Merrimack head coach Tim Goodridge believes anything can happen in Durham when the Division I boys’ basketball tournament rolls around.
“We had a 22-0 team in 2005 and we ended up losing to Dover in the semifinals,” said Goodridge. “Records mean absolutely nothing at this stage of the game. I know that first hand.”
Tonight at 8 p.m., 12th-seeded Manchester Memorial (10-10) is hoping history repeats itself when it faces undefeated Manchester Central (23-0) in a 7:30 p.m. semifinal contest at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym.
“Memorial just eliminated the fifth- (Bishop Guertin) and fourth-seeded (Londonderry) teams in the tournament,” said Central head coach Dave “Doc” Wheeler. “Believe me, there’s no way we’re taking them lightly.”
In the 6 p.m. semifinal, it’s a matchup of the last two championship teams: defending state champion and second-ranked Trinity (19-1) against 2012 champ and third-ranked Merrimack (18-2).
Wheeler, in his 14th season at the helm, has taken his program to the semifinals 10 times. His program is trying to become the second Central team since Tyler Roche and the 2006 team to finish with an undefeated championship season.
Wheeler stressed Sunday night his team has forgotten about its 83-43 blowout win at home against Memorial on Feb. 11.
“Two things,” said Wheeler. “Memorial is a different team now than the one we beat in the regular season. The second thing is Kabongo Ngalakulondi didn’t play against us in that game. Believe me, he’s a game-changer.”
Wheeler said Memorial coach Jack Quirk deserves “tons of credit for turning their season around. That team is talented and he and coach (assistant Mark) Telge have got them playing really well right now. We have to guard them and guard them well.”
Central’s starting five of Dawson Dickson, Brett Hanson, Jon Martin, Joey Martin and Tyler Kelley is formidable, but Memorial will also have to contend with a strong bench led by Mike Plentzas, Jaylen Murchison, Nate Guillermo.
Memorial will counter with Trevon Maughn, who scored 32 points against Londonderry on Friday night. “Our kids have been focused all year and we’re not looking back at that last Memorial game,” said Wheeler. “The stakes are a lot higher (tonight). We’re going to show up to play and I’m sure they will too.”
Wheeler said his team has dedicated its season to former Pinkerton and Goffstown head coach Tony Carnovale, who has cancer and is at Green Briar Rehab Center on 55 Harris Road in Nashua.
“He’s been a figurehead for high school basketball in our state for many years. He’s won state championships and he’s done a lot for kids in our state. I’m just praying for him each day, hoping he’ll bounce back strong.”
Under 11-year head coach Goodridge, Merrimack is making its sixth semifinal appearance. In that span, the Tomahawks have won three state titles, the last one coming in 2012. They are 11-3 overall in Durham.
Eric Gendron, Shayne Bourque, Mike Gasper, Mike Conlin, Austin Franzen led Merrimack (16-2) to a third-place finish.
Goodridge called Trinity “an outstanding team. Look, they’re the defending state champions and they have players back from last year’s team including (Carmen) Giampetruzzi, who is simply a stud. He’s a man among boys, a three-sport standout. To me, he’s the key to the game.”
Merrimack lost to Trinity 62-57 in Manchester on Feb. 14. Gendron was limited to 12 points in that game.
“Eric got called for three fouls in the first three minutes of that game and sat out most of the first half,” said Goodridge. “Bourque (18 points in that game) played with four fouls. We have to stay out of foul trouble and we have to keep Gendron on the floor. With Giampetruzzi and (Wenyen) Gabriel in the middle, I don’t see us pounding the ball inside. But we’re playing on a bigger floor and that gives us an opportunity to spread out our offense and create good shots.”
Goodridge pointed out Trinity has lost just two games in two years. “Central got them this year and we were fortunate to beat them last year,” said Goodridge. “Just shows you what we’re up against (today).”