MANCHESTER, NH – Down 11 entering the second half, the Trinity boys basketball team found itself in an unfamiliar situation Thursday night.
Playing catchup at home to an up-and-coming Keene squad, the defending state champion Pioneers trailed throughout the first three quarters. But despite entering this season with only a handful of players from last year’s roster, Trinity showed its winning pedigree in the fourth quarter, completing a second-half rally by turning a 6-point fourth-quarter deficit into a 6-point victory, 62-56.
“Some games you’ve got to win like that,” said Trinity head coach Keith Bike. “You know, (the Blackbirds) came in and they were kicking our butt. It seemed like we weren’t doing anything right, and these kids could have folded, but they showed a lot of toughness and a lot of grit. I think that’s one of the questions we had coming into this year, but they showed a lot of heart, which was good to see.”
Junior Tyler Bike led the come-from-behind effort with 22 points while pacing an offensive output that also included 12 markers from fellow junior DeVohn Ellis.
“Obviously, we’re leaning on DeVohn and Tyler,” said the elder Bike. “They’re the most experienced guys in the state, really, if you look at all the high-profile games they’ve played. They’re only juniors but those guys have got to play better, and we’re on them, but they have a good understanding of the expectations we have for them, and they want that pressure, they want those expectations, and they’ll keep getting better.”
In addition to Bike and Ellis, the Pioneers are seeing contributions from the top of the varsity roster down including receiving 10 points each from sophomores Evan Dunker and Jaiden Summers against Keene, among several other underclassmen contributions from the likes of sophomore Shawn O’Neil and freshmen Derek Erilla and Connor Bishop.
“Everyone keeps saying we’re the defending champs, but you know, we’re not the same team we were last year, and to have a bunch of young kids out there, I don’t care if you’re defending champs or not, it was good to get a win against a very tough Kenne team,” said Bike. “They’re big and strong and they run good plays, so I’m very happy for the guys to walk away with a ‘W.'”
Keene head coach Robert Boulay said Trinity provided an excellent litmus test for his upstart Blackbirds, and while he and his players were disappointed with not being able to complete the road upset, he was excited to see them compete with an annual D-I frontrunner.
“For us, we’re close. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re knocking on the door,” said Boulay. “Coach Bike is always going to have them ready to play, and that’s why they have the reputation they do … they were just tougher down the stretch, to be honest, and you’ve got to tip your hat to a team that’s down the whole game and then they fight back. That’s the sign of a tough team and something we hope to replicate ourselves.”
Though Bike acknowledged the Pioneers aren’t playing at the level as some of the other D-I frontrunners such as Pinkerton, Nashua North and Bedford (Trinity lost to the Bulldogs 68-62 on Tuesday), he said his relatively young roster has both the talent and attitude to be a threat again this season.
“We’re not there yet. I’ll be honest with you, and the kids even know that too,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but they’re real good kids and they’re willing to work at it, so we’ll play better. I’ll tell you right now, we’ll keep getting better.”
Now, 2-1 on the young season, Trinity next plays on Jan. 3 where they’ll kickoff the new year by hosting cross-city rival Manchester Memorial at 7 p.m. before welcoming Nashua South to the Queen City on Jan. 6 at 6:30 p.m.
The Blackbirds fell to 1-2 but both losses came against teams expected to be in the D-I championship conversation. In addition to the Trinity setback, the Blackbirds also dropped their home opener to Merrimack, 52-50, but bounced back with a 58-43 win over Bishop Guertin a week later.
Keene was paced Thursday by a balanced attack, including 13 points from both Ben Hertzler and Andrew Prock and 12 points from Fitch Hennessy.
Next up for the Blackbirds is a home matchup with 0-3 Concord on Jan. 3 and then they’ll travel to Londonderry for another road test against 1-3 Londonderry.