward Carmen Giampetruzzi was held to two points in the loss.
It was the first time this season Merrimack has used a triangle-and-two defense.
“Defense played a huge role,” Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge said. “We changed it up a lot and I think that confused them with some of the things they wanted to do. I thought our defense was outstanding.”
Trinity was within one, 44-43, with 3:35 to play, but Merrimack closed the game on a 14-3 run.
Senior guard Eric Gendron scored 24 points and had nine rebounds for Merrimack. Junior center Wenyen Gabriel led Trinity with 20 points and 19 rebounds.
“We played really good defense,” Merrimack’s Dylan Richardson said. “They couldn’t penetrate on our (zone). We tried to keep the ball out of their best players’ hands. That was the key to the game.”
Merrimack (19-2) will face No. 1 Manchester Central (20-0) in Saturday’s title game, which will also be played at UNH (noon). Memorial and Central met in Monday night’s second semifinal.
Trinity completed its season with a 19-2 record.
Shayne Bourque added 13 for the Tomahawks, who also received 10 from Richardson. Brad Rhoades (11) was the only other Trinity player who scored in double figures.
“Richardson gave us a real spark tonight,” Goodridge said. “Every kid that stepped on the court gave us something. It’s a bunch of tough, smart kids who are a pleasure to be around.”
Merrimack had a nine-point lead at halftime, but didn’t score again until 3:03 remained in the third. It was a 38-32 game entering the final eight minutes. Gendron scored all seven Merrimack points in the quarter and had 20 points entering the fourth.
Merrimack led 15-8 after one quarter and 31-22 at halftime. Trinity had a 6-5 lead midway through the first, but the Tomahawks used a 12-2 run to take a 17-8 advantage. Merrimack led by 12 — its largest lead in the half — twice in the second quarter.
Merrimack made Trinity’s offense one dimensional for much of the half, when Gabriel scored 12 of Trinity’s 22 points. Giampetruzzi did not score in the first two quarters.
Gendron made six of 10 shots in the half and led all scorers with 13 points at the break. Merrimack shot 52 percent from the field (13 of 25) in the half.
Gendron got himself in early foul trouble when Trinity beat Merrimack 62-57 in Manchester during the regular season.
Trinity was without suspended point guard Ryan Otis, who was also suspended for Trinity’s quarterfinal-round victory over seventh-seeded Bedford.
The game matched programs that won the last two Division I titles. Trinity was last year’s champion, and Merrimack won the championship in 2012.
“That’s an unbelievable basketball team we played and an unbelievable win for our program,” Goodridge said. “They were the defending champs and have lost two games in two years. We’re happy as heck.”