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March 15. 2014 6:23PM

Div. I Boys' Basketball Championship: Little Green cap undefeated season


Manchester Central's Mike Plentzas, facing, hugs teammate Brett Hanson, as they celebrate after defeating Merrimack in the NHIAA Div. I championship game at Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham Saturday. Manchester Central won 70-61. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

DURHAM - It was the perfect ending to a perfect season for the Manchester High School Central boys' basketball team.

Central punctuated its 2013-14 campaign by winning the Division I championship with a 70-61 victory over Merrimack on Saturday at the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gymnasium.

Top-seeded Central finished 25-0 overall and 22-0 against Division I competition. The Little Green went 3-0 to win the Queen City Invitational in December.

"It's hard to win," Central coach Doc Wheeler said. "It's hard to win a game, and to go 25-0 - I can't tell you how good that feels. That motivation (to go undefeated) helped us build and get better in a lot of ways.

"The relationships that we build up with these players is very special, and to have to console them after a loss today would have been just awful."

It was Central's 18th state championship, which is the most of any Division I program.

Third-seeded Merrimack, which dropped a 62-59 decision to Central in Manchester during the regular season, completed its season with a 19-3 record.

"That's a really good basketball team," Merrimack coach Tim Goodridge said. "They're deep, they're good, they're well-coached. We struggled all night. We couldn't get our offense going, and that's a tribute to Central, too. As good as they are offensively, they play pretty darn good defense too.

"They're a team. We're a team, too. Maybe they just have a little bit more talent than we have."

Central led 56-40 entering the fourth quarter, but Merrimack opened the quarter with a 14-2 run and was within four, 58-54, with 2:53 to play. Central responded with a 10-2 run that gave the Little Green a comfortable 12-point advantage with less than a minute remaining.

"I told them all we need is one good possession to turn the momentum," Wheeler said. "Then Joey Martin drained a three and it flipped the whole game. That was just huge for us."

Central led by as many as 16 in the second half.

Junior guard Brett Hanson led Central with 24 points. Central received 20 points from Joey Martin (four 3-pointers) and 18 points from Jon Martin, Joey's older brother.

"They just have so many weapons," Goodridge said.

Senior guard Eric Gendron, playing the role of Jimmy Chitwood, scored 32 of Merrimack's 61 points. He also had a game-high 14 rebounds. Forward Shayne Bourque added 11 for the Tomahawks.

Gendron made nine of 16 shots from the field, and 12 of his 13 free throw attempts.

"Eric Gendron made some huge hoops and showed you what type of player he is today," Goodridge said. "Players like that don't come around very often."

Central led 18-11 after one quarter and 33-20 at halftime. Central's largest lead in the first half was 14. Gendron did all of Merrimack's scoring in the first quarter, when he also picked up two fouls.

"I'm overwhelmed right now," Jon Martin said. "Overjoyed. To go undefeated is the greatest feeling in the world. Have to give credit to Merrimack. They gave us a whale of a game, but we fought hard and we deserved this win."

rbrown@unionleader.com


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