HAMPTON — With a visit from neighboring rival and defending Division I champion Exeter on the horizon, the Winnacunnet High School boys’ basketball team faced a dangerous trap game against Salem on Tuesday night
The Warriors didn’t fall into that trap, and now they can embrace the chance of snapping Exeter’s 30-game Division I win streak.
Winnacunnet forced 10 turners and jumped out to a 17-9 lead through the first quarter on its way to a 69-52 victory. Junior forward Brett Marelli led Winnacunnet (7-3) with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Hayes Wadell (14 points), Lucas Schaake (13) and James O’Hara (10) also reached double-digit scoring.
“Exeter is obviously a good team and we’ve been waiting since the beginning of the season to play them, but Salem came first. That was our game plan, to do well against Salem and then move onto Exeter,” Marelli said. “Our first half was very good. We ran what we wanted to run in our game plan. In the third quarter, we slowed down a bit, but I thought in the fourth quarter we picked it back up again.”
Conor Considine gave Winnacunnet a 10-4 lead midway through the first quarter, which was followed by a Marrelli putback and a Joe Allen hoop that extended Winnacunnet’s lead to 10 points.
“It’s always a tricky game. We always try to keep them focused on the game before Exeter, but I thought we did some things really well,” Winnacunnet coach Jay McKenna said. “I thought we scored, we made some open shots for each other. I was very pleased with the effort and proud of the outcome.”
Salem’s Trevor DeMinico scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, which included a jumper that brought Salem (5-6) to within 23-16 midway through the second quarter.
Winnacunnet responded with a 11-0 run to close out the first half that began with a Waddell bucket and ended with a putback and 3-pointer by Marelli to send the Warriors into halftime with a 34-16 lead.
“If you want to beat good teams, you’ve got to be ready when the ball goes up,” Salem coach Rob McLaughlin said. “I didn’t think we played as well in the first half as we could have. I thought our energy was a little low.”
Salem outscored Winnacunnet 20-18 in the third quarter, and opened the fourth with an 8-2 run that included a Tyler Valerio 3-pointer that brought the Blue Devils within 54-46. Schaake countered with a pair of hoops, and a Marelli steal led to a O’Hara layup to give Winnacunnet a 60-44 lead midway through the fourth.
“We slipped a little bit, but we got back where we needed to in that stretch,” Marelli said.
This will be Marelli’s first experience playing in the Exeter game, and he can’t wait for the atmosphere.
“It should be fun, they’ll be a lot of people, and we’ll be focused the next few days at practice,” Marelli. “I think we’re ready. We’ve got a good unit and we got the chemistry down.”
McKenna has spent the majority of three decades getting ready for Exeter, as a player, assistant coach, and now for the 15th time as head coach.
“The pressure is on them, it’s not on us,” McKenna said. “We’re the underdog in this thing, but we like where we are. The kids are confident and looking forward to the challenge.”