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High School Basketball: Patience a virtue for Div. III boys finalists St. Thomas, Conant

Feb. 22—BASED on the regular-season result, this year's NHIAA Division III boys basketball championship game might be a race to 40 points.

Conant beat St. Thomas Aquinas 39-35 when the teams met in Dover on Dec. 21. The rematch between the top-seeded Orioles (19-1) and the second-seeded Saints (18-1) will take place Saturday (8 p.m.) at Keene State College.

"Probably somewhere in the upper 30s, 40 points," Conant guard Manny Hodgson said when he was asked how many points it will take to win Saturday. "Defense is the most important part for us, then taking our time on offense."

St. Thomas led Conant 35-34 after three quarters of that December meeting, but the Orioles held the Saints scoreless over the final eight minutes. St. Thomas guard Cole McClure scored 15 points in the loss.

"I remember we didn't shoot great, and we came out hesitant," St. Thomas forward Will Mollica said. "They went up on us 6-0 just like that. That's what lost us the game. We didn't match their aggression.

"People say they play slow, but they don't play slow on defense. They move their feet, they get steals and that's why they win games."

Conant advanced to Saturday's championship game by beating fourth-seeded Kearsarge 35-30 in Tuesday's semifinals. Kearsarge was held to 18 points in the first three quarters before it scored 12 in the fourth. The Cougars handed the Orioles their only loss during the regular season (28-26).

Junior Jared Nagle led Conant with 13 points Tuesday. He didn't play in the regular-season loss to Kearsarge because of an ankle injury. Hodgson and Jordan Nagle, Jared's older brother, each finished with eight.

St. Thomas coach Dave Morissette said one of the keys for his team will be taking Conant out of its comfort zone on offense by making the Orioles play at a faster pace than they would like.

"Conant is the most patient team in the state," Morissette said. "And they're the best defensive team in the state of New Hampshire. You have to be mentally tough to go toe-to-toe with them for 32 minutes.

"We're gonna play as hard as we can. We're in the championship game. What more can you ask for?"

St. Thomas earned a spot in the championship game by beating third-seeded Mascoma 57-38 in Tuesday's first semifinal. James Allen scored a team-high 15 points in the win. McClure tossed in 11, and Mollica finished with 10.

"I'd like to score 65 and hold them to 40," Conant coach Eric Saucier said. "I have two basketball players, a lot of baseball players and some track kids. You do what you gotta do to make it work. What we're good at is we have athletes, so we press, try to wear you down and then execute our offense and try to get good shots. All our games aren't pretty, but what matters is if you win."

Three of a kind?

Second-seeded Hopkinton (15-3) will attempt to beat fourth-seeded Kearsarge (14-5) for the third time this season when the Hawks and Cougars meet Saturday in the Division III girls championship game. That matchup will also take place at Keene State College (5 p.m.).

Hopkinton beat Kearsarge 44-32 on Dec. 21 and 44-40 on Jan. 5. The Hawks reached the final by defeating third-seeded Winnisquam 51-33 in Wednesday's semifinals. Kearsarge upset top-seeded St. Thomas 52-44 in Wednesday's other semifinal.

Plenty to play for

Friday night's games will mark the end of the regular season in Division I. Here are some of the things still at stake:

—The Division I boys tournament will feature 15 teams and the No. 1 seed will receive a first-round bye. Pinkerton (16-1) will earn the bye if it defeats Merrimack (8-9). Bedford (16-1) will get the bye if Pinkerton loses and the Bulldogs beat Salem (6-11).

—Goffstown (7-10), Memorial (7-10) and Central (7-10) are tied for 14th place, and no more than two of those three teams will qualify for the tournament. All three teams are on the road Friday night. Goffstown plays at Alvirne (9-8), Memorial will travel to Londonderry (8-9) and Central will be at Spaulding (5-12). In terms of head-to-head results (the first tiebreaker), Central beat both Goffstown and Memorial; Memorial beat Goffstown but lost to Central; and Goffstown lost to both teams. Things get much more complicated if Salem (6-11) upsets Bedford Friday night and is involved in a three-team or four-team tie since Salem did not play Central during the regular season.

—The Division I girls tournament will include 14 teams and the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will each receive a bye. Bedford (17-0) will be the No. 1 seed, and Pinkerton (16-1) will be seeded No. 2. The Bulldogs and Astros were both set to wrap up the regular season Thursday night.

—The Nashua North (7-10) and Concord (7-10) girls are tied for the final playoff spot, and the Titans beat the Crimson Tide during the regular season. Concord plays Dover (11-6) tonight, while North faces Winnacunnet (1-16).

—All three Division I girls teams from Manchester have been eliminated from tournament contention.

Noteworthy

Memorial's NyAisa McKelvey had 12 points, 18 rebounds and 11 blocked shots during a 47-33 loss to Exeter last Friday. ...

Concord Christian (16-1) has clinched the only bye for the Division II girls tournament, which will have 15 teams. ....

Pelham (No. 1), Hanover (No. 2), Pembroke (No. 3) and Coe-Brown (No. 4) will be the top four seeds for the 14-team Division II boys tournament. Pelham and Hanover have earned the two byes. ... Pelham's Dom Herrling scored 24 points, including the 1,000th point of his career, during Monday's 58-37 victory over Timberlane. Herrling, a running back in the fall, is the only player in school history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season and have at least 1,000 career points. ...

Alvirne boys coach Leo Gershgorin resigned Tuesday night before Alvirne's 69-60 loss to Bedford. The Broncos, who had won five of their last six entering the Bedford game, have clinched a tournament berth.

rbrown@unionleader.com