After his team beat second-seeded Trinity of Manchester in Monday’s Division I semifinals, Merrimack High School boys’ basketball coach Tim Goodridge was asked which team he’d like to face in this year’s championship game: top-seeded Manchester Central or No. 12 Manchester Memorial?
Goodridge praised both teams, but didn’t give the politically-correct answer.
“They’re both excellent teams,” Goodridge said. “But down deep we want to play Central, because they beat us.”
The Tomahawks will get another crack at the Little Green, because Central knocked off Memorial, 99-91 in double overtime, in Monday’s second semifinal. Merrimack, the tournament’s third seed, will face Central in today’s Division I championship game (noon) at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium.
Central (21-0) beat Merrimack (19-2), 62-59, in Manchester during the regular season. Senior guard Eric Gendron, Merrimack’s top scorer, fouled out with 4:19 to play and Central leading by nine, but the Tomahawks were within one with 42 seconds to play.
Merrimack point guard Austin Franzen tossed in 17 points that night. Brett Hanson and Joey Martin each scored 21 for Central.
“They are not a one-man team,” Central coach Doc Wheeler said. “Franzen, (Shayne) Bourque, (Dylan) Richardson — they have a lot of kids who contribute. We have a huge challenge in front of us.”
If Wheeler has been losing sleep this week it’s probably because he’s uncertain what type of defense, or defenses, Merrimack will throw at Central today.
Merrimack played a combination of man, zone and triangle-and-two during its 58-46 triumph over Trinity. The Pioneers are the only other team that beat the Tomahawks during the regular season.
Merrimack held Trinity forward Carmen Giampetruzzi to two points in Monday’s victory. Giampetruzzi scored 24 when Trinity beat Merrimack 62-57 earlier this year. Trinity shot 33 percent (16 for 48) from the field in Monday’s loss.
“We’re mostly a man team, but we’ve been playing a lot of zone lately and it’s really been working well — that 1-2-2,” Goodridge said. “Credit my assistant coach, Mike Gasper. He came up here from New Jersey and wanted me to play it seven, eight years ago, but I wouldn’t listen to him. Now I’m finally listening to my defensive specialist.
“We’ve had that in our pocket for years. We haven’t used it a lot, but lately we’ve been using it because we’ve been playing some teams that are a little quicker than us, and able to penetrate on us.”
Central’s defense wasn’t nearly as effective in its victory over Memorial. The Crusaders shot 65.4 percent from the field in the first half, and 48.3 percent in the second half.
Memorial didn’t have a hard time scoring until after point guard Trevon Maughn fouled out in the fourth quarter. The Crusaders missed 16 of their 20 field goal attempts in the two overtimes.
“(Merrimack) certainly defended better than we did.” Wheeler said. “We’ll need a better effort.”
The Division IV boys’ championship game features the two highest-scoring teams in the division. Fourth-seeded Sunapee (18-3) is averaging 72.5 points per contest, and third-seeded Epping is averaging 68.1 points per game.
“They use four guards and they’re an outstanding 3-point shooting team,” Epping coach Sean Young said. “They’re looking to get the game up in the 80s.”
Epping and Sunapee will meet today (noon) at Plymouth State University. It will be the third game between the teams this season. Epping won 56-51 in Epping; and Sunapee won 92-69 in Sunapee.Jimmy Stanley, Epping’s leading scorer, did not play in the loss to Sunapee. Stanley, a 6-foot-3 guard/forward, is averaging 22.7 points, 14 rebounds and five assists per game.
Stanley is complemented at the offensive end by junior center Brett Couture, who is averaging 14.6 points and seven rebounds per game; and sophomore guard Colby Wilson, who is averaging 12 points per game.
Epping is seeking its first state title since 1992. Sunapee has never won a state championship.
“I’d prefer a higher-scoring game,” Young said. “I feel our depth can cause them problems. Their rotation is really six guys. I go 10 to 11 deep.”
Roger Brown covers high school basketball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @603SportsMedia.