There was no way that Trinity was going to hold Salem junior sharpshooter Josh Jones to just two points in last Saturday’s Class L title game at UNH. Jones was double-covered and shadowed for much of Salem’s 46 - 42 semifinal win over Manchester Central and held to just two free throws in the game, so Blue Devil teammates and fans knew that somebody was going to pay the following game. Five people who had a lot to say about that would be Salem point guard Josh Frederico, forwards Shawn Stoodley and Dan Kinney, and guards Mike Kimball and Kevin Sledge. These five worked among themselves and Jones to set each other up for open shots, much as they had done for Salem’s first 21 games this season, and it would work to perfection.
With Salem trailing Trinity 16 - 8 with a minute left in the first quarter, Jones hit a long 3-pointer to close it to 16 - 11 after one quarter and Jones went on a personal eight-point assault in the next two minutes of the second quarter. Jones nailed two 3-pointers and a layup and Trinity coach Dave Keefe was forced to call a time out, with the Blue Devils leading 19 - 16 with 5:54 left in the first half. Salem’s other junior guard, Mike Kimball, took over for the rest of the second quarter and pumped in seven points, (including a 3-pointer at the buzzer), and Salem had a 30 - 25 halftime lead that would stretch out in the second half to a breezing 66 - 45 title-clinching victory.
Mike Kimball and Josh Jones look on in wonder as Shawn Stoodly holds up the championship plaque for all to see.
It was the second straight Class L crown for coach E.J Perry and the team had not only completed a 22 - 0 season, but stretched its New Hampshire unbeaten streak to 32 consecutive wins. After the game, Perry said, “In my 18 years as a head coach, this group is the most amazing bunch I have ever coached. They know what needs to be done to get the job done and they are very unselfish. You ask them to go out and do something and they always seem to get the job done”.
When Trinity started moving people farther outside to try to stop Kimball from launching deadly baskets from the perimeter, he, Frederico and Jones started dumping the ball down low to Stoodley and Kinney where they’d rack up 13 and eight points respectively. Salem’s do-it-all guard/forward Sledge always seems to enter the game and do exactly what needs to be done. It may be a steal and a no-look dish-off to a teammate for a basket. It may be a fast break layup, or it may be lunging out of bounds for a loose ball to keep it alive and flip it out to Kimball so that he can launch another buzzer-beating 3-pointer as he did against Trinity.
Kimball pumped in seven points in the third period and Stoodley dropped in six as they now took a 49 - 34 cushion into the final eight minutes. Jones converted two conventional three-point plays in the final frame and added eight more points to his game-high total of 19, while Kimball ended up with 17 points and Stoodley added 13. Stoodley and Kinney owned the boards on both ends of the court in the second half and it might have been for a good reason. Perry admitted he got a little irked at halftime and told Stoodley and Kinney that he didn’t want to see a red shirt come down with any rebounds in the second half, and these two just about took care of that problem. With a minute and a half left and the Blue Devils comfortably ahead 65 - 43, Perry took his regulars out of the game, one by one, and gave them all a congratulatory hug as the huge throng of Salem fans continued their boisterous chants of “UNDEFEATED clap, clap…clap-clap-clap”. Salem junior Sean Bergeron made sure that he was going to get into the Class L tourney scorebook and he hauled in a rebound and was fouled on the play, sinking Salem’s final point from the foul line for the Blue Devil’s 66 - 45 victory.
Coach E.J. Perry congratulates Mike Kimball as he presents championship medals.
Coach E.J. Perry and Shawn Stoodley
Joshua Frederico and Kevin Sledge hold the championship plaque not quite believing its real.
Shawn Stoodley goes for two through heavy coverage against Trinity in the final game.
Salem basketball coach E. J. Perry was still hugging his Blue Devils players in the Salem High locker room after the bus ride back from the University of New Hampshire last Saturday night. He was, however, in a hurry to get over to J. Michael’s Family Sports Restaurant on Route 28 in Windham to get something to eat and meet with his wife and kids, mother and father, and the rest of the team and their families. Some of the players’ mothers, like Debbie Stoodley, Karen Savage (mother of Steve Savage last year’s Salem hero) and a few others decided to call a big victory meeting after the game at Jim and Sue Bonomo’s restaurant. Jim was at the title game and invited the entire Salem contingent back to his restaurant following Salem’s Class L title win. That made for a fun and festive evening for all the players and their families and for the coaches and their wives and kids. Hugs were still being handed out in between slugging down hot wings and pizza and other yummies while assistant coach Robbie McLaughlin was handing out many one dollar bills to his son and daughter to play the video games.
Perry slipped away from his family’s table to take a brief look back on the tournament.
Here is what he said:
“Our kids had the look in their eyes at halftime that they wanted it bad. I got a little angry for a second at Stoodley and Kinney in the locker room and told them I didn’t want to see a red shirt get a rebound in the second half, and those two were just tremendous. It takes a different breed to go 22 - 0 on a season, and kids like Josh Frederico, Mike Kimball, Josh Jones, and Kevin Sledge just answered the call at everything that was thrown at them. It’s definitely the most unselfish bunch that I’ve ever coached, and these kids just fed off picking up big assists and setting up their buddies for easy baskets. I caught some heat this year for using Kevin Sledge as my sixth man again like I did last year. I needed a guy to come in off the bench and pump the team up and that’s exactly what he did again. Whether you needed to the big steals, no-look passes for assists, the in-your-face defense, or maybe hitting two three-pointers in the final seconds of a game to beat Dover, Kevin gave us this and a little bit more.
Sean Bergeron shoots a free throw for the last basket of the game as David McEneaney waits outside the box.
“Josh Frederico was one of my most improved players this year. I hardly ever took him out of a game because I felt so comfortable with him running the show. He never had turnovers, played aggressive defense and always pushed the ball up court so we could get easy baskets, and I guess that’s why he got picked to play in the Class L All-Stars versus Class I All-Stars at New Hampshire Voke Tech on Sunday (where Frederico would lead the Class L stars to a 30-point victory and was named the Jack Ford Award winner. As for Josh Jones and Mike Kimball, can you believe they’re only juniors and I have them back next year? What can you say about them that hasn’t already been said? Kimball is one of the other most improved players on this team, and he seems to get hot at the most crucial points in big games. If he isn’t launching a 3-pointer and finding nothing but net, he’s finding an open Josh Jones, or dumping it down low to Kinney or Stoodley for big baskets and you couldn’t tell by the expression on his face, because it almost never changes.
“I don’t think Trinity thought that they were going to hold Josh Jones two just two points tonight like Manchester Central did. Jones was still being held and pushed, but Kimball, Sledge and Freddie worked to find him open for the good shots, and from the final seconds of the first quarter to the first three minutes of the second quarter, Jones hits for 11 straight points and instead of being down 16 - 8, now we’re up 19 - 16. Then Kimball takes over and we lead 30 - 25 at halftime. This is just a special group and I have to admit that our coaches Charlie Samataro, Robbie McLaughlin, and Brian Stanton all pitched in to make this a special season along with the best team manager a team could want to have … our own Adam Lawson, who led the cheers for the student section in the closing moments. I’ll talk to you during the week, but I had better get back to my table with Kathleen (Perry’s wife), and my Mom and Dad, because I think they’re having as good a time as anyone tonight.”
Dan Kinney from the line
Mike Kimbal launches a ball for two points against Central.
It looked and sounded as if half of Salem had traveled 40 minutes north to the Lundholm Gym at the University of New Hampshire to cheer on their 20 - 0 Blue Devils basketball team, as the noise coming from the student section was deafening for most of the evening. Coach E.J. Perry’s Salem kids feed off this and they did late Wednesday night too, as they overcame a 24 - 12 second quarter deficit, to take a scintillating 46 - 42 win over the Manchester Central Little Green in their Class L semi-final game. Trinity fended off No. 1 Spaulding in the first game, so a rematch of last year’s title game is set for Saturday afternoon against the 19 - 2 Pioneers.
Junior guard Mike Kimball and senior forward Dan Kinney would account for all the Blue Devils points in the first period. Kimball opened the game with a 3-pointer and scored five points with Kinney scoring two buckets down low, as the Blue Devils took a 9 - 7 lead heading into the second period. Central’s junior guard Will Bayliss had all seven of the Little Green’s points and he stayed hot in the second period by adding eight more. Central senior Mike Stys then ripped off eight points in the first six minutes of the second period and with two minutes left to go in the first half, Central had built up a 24 - 12 lead. Salem rallied in those two minutes to get three points each from Kimball and Kevin Sledge and Kinney added a bucket as Salem closed the gap to 26 - 20 at the break. Perry gave his boys a hearty pep talk in the locker room and his Blue Devils knew that it was gut-check time.
Shawn Stoodley started off the third quarter with a basket off an offensive rebound, before Kimball launched a 3-pointer. Stys hit a field goal to give Central a 28 - 25 lead, but Kinney followed with two huge baskets, and after another Stys field goal, Kimball hit a bucket and two more free throws to give Salem a 33 - 30 lead it would never relinquish. Stoodley and Kinney added two more buckets at the end of the third period, but two hoops by Seamus O’Neil gave Salem a 37 - 34 lead heading into the final frame.
Kimball had all seven of Salem’s fourth period points up until the 49-second mark, and Stys had all eight of Central’s points as Salem still held at 44 - 42 lead, but Josh Jones stepped to the charity stripe and buried both shots for a 46 - 42 final. Salem’s defense in the second half was outstanding as Josh Frederico and Kevin Sledge were relentless in their pressure and Jones and Kimball were able to get their hands in peoples faces to alter some Little Green shots. Kinney and Stoodley were grabbing every rebound and holding Central to just one shot each time down the court as the Blue Devils record went to 21 - 0 on the season and the 31 game winning streak was still alive over the past two seasons. Kimball scored a game-high 23 points in his biggest high school game so far, and Kinney had 12 gigantic points and 11 even larger rebounds. It was now off for a repeat performance with Trinity in the Class L championship game.
If you noticed that the traffic around town was a lot less congested than usual, it was because hundreds of Salemites fled to Durham last Sunday, then Wednesday night, then Saturday afternoon where coach E.J. Perry’s Blue Devils successfully defended their Class L basketball title with a 66 - 45 romping of the 19 - 3 Trinity Pioneers. The Salem kids were certainly pumped up as they warmed up in their pre-game drills and saw their favorite alumni like Brian Stanton, and last year’s championship hero Steve Savage making their way past screaming Salem High backers such as Nora and Michaela Galvin, Erica Begin, Amanda Saab, Danielle Stoodley and her athletic sisters Ashley, Betheny and Casey Stoodley. Their parents, Debbie and Ray Stoodley, were mixed in with Mrs. Savage, and Salem favorites like Butchy Dunham, Dick O’Shaughnessy, Hank and Henry Prince, Mike Murray and his son Mike, Jr. Former greats like Brian and Chris White were there with father Scott and the Salem fans Sea of Blue just kept coming through the turnstiles. Donna Bergeron somehow found the time to work at Salem Town Hall and politic around town for her good friend Susan (Foster) Wall for town clerk (which Wall won), and still saw all three playoff games at the University of New Hampshire and had an added pleasure when her son, junior Sean Bergeron, was responsible for putting the last nail in Trinity’s coffin Saturday afternoon when he sunk the final free throw for the 66 - 45 final. Mrs. Kinney, the Fredericos, Jeff Jones and his son, former Salem great Jason Jones, as well as many of the football team came in droves. Blue Devil football coach Jack Gati and his wife, Nancy, were there to cheer the boys on as were baseball coach Dan Keleher, former Salem football assistant coach Bobby Camirand, and former Salem football great Frankie Stewart, whose son Jimmy was named to the New Hampshire Shrine team last week.
The list of true blue Salem fans went on and on, and if you didn’t know it at the beginning, you knew it when traffic was backed up on Route 155 and Route 125 for about 45 minutes to an hour on the way back to Salem after the game. It was quite a way to kick off the St. Patrick’s Day weekend and we want to thank Perry, his coaches Charlie Samataro, Brian Stanton and Robbie McLaughlin, and the Salem Blue Devil basketball team for treating us to another championship weekend, with maybe another on the way next winter. Thirty-two wins in a row … oh my!