Season recap: Pembroke Academy leads the way for Division II boys’ basketball in 2022-23

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 03-13-2023 1:56 PM

The 2022-23 season was a strong year for area Division II boys’ basketball programs, with four qualifying for the playoffs and Pembroke reaching the championship game where the Spartans came up just short against Pelham, 57-54.

The Spartans entered the season expecting to compete for a championship, and they had that opportunity at the University of New Hampshire on Sunday. Pembroke led the Pythons 31-30 at halftime but struggled in the fourth quarter to score the basketball. Still, it was a phenomenal season for head coach Mike Donnell and his group.

“I have nine seniors that I will not be able to coach again, and that's a tough thing for me to think about,” Donnell said after the loss to Pelham. “I enjoyed them so much. They gave me everything they had. I'm extremely proud of them, and I told them that they need to hold their heads high.”

Those nine seniors include starters Mike Strazzeri (named first-team all-state by New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization), Josh Pilotte (NHBCO honorable mention) and Shondell Hadley.

Meanwhile, No. 6 Coe-Brown finished the year 14-6 after losing in the quarterfinals to No. 14 Oyster River, 40-36.

The Bears put together a strong season in spite of the inauspicious conclusion, losing just one game by more than seven points. Spearheaded by the leadership of seniors Hugh Hamilton and Thomas Flanagan (both receiving honorable mention by the NHBCO) and junior Connor Bagnell – who averaged 16 points per game and was named second-team all-state and to the division’s all-defensive team – Coe-Brown had one of the stronger units across D-II. 

Head coach Dave Smith will lose four seniors from this year’s team: Hamilton, Flanagan, Brady Kouchoukos and Nate Ford.

“It’s a great character team. They really are,” Smith said after his group beat Bishop Brady on Jan. 31. “I feel very strongly about that.”

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No. 11 Bow, the team Coe-Brown eliminated, finished the year 9-10 after dealing with several injuries to its more experienced players. Head coach Scott Drapeau came to rely on freshmen Jake Reardon (NHBCO honorable mention) and Brendan O’Keeffe; both scored in double figures in that first-round playoff loss.

Looking at the future of the program, Drapeau projected caution, aware that lots can change year to year, but expressed great appreciation for the effort of his players this season.

“I would go to war with those guys any day of the week,” he said after the Coe-Brown loss. “I respect those kids. I had a ton of fun with them. It’s tough to deal with injuries, but it’s also tough to go from seven seniors to six freshmen, and we did it. We made the playoffs. No one expected us to win nine games. We won nine games. That’s good for them.”

No. 8 Merrimack Valley played two of the more intense playoff games a team could have in a three-day span. First, against No. 9 Lebanon, the Pride scored just 10 points in the first half but rallied in the second half and won, 36-34, on a buzzer-beating layup from senior Buddy Eddy.

Then against No. 1 Laconia, MV overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to tie the game with 22 seconds left in regulation, only to lose 61-57 in overtime.

“It was our game to win, and I think we let it slip out of our hands,” Pride head coach Tim Mucher told the Monitor after the loss.

Such was a common theme for MV this year. The Pride finished 12-8; in the eight losses, the average margin of defeat was 4.8 points. 

Mucher graduates eight seniors off of this year’s team, including starters Eddy, Gavin Wheeler, Logan Gabour and Brandon Dukette, who was named to the D-II second-team all-state.

“With the senior leadership, with their character, with their mental toughness they displayed … I have a classy group of young men,” Mucher said. 

Bishop Brady and John Stark were the two area schools that missed out on the playoffs.

Brady finished the year 5-13, tied for 14th in the standings. Head coach Brendan Johnson talked throughout the season about the team needing to find its identity.

“We’ve hung around with some of these (top) teams, and then in the fourth quarter we just fall off or we start turning the ball over,” he said after the Giants lost to MV, 58-46, on Feb. 3. “We just have to learn how to clean up our mistakes.”

John Stark started the season 0-16, before picking up a win against Sanborn in its penultimate game of the regular season. The Generals finished 1-17, in last place in the division.

“We just really need to focus on what we can control, and what we can control is our improvement,” head coach Mike Smith said after the Generals' loss to MV on Feb. 14. “We just want to improve from game to game, from quarter to quarter, possession to possession. I know that sounds like a cliche, but that’s really where we’re at.”

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