THE PROSPECT MOUNTAIN boys’ hoop team poses with the Division III runner-up plaque after Saturday’s championship battle in Manchester. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 12, 2012MANCHESTER — Former Prospect Mountain assistant principal John Houlihan really wanted to see his former students play in the Division III boys' hoop finals on Saturday night at Southern New Hampshire University.
But like other fans, Houlihan found himself on the outside looking in, as what seemed like the entire population of the city of Berlin and the towns of Alton and Barnstead packed into the SNHU bleachers, forcing those in charge to close the door to any more customers. The windows above the court were lined with people and a television in the lobby upstairs also provided a look at the action.
Those who found themselves on the outside, like Houlihan, missed what ESPN would refer to as an instant classic, a game that both teams will likely remember for a long time to come.
In the end, however, it was the top-seeded Berlin Mountaineers that ended the Cinderella run for the sixth-seeded Timber Wolves with a dramatic 53-51 come-from-behind win in the title game.
"It was looking pretty darned good," coach Tom Bourdeau said of his team's lead through most of the contest. "But our Achilles heel all year long, we didn't make too many good decisions down the stretch.
"We needed to get the ball inside more," he continued. "We were in the bonus."
He noted that nerves may have been a part of it in the end, but in the beginning, the Timber Wolves showed no signs of being intimidated by the large, very vocal Berlin fan base. In fact, it was the Mountaineers who seemed a bit shaken in the first half.
Neither team scored for more than three minutes of action, but once they got going, it was Prospect who led the way.
Zack Drouin drained a three-pointer with 3:12 gone in the game for the first points and Jay Mousseau followed that up with back-to-back buckets to give the Timber Wolves a 7-0 lead.
Berlin finally got on the board with 3:13 to go in the quarter, draining a three to cut the lead to four, but hoops from Austin Perrin and Ethan Henderson, off a great feed from Pat Cassidy, gave the Timber Wolves an 11-3 lead after one quarter of play.
A Mousseau rebound and hoop opened the second quarter, extending Prospect's lead to 13-3 before Berlin hit two from the line. After Mousseau did the same, Berlin hit a hoop, two foul shots and a three-pointer, cutting the Timber Wolf lead to 15-12 with 2:37 to go in the half.
However, Cassidy drilled a big three-pointer and then hit a traditional field goal to push the lead to 20-12. After two more Berlin free throws, Drouin hit a pair from the line to push the lead back to eight.
Berlin got another bucket, but Cassidy drained another three with 38 seconds on the clock to send Prospect to halftime with a 25-16 lead.
Back-to-back hoops from Perrin, the second on a great feed from Drouin, staked Prospect to a 29-16 lead to open the second half, but Berlin didn't back down, getting a hoop and a three-pointer to make it an eight point game.
After a Drouin free throw, Berlin hit another bucket to cut the lead to seven. Perrin responded with a hoop and Cassidy sunk his third three-pointer of the night with 1:36 to play in the third, giving Prospect a 35-23 lead.
Berlin converted on a three-point play and then hit another free throw, cutting the lead to 35-27 with a minute to go, but Drouin drilled three free throws after a technical foul on the Mountaineers, upping the lead to 38-27 with 37.5 seconds to play in the third.
Berlin hit a hoop to cut the lead to nine and then Berlin senior star Curtis Arsenault hit an off-balance half-court shot as time ran out to cut the lead to 38-32 heading to the final frame.
"That's why he's the best player in the state," Bourdeau said of the Berlin star.
The buzzer-beater seemed to energize the Mountaineers and they came out of the gate in the fourth quarter with seven straight points, taking a 39-38 lead with 1:35 gone in the frame.
Cassidy hit a pair from the line to give the Timber Wolves the lead back, but a Berlin free throw tied the game at 40.
Cassidy hit a hoop and Berlin answered and a Drouin free throw made it 43-42 with 4:06 to go. The Mountaineers then sunk a three to retake the lead 10 seconds later.
Prospect had an answer, however, as Perrin drilled a three to push the Timber Wolves back in front by one with 3:38 to go. A Berlin free throw and hoop gave the Mountaineers a 48-46 lead with three to go and Drouin suffered a wrist injury diving to save a ball heading out of bounds. The senior stayed in the game but did seem to be favoring his right wrist.
"He could've lost his right arm out there and we wasn't coming out," Bourdeau said of his senior guard.
Berlin put in two free throws to up the lead to four, but Logan Roberts hit two from the line to cut the lead to two with just under a minute to play.
A Mousseau bucket underneath then tied the game at 50 with 13.7 seconds to go. The junior forward hit a foul shot as well to give the Timber Wolves the lead, but Berlin hit three foul shots in the final 10 seconds to seal the victory.
"We won almost every stat, except turnovers," Bourdeau said. "Coming in, I knew we had to win rebounds and get an equal number of free throws."
All things considered, the first-year coach had nothing but praise for the work his team did all season long.
"I am so proud of the kids," he said. "It was an unbelievable season.
"We were so close to winning the title, there's nothing to be ashamed of," he continued. "I can't complain, it was a hell of a run."
Bourdeau noted that Prospect's goal was to keep Berlin in the low 50s, which they achieved, but it wasn't quite enough to get the victory.
"When you get in a game like this, every point counts," he said.
Bourdeau also praised Cassidy and Drouin for their stellar efforts in their final games in Prospect silver and black.
"They are going to be hard to replace," he said. "They were our backbone."
Cassidy finished his career with 15 points, while Mousseau and Perrin each had 11. Drouin added 10. Roberts had 10 rebounds and Mousseau had eight, as the Timber Wolves bested Berlin 42-34 on the boards.
This season marked Prospect's third trip to the Final Four in five years, but the first in the careers of the team's seniors.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126