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Cougar Down: Sunapee Stops No. 1 Derryfield

Holderness, n.h. — The last time the Sunapee High boys basketball team participated in a state championship game, John F. Kennedy was president, The Beverly Hillbillies was America’s top-ranked television show, and Walk Like a Man, by The 4 Seasons, sat atop the Billboard 100 hot singles chart. Oh yeah, and Lakers coach Ed Tenney was 2 years old.

After Monday night’s NHIAA Division IV semifinal showdown between No. 4 Sunapee and No. 1 Derryfield at Plymouth State University’s Foley Gymnasium, that fact no longer applies.

Sunapee combined a near-perfect first-half performance with a number of gutty end-of-the-game plays to knock off the top-ranked Cougars by a 68-61 count in a thrilling semifinal.

Four different players reached double figures for the Lakers (18-3), who avenged a pair of regular-season setbacks to Derryfield, the second by 21 points just two weeks ago.

“This was all about heart,” an emotional Tenney said following the game. “In 24 years of coaching, I have never been more proud of a team.”

If Sunapee was supposed to be nervous about taking the Foley Gym floor for the first time ever, someone forgot to deliver the message. If Sunapee was supposed to be intimidated by a massive Derryfield frontcourt that featured 6-foot-4 forward Max Anderson, 6-foot-3 forward Bennett Doherty, and 6-foot-7 center Roger Larrivee, they missed the memo. And if the 21-point home defeat of two weeks ago was supposed to have any kind of carryover effect on Monday night, the Lakers developed a case of amnesia at just the right time.

Sunapee came out playing a feverishly intense brand of man-to-man defense, with Nick Skarin fronting the much taller Larrivee and forcing near-perfect Derryfield entry passes into the post. Larrivee scored the game’s first points with a leaner from the right block at 6:50, but did not score again until just over a minute remained in the first half.

Larrivee ended up with 17 points on the night, but 13 of those came during the fourth quarter, as the gutsy Cougars attempted to rally from a 14-point deficit.

“Nick Skarin was the unsung hero of this game,” Tenney said. “And he has been all season. He took on a 6-foot-7 center and never backed down.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the court, Sunapee was as fearless as it was effective. The Lakers knocked down seven 3-pointers in the first half to force Derryfield into extending its 2-3 zone defense, and when the gaps widened, the Lakers attacked the rim with abandon.

Point guard Matt Tenney led the Sunapee attack with 16 points and four assists, Alex Giodassis had 13 points and five rebounds, Jesse Stiffler and Issiah Chappell had 12 points each and James Fitzgerald had nine points. Tenney (3) Giodassis (2), Fitzgerald and Chappell all hit from 3-point range in the first half, as the Lakers flew to a 32-13 halftime lead.

“Be who you are. Do what got you here,” Tenney said of his team’s approach. “Spread them out and get them away from the basket, and keep being aggressive. We knew we weren’t going to be able to keep shooting like that (7-of-18 on threes in the first half), but no matter what we were going to stay aggressive.”

Derryfield, which entered the game with a 13-game winning streak — all of which came by more than 20 points — began its first significant run late in the third quarter. After Sunapee’s Chappell knifed through the Cougar defense for a driving bucket to give Sunapee a 44-24 lead with 1:45 remaining in the third, Derryfield reeled off the game’s next 10 points points to cut it to 44-34 with 6:55 left in the game.

Sunapee’s Fitzgerald broke the run by making one of two from the line at 6:30, but a Stiffler three-pointer was the Lakers’ only field goal in the first 4:18 of the fourth, and the lead was just 53-46 with 3:42 to play.

That’s when Skarin made a giant play at the offensive end. Moments after Larrivee rose and swatted away a Tenney drive, Skarin gathered in the rebound, up-faked and finished while being fouled. The senior coolly knocked down the foul shot, and once again the lead was double figures, 56-46.

Still, Derryfield refused to fold, and with 41 seconds to paly Larrivee scored in the post to cut it to 64-61. Larrivee had an and-one chance to cut it to two on the play, but when his foul shot rimmed out and Derryfield’s Bennett Doherty (20 points, 13 rebounds) missed an in-close follow up, Sunapee’s Stiffler ran down the rebound and was fouled.

Stiffler made three of four from the line in the final 37 seconds, the Laker defense forced Derryfield into three contested three-pointers on its final possessions, and Brandon Flemming completed the scoring with a single freebie with 11 seconds to play.

According to Tenney, Stiffler, who missed Sunapee’s first two playoff victories with pneumonia, epitomized the Laker effort.

“We had a kid out there coming off pneumonia, a 6-foot-2 kid guarding a 6-foot-7 center, and we’re playing a team that beat us by 21 two weeks ago,” the coach said. “And you know what? They didn’t care. They believed. They never stopped believing they could win.”

Sunapee faces No. 3 Epping in Saturday’s championship game at noon back at PSU. The teams split a pair of regular-season meetings.