DOVER — With a tough week ahead, the Winnacunnet High School boys’ basketball team approached Friday night’s trip to Seacoast rival Dover as a game it had to win while the Green Wave’s motivation was to break a three-game losing streak
The Warriors of Hampton didn’t give Dover many second chances to snap that skid.
Winnacunnet grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in a first half that finished with a 10-0 run to break a 20-20 tie. The Warriors held Dover scoreless for an 8:34 stretch that carried into the third quarter on the way to a 59-45 Division I victory.
“We just came off a tough loss against Keene and we wanted to come out strong against Dover, because we know we’re going to have a tough week next week with Exeter and Salem. We just wanted to get a win under our belts,” Winnacunnet junior point guard James O’Hara said. “We talk about boxing out a lot in practice and on Friday (against Keene) we got outrebounded a little bit, so we wanted to come out tonight and outrebound them. We knew if we got rebounds, we’d have a lot of second-chance points.”
The Warriors’ five-game winning streak ended with last Friday’s 63-60 loss at Keene. Winnacunnet (6-3) hosts last year’s Division I runner-up, Salem, next Tuesday and undefeated defending champion — and No.1 rival — Exeter on Friday.
O’Hara grabbed six rebounds to go with his team-high 17 points while Hayes Waddell and Lucas Schaake led Winnacunnet with eight rebounds apiece. Winnacunnet junior forward Brett Marelli added 15 points.
“They killed us on the boards. They had 19 offensive rebounds,” Dover coach Matt Fennessy said. “We didn’t score for over six minutes in the second quarter. We were down 20-9 and pulled even about two minutes into the second quarter and didn’t score. We had bad, bad turnovers, but just got killed on the boards.”
Dover (4-5) trailed 20-12 when Kingsley Breen (24 points) opened the second quarter with a hoop and a pair of 3-pointers to tie the game at 20-20 with 6:23 left in the half. That was the last Green Wave basket until Breen scored with 5:51 left in the third quarter.
Winnacunnet outscored Dover 14-0 in between as it forced 13 turnovers in the first half. Marelli gave Winnacunnet a 26-20 lead with three minutes left in the second quarter, and putbacks by Waddell and O’Hara gave Winnacunnet at 30-20 halftime lead.
“The thing about our kids tonight is that they didn’t lose their composure,” Winnacunnet coach Jay McKenna said. “They know (Breen) is a great player, they know he’s going to score, they know he’s going to hit big shots. But it didn’t faze our kids. We continued to execute on both ends, hit some big shots, and took care of it.”
Winnacunnet built its lead to 34-20 before Dover finally broke its scoring drought and closed within 36-28 on Sam Krick’s 3-pointer with 3:17 left in the third.
O’Hara, who played sparingly as a sophomore, has emerged as the fearless heart of the Warriors. His 3-pointer late in the third helped pad a 43-33 Winnacunnet lead entering the fourth.
“Over the summer I just worked hard, wanted to get my starting spot this year, get some wins, and work hard for my team,” O’Hara said. “I always just come in with a lot of energy and give my best to my team.”
From the opening of practice, McKenna noticed that O’Hara came into the season ready to embrace his enhanced role.
O’Hara countered a Breen 3-pointer with a trey of his own to give Winnacunnet a 52-40 lead early in the fourth.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete. He does things every day that wow us as coaches,” McKenna said. “He’s a fiery competitor and fearless. He’s just a different kind of athlete and wildly creative.”