Boys’ basketball: Kearsarge’s run comes to a halt against No. 1 Conant

Kearsarge guard Noah Whipple drives to the hoop against Conant to begin the second half on Tuesday night at Bow High School during the Division III semifinals.

Kearsarge guard Noah Whipple drives to the hoop against Conant to begin the second half on Tuesday night at Bow High School during the Division III semifinals. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Conant guard Manny Hodgson partially blocks a shot of Kearsarge guard Eddie Kinzer at the buzzer to end the first half on Tuesday night, February 20, 2024 at Bow High School at the D-III semifinals.

Conant guard Manny Hodgson partially blocks a shot of Kearsarge guard Eddie Kinzer at the buzzer to end the first half on Tuesday night, February 20, 2024 at Bow High School at the D-III semifinals. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Kearsarge guard Noah Whipple was double-teamed most of the game against Conant on Tuesday night, February 20, 2024 at the Bow High School gym during the D-III semi-finals.

Kearsarge guard Noah Whipple was double-teamed most of the game against Conant on Tuesday night, February 20, 2024 at the Bow High School gym during the D-III semi-finals. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Kearsarge guard Noah Whipple battles for the ball against Conant forward Jordan Nagle on Tuesday night, February 20, 2024 at the Bow High School gym.

Kearsarge guard Noah Whipple battles for the ball against Conant forward Jordan Nagle on Tuesday night, February 20, 2024 at the Bow High School gym. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-21-2024 12:06 AM

Modified: 02-21-2024 11:19 AM


BOW – No. 4 Kearsarge knew it could beat the top-seeded Orioles (19-1). The Cougars had done so just 14 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 Division III semifinal loss.

The first matchup 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.

The loss ends the Cougars’ strong season at 17-4, a complete 180 from last year’s 4-14 team. Led by Whipple – who had a game-high 20 points on Wednesday – Kearsarge beat Stevens and Hopkinton to reach the D-III semifinals and came within a couple possessions of making a state championship appearance.

Tuesday marks the end to the careers of Kearsarge’s three seniors: Parker Goin, Jack Goen and Eddie Kinzer. That trio, Camp said, played a foundational role in the group’s tight-knit chemistry that guided the way all year.

“We just had a brotherhood mentality,” Camp said, “and I’m really glad that those seniors brought that because it’s definitely a big part of our culture.”

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That brotherhood, coupled with an intensity and focus, propelled Kearsarge to seven wins this season by fewer than 10 points. Some of those weren’t necessarily games Camp’s group may have expected to win at the start of the year.

“It wasn’t like we had a lot of blowout wins; it was their ability to compete and fight every possession and just grind people down,” Camp said. “That’s how you do it. You play it with defense, and then you grind it out, and you make plays down the stretch. Even tonight when we were down, they weren’t rattled. They knew that we could be right there in the end, and that’s what winners do.”

But on Wednesday the bitter reality sets in: no more practices, no more team dinners, no more locker room celebrations. It was a long journey to regroup after last season’s struggles, and the players were surely reflecting on all they had accomplished as they lingered on the floor at Bow High School long after the final buzzer sounded.

If the Cougars learned anything this season, it’s the power of belief.

“I really love these guys,” Camp said. “Certainly a lot of people didn’t think that we’d be here, but they did. They believed, and it’s really special to coach them.”