MANCHESTER — Defending Division III champion Conant of Jaffrey will go for its second consecutive state championship and 10th overall. Standing in the way will be Campbell of Litchfield.
The fifth-ranked Cougars of Campbell upset top-ranked Hopkinton 56-51 and No. 2 Conant edged No. 3 Berlin 39-38 in semifinal action at Southern New Hampshire University Friday night. The Division III championship game will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at SNHU. Campbell and Conant split the two regular-season meetings.
"Conant's a very good basketball team," said Campbell head coach John Langlois. "We're going to give it everything we've got and we'll see how it comes out."
In the late game, Campbell got up by 20 points, 40-20 midway through the third quarter. But the Hawks were able to climb back into the game, using a 12-0 run and continuing to chip away to an eventual four-point hole at 50-46 with 2:20 remaining in the game.
"They're not number one for nothing (and) only had one loss," Langlois said of Hopkinton's comeback. "They can shoot. Give them credit, they didn't quit."
Campbell pushed the lead to 53-46, but a 3-pointer from Liam McNicholas with 32 seconds remaining pulled Hopkinton within four again at 53-49.
But the Hawks were forced to foul and Zach Bergeon hit three of his freebies on three trips to the line to make it 56-49. Sam Winslow connected on a pair of free throws for Hopkinton with less than a second remaining to account for the 56-51 final.
"When you're down 20, it's going to take a pretty big miracle, especially the way we were shooting the ball," said Hopkinton head coach David Chase. "Credit (our) guys. We caught fire, started putting the ball in the basket. You get going and the excitement builds and the confidence builds and we were able to get back in the ball game. We were fighting time and foul shooting. We had to foul them and they made their fouls shots."
Hopkinton led 8-3 early before a Michael Gray 3-pointer closed the first quarter and made it an 8-6 game. The second quarter was all about the triple for Campbell, which hit four of them in the second stanza, including another at the buzzer from Bergeon, to help the Cougars enter the intermission on top 25-18.
Campbell began to expand on the lead in the third, going on an 18-2 run through the middle of the third quarter to build the 40-20 lead.
Hopkinton was paced by senior Gabe Nichols with 18 points. Winslow added 14. The Cougars got a game-high 26 points from Bergeon, who hit four 3-pointers. Six other Campbell players found the scoresheet as well.
"I thought we played awesome," Langlois said. "They played with so much heart, so much pride. I couldn't be prouder of these guys."
Conant 39, Berlin 38
The battle of 18-2 teams came down to the wire, with Conant escaping after Berlin's last-ditch effort came up short.
Berlin had the ball with 36 seconds remaining after Conant's Robert O'Brien missed the front end of his one-and-one free throw chance. Berlin bled time off the clock before junior Tommy Gallagher drove the lane and put up a shot that rattled out. The loose ball scrum was ruled a jump ball as the buzzer sounded.
Berlin had the possession arrow and the officials put 0.5 seconds on the clock. Junior Nick Fodor got the inbounds pass in the paint and got off a shot in time, but it did not fall and Conant emerged with the win.
"The fact that (Eli Hodgson from Conant had fouled out), we went with a big kid (Fodor) and tried to get a quick lob to him. Unfortunately, it didn't go," said Berlin head coach Don Picard. "Looking at the statistics afterwards, it was so evenly matched."
For Conant, the win was all that mattered and style points were not a concern.
"We survived. I told the kids, this game is over. I don't care how we did it, we did it," said Conant head coach Eric Saucier. "We've got to improve if we want to get to where we want to go."
Berlin led 22-17 at halftime and a Brad Frenette bucket a minute into the third quarter pushed the lead to 24-17, but a 12-0 run by Conant over the next four minutes gave the Orioles a 29-24 lead.
"We made adjustments in the second half and we came out good," Saucier said. "We were down five and then all of a sudden we were up five, so a 10-point swing. That was huge."
The game would end up tied at 33-33 with less than five minutes remaining. Conant led 39-36 with less than a minute to play, but Gallagher hit two free throws to make it 39-38 and set the stage for the final flurry.
O'Brien scored the first 11 points for Conant and led all scorers with 16. Hodgson added 11 points and six rebounds. Berlin was led by Quinn Morrissette with 11 points and eight rebounds and Gallagher with 10 points.