Back-to-back! Pelham captures 2nd-straight crown

By Nathaniel Ford

DURHAM – The Pelham Pythons took down the Hanover Bears 51-41 to win back-back Division II championships. 

After defeating Pembroke in the final last season, they finished as the one seed with a 17-1 record this season. Their history on the big stage proved to be vital in their run this season.

Pelham was hot right out of the gate. The defending champions were poised and in control, scoring 6 quick unanswered points. 

However, Hanover’s youth did not prove to be an issue. They stayed calm and responded with a 9-0 run of their own, taking the lead right back.

Defense was a huge part of their first quarter, holding Pelham to just 2 points after their fast start. Hanover forced steals, deflected passes, and allowed nothing easy from the Pythons. This carried them to an 11-8 lead entering the second quarter.

The Bears picked up right where they left off entering the second. Sophomore Ryan McLaughlin got a basket early, and following that hit a triple from way beyond the arc, helping Hanover extend their lead to 7 points. 

Pelham responded when they needed to the most, ending the quarter on a 13-2 run through the latter part of it. A big part of this was foul trouble on the Bears’ side.

Hanover attempted just three on the half, and they converted on none. Pelham, on the other hand, shot 12-18 from the line, a result of 12 team fouls on the Bears.

A majority of the Pythons’ scoring output came from these free-throws, which is what helped them take their first lead since early in the first quarter. Going into the half, they led 24-20.

McLaughlin took over in the third quarter, grabbing rebounds, making defensive plays, and being a key offensive contributor. He had two huge baskets going to the hoop and dumped off a phenomenal pass to Jaysel Oriol for an easy layup. 

Hanover closed the third quarter on a 9-0 run to retake the lead 34-32 entering the fourth. Pelham was held scoreless for minutes behind superb defense, highlighted by a huge block from Roy Lucas. 

Despite their exceptional play, Hanover was only able to enter with a four point lead going into the final frame. Pelham hung around and made some big baskets early in the quarter to keep the game close. 

In the fourth quarter, experience prevailed for the Pythons. They put the clamps down on Hanover, holding them to zero field goals until 2 seconds remained in the game.

The Pythons entered the final frame trailing, but they made big plays when they needed to the most. They play nearly all seniors, all of whom played at UNH last year in the championship.

Point guard Dom Herrling came up absolutely huge when it mattered the most. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including an and-one finish with under two minutes to play to extend the Pelham lead to 6. 

Connor Travis showed how big a part of this team he is. While he does not average double figures, he makes winning plays that don’t show up in the box score. In the fourth, he took two charges with less than three minutes left, and a total of four on the game.

Peter Hemmerdinger, who was the lead contributor in overtime against Coe-Brown in the semifinals, had two huge layups in the fourth quarter. 

Zach James, a 20 ppg scorer, struggled from the field, but he made a huge impact and freed up his teammates despite scoring single figures.

When it was all said and done, Pelham held Hanover to just 7 points in the fourth quarter and were able to come away with a 51-41 victory to repeat as Division II champions. 

Senior Jakub Fredette encapsulated the feelings in Pelham best. He subbed in late in the game, and he was smiling the whole time he was out there. The final buzzer sounded, and he was as excited as anyone on the team.

Pelham was led by Dom Herrling, who put together an incredible statline of 15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals. 

Their scoring output was very balanced as a team. Adrian Villanueva and Peter Hemmerdinger each recorded 8 points, while Logan Dumont and Zach James each scored 7 of their own.

Hanover was led by sophomore standout Ryan McLaughlin, who scored a game-high 17 points. Jaysen Oriol chipped in with 8 points and Roy Lucas with 7. 

While they fell short today, the Bears had an incredible year under coach Ben Davis. Just last season, they started the year 0-12 before winning five of their last six games. 

This year, they completely flipped the script, finishing 17-1 and earning the number two seed in the division and were able to do this with an extremely young team. They graduate just three seniors, and four starters return.

Pelham, on the other hand, had immense experience on their squad. They graduate seven seniors, all of whom played in today’s game. With eight players returning and one of the best JV teams in the state, they will look to retool and compete for a third championship next year. 

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Check out the full photo gallery by Jill Stevens…