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Perfect Panthers claim championship

MA caps undefeated 22-0 season with 54-50 win over Littleton in state title game

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

The MA boys’ basketball team poses with the state championship trophy after cutting down the nets at Plymouth State on March 10. Dennis Coughlin. (click for larger version)
March 12, 2012
PLYMOUTH – The year of Moultonboro continues.

Behind clutch play from junior point guard Drew Swedberg, the top-seeded Moultonboro Academy boys' basketball team capped off an undefeated season on March 10, as the Panthers captured the Division IV state championship with a draining 54-50 win over second-seeded Littleton High School at Plymouth State's Foley Gymnasium.

"It's just really neat for these kids," said MA head coach Matt Swedberg of the state title. "We've got a really good group of seniors. They've kind of flirted with some success, things like soccer earlier this fall. We talked about how they've had good careers here, wouldn't it be neat to end your legacy winning a championship to kind of cap your career?"

The recipe for success against Littleton (20-2) was to get the ball inside, using MA's strong front court in the process. The Crusaders rely heavily on their guards, and the squad struggled to match up with post players Marcus Swedberg, Mike Donahue, Nick Sindorf and John Fownes in the paint. As a result, MA got to the free throw line 31 times, hitting 21 of those in the process.

"Littleton's a very good team. We knew we had our hands full preparing for them," admitted Swedberg. "We had three days to prepare for them so we spent a lot of time going over their semifinal game (a win over Newmarket). We actually had some of our reserves, guys like Aaron Davis and Alex (Norton) learning what Littleton does and carrying that out as a scout team in practice. Those guys were really great, I can't say enough about the job they did preparing the rest of the team.

"We knew (Littleton) was really quick, good at stepping in passing lanes and tipping balls," he continued. "So we focused on getting the ball smack dab in the middle of the court. Our goal was to get it inside to take away their strengths. With those changes, we had some success. Marcus went to the foul line a lot, (Sam) Brammer, their star, got in foul trouble early and had to sit because we got ball inside a lot."

While that part went according to plan, foul trouble on MA senior standout Marcus Swedberg wasn't a part of the intended proposal. But the 6-7 Swedberg picked up his fourth foul just 1:49 into the third quarter with his team trailing 27-23, and he was forced to sit for the rest of the third and most of the fourth quarter.

"When he first picked up his fourth (foul), (Littleton was) marching down and getting ready to take their free throws," explained coach Swedberg. "It took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to do. Do I want to leave him in there and take my chances because he's smart and he's played through four fouls before? But then I said to myself, that's too risky. So we put John (Fownes) and then Travis (Keich-Baier) in, trying to decision what style I wanted to go with. We then came back with John and he looked comfortable defensively, had a big bucket for us."

Swedberg noted that Fownes looked solid during practice leading up to the title tilt, especially defensively when the team went to a 2-3 matchup zone.

With Marcus Swedberg out of the game, the Panthers pulled together and made up for his absence in a big way. Behind Drew Swedberg's leadership, MA went on a quick 5-0 run to take a 28-27 lead. The Panthers led 34-30 after three quarters, as Drew scored 13 points and didn't commit a single turnover in the second half of play.

"He's always been kind of waiting to take control and take the reins of a team," said Swedberg of Drew. "For him to do that in the second half like he did was great. That was special for him and he probably played his best game ever in those respects."

Every time Littleton clawed closer in the fourth quarter, MA had an answer. Swedberg considered putting Marcus in with five minutes to play after the Crusaders cut the lead to just one point, but a quick spurt saw the lead grow again and he held out on subbing the senior back in as long as possible.

"Him and I talked after he came out and we basically agreed that if they tied the game, we'd put him back in," the coach said of Marcus.

The forward finally returned with three minutes remaining, and MA led 51-44 in the waning moments. Littleton wouldn't go away however, as a three-point play cut it to four and an MA turnover led to another quick three, as the Crusader fans reached a fever pitch with their squad down just 51-50.

"That place was deafening," coach Swedberg said.

But Drew Swedberg calmly hit two free throws at the other end after being fouled hard, and a potential game-tying three didn't fall for Littleton on the other end. Sindorf grabbed the rebound, and he hit the second of two freebies to ice the victory and the state championship.

The statistics tell the story of two very different teams, as MA held the free throw attempt advantage at 31-18, while Littleton took a whopping 21 three-pointers (they made seven) to just five for MA. The Panthers held the rebounding edge, 32-22.

Drew Swedberg led MA with 15 points, three assists, four rebounds and two steals, while Sindorf scored 12 points to go along with eight boards. Marcus Swedberg had 12 points and four rebounds despite playing just 22 minutes due to foul trouble, while Donahue turned in his usual consistent performance of nine points and 14 rebounds. Senior Will Burke scored four points in the win to round out the MA starters.

Brammer led Littleton with 22 points and six rebounds, as he made seven of his 18 shots. Nick Whipple scored 13 points while Jesse Ledoux added 10 for the Crusaders.

MA finished a perfect 4-0 in the postseason to account for its 22-0 undefeated season. After an easy win over Wilton-Lyndeborough in the first round, the Panthers struggled to get by a pesky Epping team in the quarters before easily dismantling Derryfield in the semis. All four postseason foes were unfamiliar to MA, as the squad didn't see anyone of those teams during the regular season.

"I think this is probably the first year I can remember playing all those teams for the first time ever in the tournament," said Swedberg, whose team last won the state title in 2009. "Basically I thought that teams one through nine or 10 were all capable of having big nights and knocking each other off. Epping was one of them, all these teams can give you fits."

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