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KHS boys hoop looks to a bright future

CONWAY — The Kennett High boys basketball team closed out its season last week at The Nest, falling 76-48 in a game that was a lot closer than the final score might indicate.

The loss dropped the Eagles to 4-14 and one spot out of the Division II playoffs, which tip-off on Wednesday night. St. Thomas, who the boys from Conway beat easily 55-33 in Dover on Feb. 13, won two of its last three games to finish 5-13 and clinch the 16th seed.

With the win Portsmouth, who beat KHS 80-43 in the first meeting between the two schools Feb. 15, improved to 15-3 and secured the No. 2 spot for the post-season.

"The final score (Feb. 25) is not reminiscent of how hard our kids played," Steve Cote, Eagles' head coach, said. "This was far and away our most competitive game with Portsmouth in the seven years that I've been coaching against them.

"...We were just outgunned and they beat up on the boards," he added. "Although it wasn't a win, the boys can feel real good about how they played. This group has worked as hard as any team I've ever had and what I love about them is they all like to compete."

Prior to tip-off the Eagles honored their lone senior, Nate Ela, in a brief ceremony. Ela started his final game and saw plenty of action.

The Clippers jumped out to a 15-4 lead after the opening period and went to the locker room at the half in front 30-16. Kennett trailed 48-33 after three frames.

The Eagles, who had played primarily zone defense in the first match-up with the Clippers went man-to-man in the second encounter.

"We hoped we'd be able to check their guys off the boards and we actually had some success," Cote said. "Overall, I thought we did a much better job of defending this time."

Offensively, Thomas Loynd led the Eagles in scoring with 12 points while Nick Graziano added eight; Brandon DiLucchio, eight; Ryan Vajentic, eight; Ela, eight; and Mark Lautenschlager, two.

"The good news is we shot 43 percent from the field," Cote said. "The bad news is we only took 41 shots. We were 15-30 inside of three (point arc); 3-11 on threes; and 9-15 from the foul line. Portsmouth held a very good Souhegan team to just 41 points the other night. Not only do they play great team defense — they're in the top two or three in defensive points allowed — but they're a tough team to play. I think they'll be a team to reckon with in the playoffs."

Cote believes this flock of Eagles took some major strides over the course of the season.

"I think this was a season marked with hope," he said. "We were involved in a lot of 50-50 games and had we put some of those types of wins together we would have easily been one of the lower seeded teams in the tournament.

"...I think our guys are excited about the prospects of next year," Cote continued. "They know we all need to work hard in the off-season and become better players and better teammates. While the immediate future looks bright, we still have to put in the work because every other team in the state is going to be putting in the time and effort, too. ...This was a great team to coach. The guys showed up early and stayed later — (laughing) there were lots of nights where I had to kick them out of the gym or else they would have stayed all night. They're a hard working group and a group that has me very enthusiastic about in the upcoming years. We want more wins and we want to take this program to the next level. I think the excitement of promise, that's part of the chase."
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