The 2014-15 winter season was a campaign packed with impressive firsts for the Londonderry High School boys’ varsity basketball team. And second-year coach Nate Stanton’s Lancers capped off the season by winding up as the undefeated, Division I champions last weekend.
The Lancers snared the first title in the nearly 40-year history of their program by surviving a hardcore challenge from the third-seeded rival Pinkerton Academy Astros in a 47-46 edging of that opponent in the championship battle in the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium before a standing-room-only crowd Saturday, March 21.
The Astros, who last won a state championship in 2010, led by one point with 48 seconds remaining in the final game. But sophomore forward Brandon Radford sank a lay-up to put the Lancers up 47-46, and the score never changed, despite Pinkerton’s efforts to regain the lead.
Pinkerton did well in its effort to minimize the effectiveness of LHS senior guard – and recently-named Division I Player of the Year – Cody Ball in the title game. But Londonderry had too many weapons to be denied, with senior center Marc Corey tallying a game-high 17 points and sophomore guard Jake Coleman collecting 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. The new state champs also got six points and seven boards from senior forward Joey Kwiatkowski.
“Everyone has stepped up all year for us, and that’s the best,” said Stanton. “That’s what you need to get this far, and I’m very proud of all of them.”
Saint Anselm College-bound star guard Ball – whose dad, Jimmy, played on the first LHS boys’ hoop team to reach UNH for a tourney contest in 1983 – dealt with foul trouble and a lot of defensive attention in the title game. He finished with an uncharacteristic five points but also dealt out three assists and got five rebounds.
“I could care less about my points or rebounds or anything. We did this as a team. This is a team accomplishment, just like the whole season has been a team accomplishment,” he said.
Stanton has had huge praise for Ball and his teammates during the season, and the skilled senior guard returned compliments to his mentor after the championship win.
“Coach Stanton deserves so much credit. He works hard, makes sure we work hard, and has us prepared to play every game. He has done a great job,” said Ball.
Londonderry ran into trouble during the first quarter of the title game when it committed a handful of turnovers on simple infractions like traveling violations.
Guards Ball of Londonderry and Matt Rizzo of Pinkerton were whistled for two fouls apiece during the first eight minutes, giving both coaches concern.
But the Lancers owned the second quarter, outscoring the Astros by a 26-12 tally to roll into halftime with a 32-22 lead.
The two teams combined for seven, three-point baskets during the second period, with Corey nailing two and Coleman sinking two.
But PA put on a defensive show – with plenty of timely offense as well – in the third quarter in outscoring Londonderry by a 13-5 tally to head into the fourth quarter trailing by just a bucket at 37-35.
The Astros attacked the basketball throughout those eight minutes, making it tough for the Lancers to even get as far as the three-point line.
Londonderry managed to take only two shots – both misses – during the first four minutes of the third stanza, and the Lancers watched their opponent net the first 13 points of the quarter before Kwiatkowski nailed a three-pointer with just 1:20 to go in the period to knot the score at 35-35 after PA had snagged a small lead.
Corey’s late bucket put the Lancers back up at 37-35, and that’s where the score stood as the fans of both squads readied themselves for an intense final eight minutes of action, and possibly even an overtime session.
Londonderry maintained modest leads through most of the first four minutes of the final stanza, but PA sophomore point guard Geo Baker – who netted 33 points in his team’s semifinal win over Nashua North – sank a big trey with 4:15 to go to put the Astros up 42-41.
The score would then change hands a handful of times before Brandon Radford’s clutch, game-winning bucket in the last minute.
At halftime of its semifinal battle with fourth-seeded Spaulding of Rochester at UNH Tuesday, March 17, it didn’t look like a sure thing that the Lancers would even be advancing to the championship contest and keeping their undefeated season alive.
Both teams had troubles hitting shots in the first quarter, but Londonderry was poised to roll into the second period with at least a small lead before Spaulding guard Darian Berry sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to knot the score at 11-11.
And the Red Raiders used that bucket as a springboard to a fairly solid lead in period two, with the Rochester crew reeling off an 11-2 run in the first five minutes to go up 22-13. And when that stanza was over, the number four seed grasped a 29-21 lead and Lancers’ star senior guard Ball only had two points.
Londonderry outscored its opponent by a 16-13 tally in the third quarter, but the locals still found themselves facing a deficit (42-37) as the fourth period began.
Tri-captains Ball, Corey, and Kwiatkowski helped their side to 21 big points in the fourth – while they and their fellow defenders held the Red Raiders to just nine – as the undefeated locals roared to the 58-51 win and into the D-I title contest.
Jake Coleman, who had 10 of the Lancers’ 21 first-half points, finished as the team’s top scorer with 19 and also as his squad’s the top rebounder with eight boards. Kwiatkowski contributed 16 points, Ball wound up with 10, and Corey was good for eight.