Mascoma boys basketball readies for playoffs and a possible unplayed foe

  • Mascoma boys basketball coach Silas Ayres gives direction to his team as Cole Moulton passes the ball in their game against Lebanon in West Canaan, N.H., on Jan. 29, 2021. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • As cardboard cutouts take the place of spectators during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mascoma's Connor Thompson saves the ball from going out of bounds during the first half of their game against Lebanon in West Canaan, N.H., on Jan. 29, 2021. Lebanon won, 47-43. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kearsarge boys basketball coach Nate Camp speaks with his team during halftime of their game against Hanover in Hanover, N.H., on Feb. 6, 2021. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 2/22/2021 7:47:45 PM
Modified: 2/22/2021 7:47:42 PM

WEST CANAAN — Silas Ayres’ biggest concern early in this truncated NHIAA boys basketball season was that his Mascoma High squad would become too reliant on the scoring of junior Ben Seiler. The Royals are varying their approach, even as Seiler accounts for 40% of their offense and recently crossed the career 1,000-point mark.

With the Division III tournament starting next week, Mascoma faces a new challenge. Getting to where the Royals want to go may require going through one foe that is geographically close but not a squad they’ve seen this winter.

“We didn’t get to play Kearsarge in the regular season; I’ve heard they’re pretty good,” said Ayres, the second-year Mascoma coach, on Thursday night after the Royals’ 68-45 win over Sunapee at Edward P. Kehoe Gymnasium. “I’ve seen some tape against Lebanon, but I think we’re as good as they are. … I may be biased; we’re up there. We’ve got to beat Kearsarge to get to the final four, and then we’ll see what happens there.”

A normal winter would have given Mascoma (7-4) ample time and opportunity to scout future opponents. It would have also meant a home-and-home with the Cougars (8-3) and the possibility they wouldn’t collide in the playoffs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things, most notably restricting access to other teams’ games for scouting purposes.

And it has also led to regional early-tournament schedules, with schools grouped in pods of five or six to battle it out, seeded by chance with no accounting for win-loss records.

Longtime Lebanon boys basketball coach Kieth Matte played the Royals three times this year and the Cougars twice, winning all five. He sees two very evenly matched squads.

“It’s a program; it’s not just a team,” Matte said of Kearsarge, which is coached by ex-Raider guard Nate Camp. “They are organized, and they have enough talent. I have no sense of who’s better. We’ve played five games against the two. Don’t make me pick.”

Mascoma opened its season with five contests against D-II powerhouses Hanover and Lebanon. The Royals came out of the gauntlet 1-4; they got closer to the Raiders with each attempt.

Playing against D-III and D-IV schools their own size and depth, Mascoma’s potential has started to show. Seiler’s offense is almost guaranteed — he’s averaging 24 points per game and has scored no fewer than 16 this season — but he also moves well away from the ball, and that opens opportunities for others.

Sophomore point guard Zach Thompson has grown in confidence, particularly in running the fast break. Senior forward Gabe Rock (8.5 ppg) has been a consistent scoring and rebounding source. The Royals’ starting five — it included juniors Cole and Ian Moulton on Thursday — share the basketball; they easily whipped it through and around the Lakers’ 2-3 zone.

Winless Fall Mountain may have been the most aggressive of Mascoma’s foes this year in its approach to slowing Seiler, trying a junk defense in back-to-back meetings a week and a half ago. All Seiler did was score a career-high 36 points on Feb. 10 followed by 22 two nights later.

“I think we’re definitely ready,” Seiler said on Thursday. “I saw a box-and-one in two games against Fall Mountain, and my teammates were able to do their thing. They were good enough to be able to handle that. Really, if you play a box-and-one against us, I mean, good luck — we’re good enough to be able to easily shoot out of that and get away from that.

“If that means not getting the ball for me and giving it to my teammates, I’m fine with that. Anything to win.”

Kearsarge will be more athletic and possibly more varied in its strategy, Matte said.

“(Camp) has done that in the past; it’s not something we do, but it would not surprise me,” Matte said. “If a junk defense is in his repertoire, Mascoma might be a candidate for that. The problem is those other kids are good enough to beat you. If you absolutely lock down Ben, that inevitably means other guys will be open.”

Mascoma, meanwhile, will have to find a way to defend the Cougars’ multiple threats.

Like Seiler, Kearsarge junior Chris Stanchfield can score in buckets, and Camp has a good second offensive source in junior Sam Carl. Two other juniors, George Jallah and Adrian McCarthy, are also threats, and the quartet plays an athletic game, too.

Fall Mountain, Newport and Stevens make up the rest of the D-III Region field. They owned a cumulative 2-16 record entering Monday night. The luck-of-the-draw nature of this year’s NHIAA playoffs finds the Cougars as a fourth seed hosting Newport next Monday, while Mascoma will open at Stevens on March 3.

The likely outcome: a Kearsarge-Mascoma encounter on March 6 for a D-III semifinal berth deserving for either in normal circumstances.

“Kearsarge and Mascoma could easily beat us; if we’d kept playing Mascoma, they would’ve beaten us,” Matte said. “They both could win it in Division III. I’m rooting for whoever comes out of that bracket.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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