Conant boys’ basketball is headed to state finals

Conant’s Lane LeClair shoots  a free throw against Kearsarge.

Conant’s Lane LeClair shoots a free throw against Kearsarge. PHOTO BY HEATHER LINSTAD

Conant coach Eric Saucier gathers the Orioles for a timeout late in the fourth quarter.

Conant coach Eric Saucier gathers the Orioles for a timeout late in the fourth quarter. —PHOTO BY HEATHER LINSTAD

The Conant High School pep band performs at the Orioles’ state semifinal game against Kearsarge Tuesday. Conant will play in Saturday's championship game at Keene State against St. Thomas Aquinas Saturday at 8 p.m.

The Conant High School pep band performs at the Orioles’ state semifinal game against Kearsarge Tuesday. Conant will play in Saturday's championship game at Keene State against St. Thomas Aquinas Saturday at 8 p.m. —PHOTO BY HEATHER LINSTAD

Conant guard Manny Hodgson partially blocks the shot of  Kearsarge guard Eddie Kinzer at the buzzer to end the first half.

Conant guard Manny Hodgson partially blocks the shot of Kearsarge guard Eddie Kinzer at the buzzer to end the first half. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Kearsarge guard Noah Whipple battles for the ball against Conant forward Jordan Nagle.

Kearsarge guard Noah Whipple battles for the ball against Conant forward Jordan Nagle. GEOFF FORESTER / Concord Monitor

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-21-2024 9:13 AM

Modified: 02-22-2024 11:04 AM


No. 4 Kearsarge knew it could beat the top-seeded Conant Orioles Tuesday night in the Division III boys’ basketball state seminfinals at Bow High School.

The Cougars had done so just 12 days prior, the only team to beat Conant all season. 

For the first eight minutes, a repeat seemed possible, if not likely. Kearsarge started the game on a 9-2 run and led 9-5 after the first quarter. But with 4:49 left in the first half, Conant tied the game at 11, and the Cougars would never lead again in their 35-30 loss.

Junior Jared Nagle led the Orioles with 13 points. Seniors Manny Hodgson and Jordan Nagle each added eight points. With the win, the Orioles advance to Saturday's championship game at 8 p.m. at Keene State against No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas, which beat No. 3 Mascoma Valley in the first semifinal. Conant defeated the Saints, 39-35, during their regular season matchup on Dec. 21.

The first matchup between Conant and Kearsarge on Feb. 8 was a defensive slugfest that Kearsarge won, 28-26. Tuesday night was most of the same, only the Cougars didn’t hit enough shots, and the Orioles’ 16-point third quarter was enough to put them over the top.

“We made some shots early and just came out strong, but what you have to understand with Conant is, they’re just really good defensively,” Kearsarge head coach Nate Camp said. “I think we’re good, but they’re really good sitting down, playing defense. That’s what it takes this time of year to move on and advance. Not so much that we weren’t executing or we weren’t making shots; they made it difficult for sure.”

The Cougars trailed 33-23 with 2:27 left in the game, and the slow pace of play made the 10-point deficit feel like a 30-point deficit. But just over a minute later, a pair of 3-pointers from junior Noah Whipple cut the margin to 33-29. A subsequent trip to the free throw line from Whipple made it 33-30, but that’s as close as Kearsarge would come.

“They’re long, they switch really well and they tag off,” said Camp, explaining what makes Conant’s defense so good. “They make it so you think you have a driving lane but it kind of evaporates right in front of you. They’re just well-connected. That group’s played a lot of basketball together, and it showed tonight.”

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