The defending Division I state basketball champions will share their titles this season.
The Exeter High boys and the Bishop Guertin of Nashua girls, whose quests for another crown were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, were declared 2019-20 co-champs by the NHIAA on Monday. The Blue Hawks will share the title with Portsmouth while the Cardinals will share the championship with Goffstown.
The announcement comes a week after the league made the decision to cancel all remaining games in the winter postseason tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic with champions determined by whomever was the highest remaining seed on each side of the bracket.
The rest of the basketball teams still alive prior to the cancellation were given the distinction of runners-up.
All four ice hockey tournaments had reached their finals, resulting in co-champs for each: Concord and Berlin-Gorham for the girls, Concord and Bedford for Division I boys, Keene and St. Thomas for Division II boys, and Berlin-Gorham and Kennett for Division III boys.
After defeating Salem in last year’s championship game, the Exeter boys’ basketball team now has a hand in back-to-back titles while Portsmouth returns to the top after winning three straight titles from 2016-18. The Clippers won the Division II title in 2016 before making the leap to Division I the following year.
“It’s obviously new territory but I’m glad the NHIAA recognized teams,” Exeter coach Jeff Holmes said. “They could have easily left it vacant but I’m glad they didn’t do that. I know it’s not easy for them because the tournaments weren’t finished. We were the No. 1 seed and we did beat (Portsmouth) during the regular season, but I know it was a tough decision.
“I’m happy that they recognized us. We still are champions and we’ll act like champions.”
Exeter finished the regular season with a 17-1 record to earn the top seed and a first-round bye in the tournament. The Blue Hawks were slated to play No. 9 Nashua South in the quarterfinals before the tournament was ultimately canceled. Portsmouth earned the No. 2 seed with a 16-2 regular-season record and defeated No. 15 Manchester Central, 69-54, in the opening round.
Portsmouth would have played No. 10 Alvirne — one of six runners-up — in the quarterfinals.
In addition to South and Alvirne, No. 3 Nashua North, No. 5 Keene, No. 6 Merrimack, and No. 13 Salem were named runners-up. Salem upset No. 4 Bishop Guertin, 46-44, in the first round.
BG becomes the fourth team in NHIAA girls’ basketball history to have a hand in five straight championships. Nashua South (Class L, 1985-89), Groveton (Class S, 1999-2003), and Winnacunnet (Class L/Division I, 2007-11) are the other three programs to accomplish that.
“It’s probably not the way anybody would want to have their season end but, like I said to the kids when I sent them the note, the NHIAA is trying to make the best of a tough situation,” BG coach Brad Kreick said. “Nobody’s going to be particularly happy with any of this right now and that’s just the nature of it. I don’t think it takes away from anything that they did this year. They had a tremendous year and for our seniors it’s hard to imagine how they could have had a more successful four years, even though none of them feel the finish was the way they had hoped.
“It’s bittersweet. I think (our seniors) were very much looking forward to competing for what for them would have been their fourth straight (championship). That’s a pretty unique thing to be able to accomplish and I know it was something they were very focused on down the stretch.”
The Cardinals finished the regular season 17-1 to earn the top seed and first-round bye and were set to play No. 4 Bedford in the semifinals after beating No. 8 Concord in the quarterfinals.
For Goffstown, it’s the program’s first hand in a state championship since the Grizzlies won the Class I (the letter, not the Roman numeral) title in 1988. Their most recent appearance in a championship game came in 2015 when they were still in Division II. Goffstown ultimately lost that game to Coe-Brown, 50-46.
The No. 6 seed, Goffstown finished the regular season with a 12-6 record and went on to beat No. 11 Portsmouth, 44-32, and No. 3 Manchester Memorial, 53-50, in the first and quarterfinal rounds, respectively. The Grizzlies were set to play No. 10 Londonderry in the semifinals.
Londonderry was the hottest team in the division entering the tournament, winning its last six regular-season games after starting the year with a 5-8 record. The Lancers went on to upset No. 7 Pinkerton, 46-43, and No. 2 Merrimack, 49-37, in the first two rounds.
Bedford and Londonderry were named the runners-up in girls’ Division I.
No. 1 ConVal and No. 2 Bow were named co-champions in boys’ Division II with No. 3 Pelham, No. 4 Hollis/Brookline, No. 5 Hanover, No. 6 Lebanon, No. 7 Kennett, and No. 9 Oyster River being the runners-up.
No. 1 Gilford and No. 2 Mascenic Regional were named co-champions in Division III after reaching the title game with the same being the case for No. 1 Littleton and No. 2 Newmarket in Division IV.
No. 3 Spaulding and No. 4 Lebanon were named co-champions in girls’ Division II.
Conant and Colebrook Academy were fortunate enough to be able to play out the Division III and Division IV championships, respectively, as the tournaments finished before cancellations.