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NHIAA D-I Boys' Hoop Final: Can Dover pull off one more upset?

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 15. 2018 11:14PM
Dover fans go wild as the game ends against Exeter with a 68-66 win during NHIAA Division I Boys Basketball Semifinals held at UNH in Durham on Wednesday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

DURHAM — When the Portsmouth High School and Dover High School boys’ basketball teams tangled inside Portsmouth’s Stone Gym in December, there probably wasn’t anyone in attendance who expected those teams to meet in this year’s Division I championship game.

Portsmouth had plenty of talent left over from last year’s championship team and was on the short list of contenders this season, but Dover? The Green Wave weren’t on anyone’s radar.

Portsmouth pulled away from Dover in the fourth quarter of that regular-season meeting to chalk up a 63-44 victory, but Dover will get a second shot at the Clippers when the teams face one another in Saturday’s Division I title game at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym (noon).

Dover (11-10) dropped to 0-2 following that loss to Portsmouth and turned in a mediocre 8-10 record during the regular season, but the postseason has been a different story. Dover, the tournament’s No. 11 seed, upset No. 6 Londonderry in the first round, beat third-seeded Bedford in the quarterfinals and knocked off second-seeded Exeter in Wednesday night’s semifinals.

“We’ve fought through a lot of adversity this season and it’s been an emotional roller coaster,” said Dover’s Tyler Vitko, who tossed in a game-high 25 points in the semifinal victory against Exeter. “It’s all mindset. We knew from the beginning of the year we had playmakers and we have five guys on the floor who outmatch most teams in the state. We came together at the right time this year.”

Portsmouth (18-2) secured the tournament’s No. 1 seed and earned a bye for the first round. The Clippers’ path to the championship game included postseason victories over eighth-seeded Winnacunnet in the quarterfinals and fifth-seeded Manchester Central in the semifinals. Junior forward Alex Tavares scored a game-high 23 points in Wednesday night’s 50-45 triumph over the Little Green.

“The fact that they’re in the championship, that’s really a Cinderella story,” Tavares said. “I didn’t expect it.

“They’re athletic. I’m on Ty Vitko’s AAU team so I know everything about him. They’re good. Devin Cady … very good. Johnny Cantwell … very athletic. It’ll be a good game.

As good a story as Dover’s run to the championship game is, Cady’s story might be a better one. Cady, a senior guard, scored a game-high 25 points in Dover’s 62-58 first-round victory over Londonderry. Earlier that day his father, David Cady, passed away following an illness at age 51.

Cady then scored a team-high 13 points in Dover’s 45-43 triumph against Bedford, and 19 in Wednesday’s 68-66 win against Exeter.

“They’re playing so different right now,” Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey said. “It’s like night and day. You can see that they’re on a mission. Teams that are tough for you when you play our defense are teams that have multiple guys who can score. That’s why they’re beating people now — they have multiple options. They’re playing with a purpose.”

Portsmouth is seeking its third straight state championship. The Clippers won the Division II title in 2016 before moving up to Division I the following year. Portsmouth beat Bedford in last year’s Division I championship game.

Portsmouth made 10 3-pointers during its victory over Dover during the regular season. Dover was within three points, 40-37, after three quarters, but the Clippers opened the fourth on an 11-0 run.

Portsmouth received a game-high 16 points from senior guard Cody Graham and 15 from Tavares in that contest. Vitko (12) and Cady (11) were Dover’s leading scorers.

Dover is seeking its first championship since 1977, when, ironically, it beat Portsmouth for the Class L (top division) title. Dover’s last trip to the championship game came in 2005, which resulted in a 48-43 loss to Central in the Class L final.

“I’m just so proud of this group,” Dover coach Matt Fennessy said. “The seniors believed that this was possible from Day 1. We went through some ups and downs, but they responded. This is great.”

The Green Wave will be a significant underdog in Saturday’s matchup, but that’s probably a role Dover has grown comfortable with by now.

“They have nothing to lose,” Mulvey said. “This is all gravy for them … and you can see they’re playing like that. They’re just on a roll.”

NHIAA Dover Portsmouth