CANAAN — It may have been a first-round game in the Division III boys basketball tournament, but nobody in the Mascoma Valley Regional High School gymnasium could tell. Featuring a championship-esque atmosphere, Monadnock Regional High and the Royals put on a 32-minute display of basketball that all in the gym will remember.
Trailing by one point with 2.2 seconds remaining in regulation, Mascoma Valley had an inbounds play under the basket to the right. All eyes in the stands were locked on Royals’ sophomore guard Ben Seiler, who had torched the Huskies all game. With the defense also focused on Seiler, Mascoma Valley senior center Hunter Stewart used a screen to get open, cut to the hoop and put a layup off the backboard and in as the bleachers emptied onto the court with the buzzer sounding to cap off a thrilling 54-53 win for the Royals.
Seiler was the difference in the game, especially in the second half. The sophomore had 21 of his game-high 31 points and hit a trio of three-pointers in the final 16 minutes to lift his team.
“I knew they were going to key on Ben, and if he was wide open, we were looking for him,” Mascoma Valley head coach Silas Ayres said. “But I kind of knew they were going to jump him and not let him beat them. I told my big guy as soon as we set that screen, just dive to the hoop, and it worked.”
Despite it being a crushing defeat for Monadnock, losing that type of game may be what the Huskies looks back upon in the next couple seasons. They lose just one senior, Clayton Coffman, and the future looks bright.
“This is the best group we’ve ever had,” Huskies head coach Jim Hill said. “We just said to them that we’d rather lose with them in the first round than win a championship with a bunch of guys that are not together and not disciplined and don’t want to be here.”
It may be years before Monadnock loses in the first round again, as the Huskies’ young players shined. Kevin Putnam led the way with 23 points, including the go-ahead basket with just over 20 seconds remaining. All night long, the sophomore guard showed his toughness, driving into the paint and finishing with defenders in his face or drawing a foul and getting to the foul line.
“He finished top three in the state in defensive player of the year as a sophomore. We’re extremely proud of him; he gives it everything,” Hill said. “He works hard at practice; he’s highly motivated and his energy doesn’t stop.”
A year above Putnam, Jacob Kidney finished second on the team in scoring with 11 timely points. The junior guard, and most experienced player on the roster at the high school level, hit a shot to tie the game 44-44. Following a three-pointer from Seiler, Kidney drove to the hoop, forced an and-one opportunity and knocked down the free throw to give the Huskies a one-point edge.
After another three by Seiler, Kidney showcased his playmaking ability, driving to the paint and dishing the ball to fellow junior Nathan Doyle on the right. But Doyle couldn’t finish at the basket, which would have brought the deficit back to one.
Despite missing that shot, the junior forward persevered in a big way, knocking down his next two jump shots with less than a minute remaining to keep Monadnock within striking distance. Bouncing back from a missed layup to knock down a pair of mid-range shots reflects the fight in the group that took the court for the Huskies.
“That’s the type of team they are,” Hill said. “They aren’t in there banging lockers or throwing stuff around. They were just asking each other what we’re going to do to get better, and tonight was a great experience.”
As the Huskies’ fans waited for them to dispel from the locker room following the game, there was already a message being floated around inside the closed doors.
“The emotion that they had wasn’t one that we lost it, or the refs lost it, or the clock or the coach or anything like that,” Hill said. “It was that we gave it everything we got; we came up on the short end of the stick tonight, but the off-season starts now, literally. That’s the kind of thing you like from a team. And they all said it’s the most enjoyable experience they’ve had in terms of team. They’re a tight group.”