No, it’s not at all normal for there to be New Hampshire high school boys’ basketball tournament games on Jan. 23.
In truth, the Granite State’s high school hoop playoffs don’t start until March, but anybody who witnessed the undefeated Londonderry High boys’ basketball squad’s barn-burner of a road game against the tough Merrimack High Tomahawks Friday night, Jan. 23, will assure you that every moment of that regular-season contest felt like a high-pressure, tournament battle.
The two squads started the contest with every bit the intensity one would expect to see in a win-or-go-home tourney game, and that feverish level of play didn’t waver much until the final buzzer sounded and the host Tomahawks missed the final shot of the night as they attempted to overcome a tiny, 52-51 Londonderry lead.
Coach Nate Stanton’s now 6-0 Lancers led at the close of each quarter on the way to the 52-51 victory, but nobody in the joint could have thought they had the game under control at any juncture because veteran coach Tim Goodridge’s now 4-3 Merrimack guys never surrendered an inch and kept battling literally up until that final buzzer blared.
The loss ended a three- game winning streak for the home-standing Tomahawks.
“I knew it was going to be a good battle,” said Stanton. “I knew they were a tough team, a well-coached team, and this challenge was good for us. A playoff atmosphere is something we really need to experience.”
Stanton was concerned that his crew would be rusty going into this much-anticipated game after having gone 13 days without playing a contest.
The Lancers didn’t look like a team that had undergone a long layoff until the third quarter, when their usually steady shooting hands grew shaky on a bunch of high-percentage shots.
Hot-shooting guards Cody Ball and Jake Coleman led the locals to a 15-14 lead after one quarter and a 34-28 advantage at the close of the first half, but the Lancers never enjoyed a lead larger than six points during those two stanzas.
Merrimack netted eight of the first 10 points scored in the third period as Londonderry struggled with its shooting and the hosts clamped down on defense, but the Lancers still managed to work their way back to a slim lead (40-39) by the end of the third.
The Tomahawks didn’t even get a shot off during the first 2:10 of the fourth quarter, but the LHS squad was unable to pull away.
The hosts claimed a 43-42 lead with five minutes left, and that advantage soon grew to a modest three points before Cody Ball nailed a three-pointer that knotted the score at 45-45 with 3:58 left and brought a Merrimack timeout.
The teams then exchanged the lead and got knotted up at 47-47 and 49-49 before Londonderry senior forward Marc Corey sank a three ball that put Londonderry up 52-49, with 1:25 showing on the game clock.
The host Tomahawks managed to get back within a point of the lead on a bucket with 14.1 seconds left, but the score wouldn’t change again.
Merrimack senior guard Austin Franzen lofted a high shot up off the top left corner of the backboard, and a Lancer and a Tomahawk battled for the loose ball as that final buzzer sounded.
Ball, who scored 13 points in the first half, finished the evening with a game-high 18. Coleman, who had 11 at the half, wound up with 15. And Corey, who bagged a half dozen points during the opening half, finished up with 13 including that game-winning trey.
The Lancers didn’t exactly have an easy time of it in their 75-67 defeat of the Nashua South Purple Panthers at LHS this past Monday, Jan. 26, but it wasn’t quite as much of a nail-biter as the nipping of Merrimack had been.
The hosts advanced their season record to 7-0 with the win, with South slipping to 3-5.
The Nashuans led by one point at the end of one period (13-12), but the Lancers outscored their guests by a big 19-8 tally in quarter two to carry a 31-21 advantage to halftime.
Both offenses were plenty prolific during the second half, with South netting 46 points and the victorious hosts collecting 44.
Cody Ball scored 22 (with four, three-pointers), Marc Corey was good for 21, Jake Coleman contributed 18 points, and Brandon Radford notched 14.
The team will be tested again Jan. 28 when they host the 2-6 Salem Blue Devils, and on Jan. 30 they travel to Winnacunnet to play the 3-4 Warriors. On Feb. 4 the boys will face the Tomahawks agian at home.
Next Friday night, Feb. 6, both the girls and boys squads will visit their rivals at Pinkerton Academy. The Astro boys currently have a 7-1 Division 1 record.