KINGSWOOD'S Tom McCullough (left) and Mike Garabedian converge on Kennett's Nick Graziano in action Jan. 9 in North Conway. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
January 13, 2014NORTH CONWAY — The Kennett boys' hoop team has come through with big wins against Merrimack Valley and Oyster River early in the season.
On Thursday, Jan. 9, the Eagles continued their strong start and moved to 3-0 for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, besting Carroll County rival Kingswood by a 63-30 score.
The Eagles used a strong second quarter to pull away after the Knights got off to a quick start and the Eagles put it on cruise control from there.
"We definitely came out strong in the second quarter," Kennett coach Steve Coté said. "Ryan (Vajentic) asserted himself down low, more so on the offensive boards."
The veteran Eagle coach noted that the team didn't settle for outside shots in the second half, taking the ball inside and earning more foul shots. Kennett had one free throw in the first half and 14 in the second.
"That's always an indication of being a lot more aggressive," Coté said.
For Kingswood coach Dan Place, after getting the early lead, Kennett's bounce back seemed to zap some of his team's energy.
"They hit some shots and we didn't hit shots and our intensity goes down a little bit," Place said. "It gets a little discouraging.
"It's two steps forward, three steps back sometimes," he continued. "It's hard to make progress."
After Nick Graziano scored the opening hoop for Kennett, Kingswood went on a quick 6-0 run behind hoops from Mike Garabedian, Josh LaFleur and Sean Stackhouse to take a 6-2 lead.
However, Kennett scored 13 of the final 15 points of the quarter, turning a 6-2 Kingswood lead into a 15-8 lead for the host Eagles after one.
Vajentic got the run started with back-to-back buckets and Drew MacDonald drained a three-pointer to put Kennett on top 9-6. After a Tom McCullough hoop brought the Knights to within one heading to the final minute of the quarter, Kennett guard Brandon DiLucchio drained a pair of three-pointers, bringing the crowd to its feet and sending his team to the second quarter with the seven-point lead.
Will Pollard opened that lead up to nine to open the quarter, but Garabedian answered right back for Kingswood to make it 17-10. However, the Eagles allowed the Knights only six points in the frame after that and opened themselves up on the offensive end.
Vajentic got the run started with a hoop and Thomas Loynd followed up with a steal and basket. After a big Pollard defensive block, MacDonald drilled another three to give the Eagles a 24-10 lead.
Stackhouse hit for the Knights to stop the run, but Graziano answered him with a hoop for the Eagles. After Mike Kelley hit for the Knights, Mark Lautenschlager finished off a great pass from DiLucchio and Vajentic had back-to-back baskets, pushing Kennett's lead to 32-14.
Brendan Donahue hit two free throws for the Knights to close out the first half at 32-16.
The Eagle defense continued to be strong in the second period, holding Kingswood to just seven points in the frame. The offense also did its thing, scoring 22 points in the quarter.
Kingswood actually got five of the first six points of the quarter, as McCullough had a free throw and a field goal and Garabedian had a bucket, all around a Graziano free throw for the Eagles.
But Kingswood didn't score again until the final minutes of the period, as Kennett went on a 20-2 run to close out the quarter.
Vajentic started the run and Graziano followed up with two from the line and a three-pointer. Vajentic hit another hoop and he and Graziano also hit from the line. After a Graziano rebound and hoop, the junior hit another free throw and DiLucchio converted on a three-point play to up the lead to 52-21.
Dan Eldridge got Kingswood on the board again late in the period, but Loynd closed out the period with a free throw for the Eagles, making it 54-23 after three.
Pollard hit the first two baskets of the fourth quarter and Eldridge and McCullough followed with free throws for Kingswood. After a DiLucchio basket, McCullough finished off his down steal and Madison Tetreault hit a free throw for the Knights. Carston Porter drained a three for the final Eagle points of the night and Kelley hit Kingswood's final basket of the night, as the final went up at 63-30.
Coté admitted that it was not the start he was looking for from his team, but it got better from there.
"We really had every intention of applying a lot more pressure initially and generate more offense, but it just wasn't meant to be," he said. "We definitely didn't take good care of the basketball in the first quarter. We have to work on taking better care of the basketball."
However, the Eagle coach was happy with his team's defensive effort.
"I was very happy about the defense. the defensive intensity, especially in the three-quarters court was tough," Coté said. "It caused them some problems and led to some easy baskets."
The veteran Eagle coach also admitted that it is important to keep looking forward.
"We fully understand that Division II is a grind, but it's awesome to start this way," he said. "We also realize it's a long season and we really have to maintain focus."
Place echoed his colleague's words about the season.
"It's too early in the season to pack it in," the Knight coach said. "They want to be successful, we just haven't figured out how to do that as a team."
He noted that his team worked hard on defense and had some solid moments, but the offense just wasn't there, as 30 points is not going to be enough to win games.
"We've got to find a way to put the ball in the hole," he said. "And we have to stop teams (at the other end)."
He pointed out that the Knights may switch to a little more zone defense, even though the man-to-man play has been getting a little better.
For the Eagles, Vajentic led three players in double figures, putting in 15, while Graziano added 14 and DiLucchio put in 13. McCullough led the Knights with eight points and Garabedian added six.
The Eagles had their other game on the week postponed by weather. They will be at St. Thomas on Saturday, Jan. 18, for a 2:30 p.m. makeup game.
Also on the schedule this week, the Eagles will be at Plymouth on Friday, Jan. 17, and will be hosting Berlin on Tuesday, Jan. 21, both at 6:30 p.m.
The Knights dropped an 89-43 decision at Portsmouth on Tuesday, Jan. 7. They will return to action on Friday, Jan. 17, at home against Merrimack Valley at 6:30 p.m. and will be at Lebanon for a 1:30 p.m. game on Monday, Jan. 20.
DiLucchio 5-1-13, Loynd 1-2-4, Graziano 4-5-14, Pollard 3-0-6, Vajentic 7-1-15, Lautenschlager 1-0-2, MacDonald 2-0-6, Porter 1-0-3: Totals 24-9-63
Eldridge 1-1-3, McCullough 3-2-8, Donahue 0-2-2, Stackhouse 2-0-4, Tetreault 0-1-1, Kelley 2-0-4, Garabedian 3-0-6, LaFleur 1-0-2: Totals 12-6-30
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or email@example.com.