(Durham NH) Neither team was supposed to be there.
Portsmouth had heavy graduation losses while Dover hadn’t been to a D1 final since 2005.
But Portsmouth had an 18-2 season and #11 seed Dover upset three higher seeds to gain the Big Game.
The standing-room only crowd at Lundholm Gymnasium, saw Portsmouth excel in the late game and defeat Dover, 46-38, on the UNH campus on Saturday afternoon. This was the Clippers third straight title.
Senior Cody Graham (22 points) led all scorers and on three different occasions in the second half put up points when Dover had gotten with two points of the lead.
Cody’s most crucial contribution came after the Green Wave (11-11) was within two (40-38) on a Tyler Vitko (18 points) jump shot with 2:52 left.
Dover had the ball twice with that late-game, 2-point deficit but couldn’t find the Big Shot.
When the Clippers started riding that small lead with dribbling and passing the Green Wave was forced to foul and Cody Graham ended up at the line.
Cody (all-time Portsmouth scoring leader) calmly drained two freebies (38 seconds left) and then came back and did it again fifteen seconds later after Tyler Vitko missed a 3-pointer.
Now up by six (44-38) the Clippers, added two more free throws (Alex Tavares) to take the Division One championship.
“We got it done on defense,” said PHS coach Jim Mulvey afterwards. “They had it down to two.”
Junior Alex Tavares recalled the timeout with the lead at two: “We said, look, if we get a stop here we seal it.”
This was Portsmouth’s fifth straight time in the final game. Being used to it, probably was a factor in the last few minutes.
Coach Mulvey was quick to praise Cody Graham: “Cody stepped up and made those free throws. He also covered (Tyler) Vitko who has been killing people. Cody was unbelievable on both ends of the court.”
Dover looked to be on the verge of getting blown out in the first half. The combination of Portsmouth building an eleven-point lead (23-12) and Dover’s John Cantwell having two fouls, and being on the bench, had me wondering if the #11 seed could recover.
Well, they did! There were rumors that “everyone” from Dover was there and it sounded like it. That crowd lifted the GW.
A Devin Cady layup (assist to John Cantwell) had Dover within two (33-31) with 2:20 to go in the third period. But the next points were scored by Portsmouth’s Cody Graham (layup).
The Green Wave were again within two (35-33) but again Cody Graham answered. This time it was a 3-pointer assisted by Max Lincoln.
Later, as I described earlier, Dover was again within two (40-38) but still yet again it was Cody Graham rescuing Portsmouth. This time with free throws.
They did not name an MVP but the “answer man” (Cody Graham) certainly would have gotten my vote.
The flawless free throw shooting by Portsmouth didn’t surprise Alex Tavares: “We shoot 50+ every day at the end of practice.”
On December 19th the Clippers had a 63-44 win over Dover at Portsmouth. I asked Alex Tavares what was different about Dover this time around: “They all jelled. Their offense flowed. They were making tough shots.”
The Clippers won their 21st state title this afternoon.
Portsmouth entered this season on a 43-game win streak. That ended opening night. The Clippers, after today, now have a fourteen-game win streak running.
Dover was able to put two three-game win streaks together this season.
John Cantwell had thirteen rebounds for Dover. His time on the bench with fouls was costly in the second quarter.
Starters Alex Tavares and Calvin Hewett will return next season for Portsmouth. It will be interesting to see how PHS replaces the scoring of Cody Graham.
(All the pictures will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)