The Londonderry Middle School M Boys Basketball Team finished their regular season schedule atop the standings sporting a 10-2 record including an undefeated season at home in the StormCenter. The M team is the second team at the school, comprised usually of 6th and 7th graders who were not selected for the first team that plays the L schedule. We pretty much play the same schools with most middle schools now running two teams in most sports.
Heading into the season I was not sure what I had for a team. As usual, during try-outs I need to wait to see who Coach Noon selects for his team and then I determine the best way for me to go. There was one eighth grader this year that would determine that direction. Coach Noon, feeling he had an abundance of big men, opted to take an outside shooter leaving me to take Starlin Ortiz, an 8th grader who needed a lot of work on his game, but was tall, quick, fast and very athletic. I set out to put the fastest group I could with him. As it turned out I had a team with good skills but we were very small, and knowing I would be at a height disadvantage most games I was concerned. My concerns were soon put to rest.
The first three games we played at home and completely dominated Rundlett of Concord, Timberlane of Plaistow and defending champion Windham outscoring them 179-84, and in fact could have gone over 200 points if I was the type of coach who runs up the score. The fastbreak quickness of our one guards, Nate Gaw and Cam Jacobs put tremendous pressure on defenses, while the rebounding and scoring touch around the basket of my three big men, Ortiz, Nick Musto and Brandon Radford was a pleasant surprise. Radford is a sixth grader who just has a knack for the boards and is a tough kid. Musto is a bull with a soft left-handed shot and he is usually among the games high scorers. Ortiz goes on spurts where he just takes over a game.
Gaw I had last year as a sixth grader and there is no one in the league quicker than him. When his outside shot is working he puts up a lot of points real quick. Jacobs is usually the smallest guy on the court and I told him and his dad after try-outs that if I kept him he would probably see very limited game time because of his height, but I loved the toughness of the kid and his smarts. They assured me he could hold his own. Well, they were right. He can flat out play and he gets a lot of playing time and does good things on the court.
We traveled to Salem and lost 49-48 – the most points we gave up all season – as Salem physically man-handled our smaller team, yet they took 14 second half free throws to our two. It is always fun to play in Salem. We then defeated Mountain View of Goffstown twice. Both games were terrific and they are a solid well coached team, like Windham, but our speed was just too much for them. Gaw and Ortiz dominated both games, and my other 6th grader Jake Stevens kept coming up with big rebounds every time Goffstown threatened to make a run.
Halfway through the season, and finally we were getting a chance to play our nemesis. Merrimack, also with only one loss, was coming into the StormCenter. You can count on one hand the number of losses Merrimack has had the last four years, including a one point loss in the finals to LMS two years ago. Watching them warm up I saw he had his usual team, size, speed and kids who could play basketball. I figured we were in for a tussle. I figured wrong.
Gaw exploded out of the gate and buried three jumpers, Ortiz was everywhere, and our two guard, David Wiedenfeld frustrated them defensively with steal after steal and 6 quick points. With guard Josh Wasserman finding the open man, Musto and Stevens, we went into the locker room up 35-19. In the third quarter my other returning player, Cullen Enwright, kept the pressure on Merrimack with slashing moves to the hoop and then dishing to Radford or Ortiz, who had six points each in the quarter. Up by 21 points I put the smallest line-up I could on the floor, but any idea of a comeback by the much taller Merrimack team was quickly doused as Tim Mcearthern buried two jumpers to start the period and Travis Ward caught fire and hit for 13 straight points. The 23 point victory was amazing over a team that hadn’t lost by more than 4 points in four years.
Of course, this being a middle school team none of that mattered as four days later we travelled to Merrimack and took a solid beating 48-36 for our second and final loss.
After that, every game became a game with play-off implications. At the time, four teams had two losses, us, Merrimack, Windham and Salem, with Mountain View at three. A really competitive league this year. We opened after the Christmas break with a 24 point win over Timberlane down there as Ward hit for 13 and Cam Dickson, Wasserman and Justin Trickett, playing his first game after two injuries had kept him on the bench all season, played real big for us. Then it was a trip to defending champion Windham in the gym where we lost our play-off game last year.
We knew they would be tough and they were, but Ortiz and Musto played big with 26 points between them and Jacobs was solid in the fourth as we took a 49-39 victory. Then Salem came to us 2 days later and that was the best game of the year.
Seven different players scored for Salem in the first half and eight scored for LMS as Salem took a 26-21 lead into the locker room. I had an interesting chat with the boys before the start of the second half and the boys responded. Salem only scored 6 points in each of the next two quarters behind the strong defense of Radford, Enwright, Jacobs and Dickson while Ward was burying three 3′s. LMS 44-38.
The season ended with a trip to Concord and a Rundlett team that had one win and had lost their best player to injury. We took a 14-0 first quarter lead as Wiedenfeld, Mcearthern and Stevens played well. Then, all of a sudden it was 20-20 at the half and 23-20 Rundlett one minute into the third. A called time out, a few chosen words, and Gaw and Musto, and by the end of the third LMS was up 36-24 and on their way to a first place finish. Concord made one more run, but Trickett was tough on the boards and a nothing-but-net three by Dickson iced the game.
We now get to host a play-off game on the first of February, which was our goal at the beginning of the season. If we reach the finals they will be on the fourth in Nashua. In a season where we averaged 52 points per game and only gave up an average of 38 per game, I will tell you that I am very pleased with these young men. They give everything they have when they are on the court and usually against physically larger people. Win or lose can’t ask for more than that.
A Londonderry Resident, Bob Napolitano is extremely active in Londonderry Sports. Bob even published a sports newspaper he hand delivered to homes in the 1990′s.
Photos courtesy of Karen Wasserman