(Portsmouth NH) Winnacunnet avoided the upset defeating Portsmouth, 54-43, to gain the Final Four in Division 1.
The Warriors (10-4) will face Trinity on Wednesday (5PM) at Oyster River.
The Clippers (7-6) had lost twice to Winnacunnet in this season of regional schedules.
“Portsmouth was strictly man-to-man the previous two times,” recalled senior Brett Marelli. “They had some success with a zone defense against Exeter so that is probably why they tried it against us.”
And that Portsmouth zone worked………for 2+ quarters.
The Clippers were up, 32-22, after Coleman Brewster (10 points) made a jump shot at the 5:33 mark of the third quarter.
Timeout Winnacunnet. “I told the team,” said Warriors coach Jay McKenna, “we didn’t come this far, to come this far. We couldn’t just be happy with beating Exeter. We had bigger goals. Things we wanted to do.”
What they needed to do, was handle the Portsmouth zone better.
“We struggled with the zone,” said Brett Marelli. “What we needed to do was move around, pass, and cut into the middle. It eventually worked and we started rolling.”
Winnacunnet finished the last 5 ½ minutes of the third quarter on a 14-2 run, took the lead (Joshua Schaake three), and held it the rest of the way.
Recalling the turnaround, Elynn Houston (12 points) said, “We brought the energy. We turned the whole season around”
Six different Warriors contributed points during the crucial segment. “I liked the way the guys shared the ball and created open shots for each other,” added Coach McKenna.
The Clippers had fallen behind, but they were far from finished in the 4th quarter.
A fallaway in the lane (Carmine Zingariello) reduced the WHS lead to, 38-36. A minute later a long three by Kevin Cummings (19 points) and the lead was one point – 40-39.
The Clippers, in fact, were just one possession (44-41) away with three minutes to go in the game.
But then the unselfish Warriors found James O’Hara (12 points) twice in close for layups. Assists to Brett Marelli and Lucas Schaake.
Out of one-possession range the Clippers went, 48-41, and they couldn’t recover in the final minute.
“First half we got down a little bit,” said James O’Hara post-game. “We had to keep our heads up. We knew we could battle back. We’ve done it before after a sloppy first half.”
Senior Kevin Cummings was the key to Portsmouth getting the big start. He had fourteen of the Clippers first thirty-two points including three 3’s.
“They have two of the best scorers in the state,” said Coach McKenna. “That we could hold Portsmouth to only forty-three points was a good defensive effort on our part.”
Portsmouth coach John Mulvey: “Their size affected us, and we ran out of gas. The purpose of using the zone was to give them one shot and out. That worked for a while but later on they started getting inside and rebounding and it cost us.”
James O’Hara: “Portsmouth is a great team. We knew that they can makes 3’s and are streaky. We knew that we had to lock up, get some turnovers, and convert them into baskets.”
I asked James about his last-second drive to the basket with his team having an eight-point lead. “I feel bad that I made that last basket, since we didn’t need it. I just wasn’t sure how far ahead we were. I was just playing.”
The Warriors now move closer to a championship game next Saturday. Coach McKenna was well aware that it has been a long time since Winnacunnet has won a boys basketball title.
“The last time we won it was in 1992 and I was on the team,” he said with a smile.
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)
This story will be posted on my McClelland Miscellanea online blog. The link to it will be on my Twitter site @McClellandPeter. I will also post some of the pictures on my Instagram site @McClellandMiscellanea.