Pythons Triumph with Back-to-Back Championships
March 25, 2016
by Mike Bourk
Keith Brown, NH High School Player of the Year, made the play of the year, stealing an inbound pass, with just seconds left and Pelham leading by two points, to seal a 43-39 victory and a repeat championship for the Pythons.
All season long Pelham has devastated opponents in high-scoring affairs. They were 20-0 with an average margin of victory of just under 30 points when scoring 60 or more points. Kearsarge came into the game with the longest winning streak in the state having won their last 17 games. The Cougars had a lot of confidence going into the game. To have a shot at winning they would have to maintain a slower tempo in order to take down Pelham. Kearsarge did a nice job in the first half controlling the pace of the game.
Brown picked up two fouls early, and it seemed to have an adverse effect on his play as he was just 2-for-8 from the floor including 0-4 on 3-pointers. Trevor Gagnon picked up some of the scoring by sinking a couple of three-pointers. Cam DeLoreto went down with an ankle injury just three minutes into the first quarter. He sat out the remainder of the quarter. He started the second quarter but was somewhat hampered by the injury. “We got a little dinged up during the game. I thought the guys who came off the bench did a nice job,” said Coach Regan after the game. At the end of the first quarter Pelham led 10-6.
The Cougars played better in the second quarter, starting out with a 6-2 run to knot the game at 12. A Trevor Gagnon 3-pointer and three free throws by Brown put Pelham back on top, 18-12. Kearsarge scored a late basket to cut the Pelham lead to 18-14 at the half. After the game Pelham’s coach Matt Regan, talked about the first half, “Sure we would have preferred to have played an up tempo game and score more points in transition, but if that’s not there and you want to win a state championship, you have to be able to adapt.”
Kyle Frank covered All State guard Trent Noordsij throughout the game. Frank limited Noordsij to making just three of 12 shots. Coach Regan talked about Frank after the game, “Kyle had to cover Trent the 82 feet for 32 minutes. He did a great job of locking him down. That was insane.” In the third quarter the Cougars continued to control the pace of the game. They forced Pelham to turn the ball over and take poor shots holding Pelham to their lowest scoring quarter of the season as they outscored Pelham 9-6, cutting the Python lead to just a single point, 24-23 going into the final quarter.
Kearsarge took their first lead of the game 26-24, to open the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Noordsij. Brown answered with a short jumper and a three-pointer to put Pelham back on top 29-26. The Cougars continued to battle back, tying the game at 34 on an electrifying dunk by 6-foot-8-inch Zach Mattos that sent the Kearsarge fans into a frenzy. Pelham maintained their cool not letting the Cougar crowd noise deter them from their focus. With the score tied at 36, Gagnon nailed a three-pointer to put Pelham ahead by three.
After the game, Coach Regan said, “Keith closed the game out, but Trevor won the game for us today. This was by far his best game of the year. His contribution of 11 points was huge. This was the first time this season we had to work on floaters during practice due to the Kearsarge size. The practice paid off when Trevor knocked down that floater from the corner.” Gagnon’s experience as the Pelham quarterback contributed to his coolness in a pressure situation. He spoke after the game, “You always dream of a chance like we had tonight. The shots were dropping for me tonight, and Coach Regan just encouraged me to keep taking them.”
Keith Brown made both ends of a one-and-one with 22 seconds left in the game to put Pelham up 41-36. The Python fans began celebrating, perhaps a bit prematurely. A three-point shot by Keararge’s Joe Storozuk cut the lead to 41-39. A quick foul by the Cougars put Pelham on the line for another one-and-one. The ensuing missed free throw gave Kearsarge the ball and a chance to win or tie the game with seven seconds left trailing by two points. Keith Brown, playing with four fouls, intercepted a Cougar pass and was immediately fouled. The steal was reminiscent of Johnny Most’s call of “Havlicek stole the ball.” Apologies to those under 50 years old who have no idea what that means. Brown made both free throws to secure a 43-39 victory and the state championship for the Pythons. After the game Coach Regan talked about Brown, “The way Keith played, especially once he picked up his fourth foul, was simply amazing.” Brown finished with a game-high 22 points.
Coach Regan talked about the transition from last year’s championship team to this year’s team, “Every season is different. We graduated four of the five starters from last year’s team. Our role players from last year became key contributors to this year’s championship run. In addition to Keith (Brown), Trevor (Gagnon), Cam (DeLoreto), Ryan (Nystrom), Joe (Pantaleo), and, of course, Kyle (Frank) were all major contributors to this year’s team. The same will be true next year as we have multiple options to step in as starters.”
Keith Brown was the tournament’s MVP. Keith finished his career at Pelham setting a new school scoring record of 1,978 points. Brown embodied sportsmanship on the court and was a positive on-court coach to his teammates and seemed to have a knack for always knowing where his teammates were on the court. He’ll be attending Endicott College playing for the Gulls next fall.
Pelham finished the season with a 21-1 record in NHIAA play and 23-2 overall.
Pythons too much for Hawks in semis
Prior to the championship game, the Pythons faced the Hopkinton Hawks. At the onset this was a competitive game, knotted at 10 midway through the first quarter. Things quickly unraveled for Hopkinton as they were outscored by Pelham 20-6 for the remainder of the first half as Pelham won going away, 57-42 to advance to the Division III finals.
Hopkinton started the game with a diamond-and-one defense putting a dedicated defender on Keith Brown and doubling him when he got the ball. Hawks Coach Dave Chase thought putting a quicker player on Brown might slow him down. It didn’t. Brown led all scorers with 29 points. He also dished out three assists when double covered finding Cam DeLoreto and Colin Loring with pinpoint passes. Coach Regan talked about the Hopkinton defense after the game, “We’ve seen various defenses employed to try to shut down Keith (Brown). He’s a very smart player and knows how to exploit defenses when he’s doubled.”
Hopkinton’s aggressive style of play led to foul problems giving Pelham 26 trips to the charity stripe as opposed to just 11 free throw attempts by the Hawks. The Pythons converted just 14 of the 26 attempts. Coach Regan commented about the free throw shooting after the game, “Playing at a loud, large venue like SNHU might not have as much of an effect during game play, but when there’s a stoppage in play for a free throw some players with less experience might have been intimated a bit. The more experienced players like Keith and Kyle were less affected.” Brown and Frank were a combined 7-for-9 from the free throw line.
Cam DeLoreto and Ryan Nystrom scored nine and six points respectively for the Pythons. Kyle Frank and Trevor Gagnon each chipped in with four apiece. During the game DeLoreto set a NH high school record for most numbers worn in a game by sporting numbers 34, 23, 4, and 35 at various times throughout the game. Cam had to repeatedly change jerseys due to blood being on the shirts.