PLYMOUTH - A furious second half comeback gave Epping High School its first boys' basketball title since 1992 as the Blue Devils defeated Sunapee, 74-70, in the Div. IV championship game at Plymouth State University on Saturday.
The third-seeded Blue Devils (19-3) erased a 13-point halftime deficit using the strength of senior Jimmy Stanley's 20 points in the second half in the win over No. 4 Sunapee.
Stanley, who sat the entire second quarter with foul trouble, found Chandler Brissette in the lane for the go-ahead bucket with 20 seconds left on the clock. Stanley scored a game-high 26 points on 11 of 19 shooting in leading Epping to its fourth boys' basketball championship.
"I was just trying to make the right play," said Stanley of his game-deciding assist. "I wasn't expecting a double-team from Sunapee but when it came I saw Chandler wide open. We are a team who can go to multiple guys and we kept grinding it out today."
Sunapee (18-4), which led by as many as 17 points in the first half, had a chance to tie or win with the final shot but came up short. Two Stanley free throws with three seconds left sealed the deal for the Blue Devils.
"He (Stanley) made some incredible plays especially in the third quarter," said Sunapee head coach Ed Tenney. "He is just a great player who made plays. It was the kind of game you want to play in and I thought we had our chances. Give Epping credit as they made more plays down the stretch than we did."
An 18-4 run midway through the second stanza gave Sunapee a comfortable 42-27 lead. That charge was led by a pair of 3-pointers and a layup by Laker sophomore Issiah Chappell. A steal and lay-in by Epping's Dylan Derosier closed the gap to 44-31 going into the break.
Sunapee hit six 3-pointers (6-14) before the intermission.
"I told our guys during a timeout to keep it to within twenty," Epping head coach Sean Young said of the halftime deficit. "At the end of the third we were only down five (52-47) and I said 'Guys, it is like a zero-zero ballgame now.' All season long we never panicked in any situation and we never doubted ourselves in this one either."
The game began with a blistering pace, both teams scoring at will in an up and down fashion. Two drives to the rim by Chappell and some terrific inside-out play by senior James Fitzgerald led the Lakers to a quick 24-17 advantage after the first quarter.
With Stanley on the bench with three fouls, Chappell continued to light up the scoreboard, connecting on eight of his team-high 18 points in the second quarter. A steal and lay-in by Sunapee's Nick Skarin gave the Lakers their largest lead of the afternoon.
Stanley led a quick 12-4 run out of the intermission, hitting for eight points in the first three minutes of the second half. A 3-pointer by Jesse Stiffler shifted momentum back to Sunapee briefly, but Stanley was able to grab an offensive rebound and drop in another shot, leaving Epping only down five going into the final frame.
"I wanted to prove a point in the third quarter," said Stanley. "Sitting on the bench in the second quarter lit a fire in me and I wanted to show my teammates that they could trust me."
A pair of free throws by Fitzgerald upped the advantage to eight, 64-56, with three minutes remaining. Epping battled back and finally got its first lead (68-67) since early in the first quarter after Aziz Zerguine finished off an old-fashioned three-point play with 1:33 showing on the clock.
A Matt Tenney free throw knotted the game at 68, but Stanley came right back with a baseline drive that gave Epping the lead. Not to be outdone, Tenney drove the lane on the ensuing possession and hit an acrobatic shot that tied the score at 70 apiece.
"It was a great, great game," said Young, who is in his first year with the Blue Devils. "Even in the fourth quarter when we were down we were getting good looks. We just needed a couple of stops and we got them. Stanley was the calming influence for us today, a guy on the court that can calm everyone down and make plays."
Fitzgerald recorded a double-double, scoring 15 points and hauling in a game-high 11 boards. Sophomores Stiffler and Tenney recorded 12 and nine points respectively, while senior Alex Gioldassiss added eight points.
Epping junior Brett Couture scored 14 points and added 10 rebounds to aid in the winning cause. Jacob West scored eight points and Zerquine, Derosier and Nick Padgett each had six points.
"We have seven or eight guys who can start on any team," said Young. "I know we are losing some key guys to graduation, but I think we will be good again next year. We have some good, young players who are ready to step into key roles."