Part IV of Seacoast Media Group’s Winter HS Champions Showcase: Newmarket’s second final berth in three years nets program’s first championship since 1986
NEWMARKET — Logan Willey doesn’t mind sharing.
At least the Newmarket High School boys basketball team has something to show for a season in which the Mules won their last 15 games and earned a berth in the Division IV final for the second time in three years.
“I thought it was a pretty great season,” said the senior co-captain. “It was my senior year and I was hyped for it. We had one hiccup when we lost to Littleton early in the season, but I’m not complaining. We’re co-champions. Obviously everybody wanted it to go differently.”
The second-seeded Mules were looking forward to the rematch with recent nemesis Littleton, the No. 1 seed which was not only responsible for the lone blemish on their record this season but also eliminated Newmarket in the D-IV semis last year.
The Mules were poised to avenge both losses and capture the program’s first outright title since 1986. Instead, circumstances beyond anyone’s control intervened when the coronavirus pandemic caused the game to be canceled and the NHIAA to declare co-champions for the first time.
“I think it’s interesting,” said senior co-captain Will Chase. “Obviously you want a full share of that. It also could have gone the other way because they beat us in January. I think the NHIAA made the right decision. Obviously co-champions is not the phrase we wanted to be associated with this year, but unprecedented times takes unprecedented measures.”
Granting each player four tickets to limit the number of fans in attendance, playing without any spectators or postponing the game to a later date were among the options considered in the days leading up to the championship.
“We were cognizant of that,” Chase said, “but we also wanted the opportunity to play. With a pandemic everything changes minute to minute.”
The teams learned of the final decision just hours before they were scheduled to take the court two weeks ago at Plymouth State University.
“People will always wonder what would have happened if we did play the game,” said coach Jamie Hayes. “If you end up losing at least you competed for it. We controlled what we could control. We didn’t ask for this. No one asked for this.
“The decision was made the day of the game. We understood and supported the NHIAA decision they made, but from the competitive side obviously you want to play the game.”
The Mules, who finished 20-1, dominated the competition during the regular season when their margin of victory was a little more than 27 points per game. They continued that trend in the playoffs with blowouts of Wilton-Lyndeborough and Woodsville in the first two rounds.
Newmarket stumbled a bit in the semis against Groveton, but erased an early deficit en route to a 40-29 win in what turned out to be the final game for six seniors.
“We didn’t want it to end like this,” Chase said. “It seems like the final chapter hasn’t been written. We were certainly confident we were going to beat Groveton and have a final game. The sad part about it is we didn’t have our best performance. Thursday’s practice was really, really good and we were amped up and ready to go with one more opportunity to show everybody what Newmarket basketball is all about.”
Newmarket and Littleton (21-0) were on a collision course all season.
“(The players) put a lot of time in,” Hayes said. “They came in with a 15-game winning streak. This was one of my favorite teams to coach. They had chemistry, they were dedicated and they bought into everything we asked them to do. They deserved to be there.
“A lot of our games were pretty lopsided,” he added. “We wanted a competitive game to see what we were really made of.”
In the regular season meeting at a neutral site the Mules rallied from a 19-point deficit and trailed by just three with a minute left when the Crusaders sealed the 60-49 victory from the foul line.
“We figured whoever won that game would be the No. 1 seed and probably go undefeated,” Hayes said. “It was a two-team race this year. They deserved it as much as we did.”
“All year we did a great job picking each other up,” Willey said. “We knew we needed that mental toughness to beat Littleton. We never went into a game thinking we were going to lose.”
The Mules have reached the final four in 10 of 16 seasons under Hayes, who praised the contributions of John Langlois, who began the season as the head coach at Mascenic and finished it as an assistant with Newmarket. Langlois coached the Mules to the 1986 title.
“The entire year we were beating up on teams,” Chase said. “We knew Littleton would be good. We knew they’d be ready. I think it would have been a really good game. We wanted to show people we’re capable of beating a top team.
“We felt the year before when we lost to Littleton in the semifinals we didn’t get to our ultimate goal,” he added. “Our goal was to win a state championship. We thought we could get there and we were there.”