Upstart Holy Family holds off up-and-coming Cougars

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MANCHESTER, NH – In a Monday night battle of David versus Goliath, the Derryfield School boys basketball team just missed the mark in its attempt to slay the giants of Holy Family Academy.

It was Holy Family’s size that ultimately ruled the day as the Griffins’ withstood a late attack to earn a 61-55 win and improve to 7-1 in this, their first season competing against NHIAA competition.

Senior captain Tom Gillis drives the ball to the basket.
Senior captain Tom Gillis drives the ball to the basket against Janai Cruz of Derryfield.

After falling into a double digit hole in the first half, the 0-7 Cougars kept pace with the Griffins in the third quarter and then chipped away at the lead with hot shooting and relentless full court defense to draw within four with less than a minute remaining, but there wasn’t enough time to finish the comeback attempt.

“They wanted it. They came to play,” said Holy Family head coach Keith LaCasse of Derryfield’s effort. “We knew they had good shooters, so we were trying to shut that down … and we probably could have done a better job of that.”

That was the game plan, said Derryfield head coach Ed Meade, make it a full-court contest and create quality shots.

“Last time we played them (a 56-43 setback in the season opener on Jan. 15), they slowed it down on us, which was an advantage to them because they’re so strong inside, so tonight we wanted to try to speed it up a little,” he said. “We didn’t have much success in the first half, but mid-third quarter, fourth quarter we were able to speed it up and that definitely played to our advantage.”

Senior 6-foot-7 center Yann Yonkeu dominated the paint for much of the game, leading Holy Family in rebounds and blocks while dropping 22 points on the Cougars.

“That was the difference,” said Meade. “They were kind of dominating us inside.”

Yonkeu’s brother, Karl, a junior point guard, paced the team’s half-court offense, finishing second in scoring with 18 points; and seniors Paul Lamontagne and Tom Gillis contributed 13 and six markers, respectively.

Karl Yonkeu and Gillis, said LaCasse, have done a impressive job leading his squad this season.

“Tom is very aggressive and can see the whole floor. Tom can find that open guy and that someone may have overlooked. He’s quick and he’s smart,” said LaCasse. “Karl brings intensity. He can play a whole game without getting tired and work hard the entire time.”

The Griffins’ play on the court, has undoubtedly been inspiring, but LaCasse said the key to their success in this, their maiden voyage in the competitive waters of New Hampshire Division IV basketball, is playing for a greater purpose.

“Holy Family Academy is a Catholic High School, as you know, and the secret to this team is they don’t play for me, they don’t play for each other, they play for God’s glory,” he said. “That’s what drives them.”

Derryfield’s youth, said Meade, has been a factor in his team’s winless record, but he said this year’s lumps are certain to pay dividends down the road. After all, the Cougars feature just two seniors, and their starting point guard, Thomas Ferdinando, isn’t even in high school yet.

“For a young team, we’re doing pretty good, but it’s hard to get them to play for four quarters in consistent spurts,” said Meade. “But they’re coming along. I definitely think we have something to build on for next year.”

Ferdinando, an eighth-grader, produced 11 points against Holy Family, including three second-half three-pointers, a feat matched by sophomore John McDevitt, who also scored 11.

Freshman Jack Krasnof was third on the team in scoring with 10, while senior captain Jaxon Snyder dropped nine in the contest. Junior Kaven Fitch and senior Charles Renvyle contributed six and four points, respectively.

That balanced scoring is a testament to the team’s potential, said Meade, who also noted his team is sure to benefit from a difficult schedule against quality opponents from upper divisions such as Division-II Sanborn and Bishop Brady, D-III Campbell and four contests against the top-two teams in Division IV, Newmarket and Holy Family.

“We’ve had no cupcakes at all this season,” he said. “I kind of planned that on purpose because I knew these guys were young … so if I figured if we were going to gain experience and get tougher, this would be the time to do it, so next season when we’re back playing all Division IV teams, we’ll be in much better shape.”

Still, based on his team’s near upset of first-place Holy Family, Meade thinks his boys can still make some waves in Division IV this season if all teams make the playoffs, as is expected.

“As far as the tournament goes, I think we’ll be ready,” he said. “These kids, these youngsters have been battle-tested, and if we can play with (Holy Family), we can play with just about anyone in the division.”

Derryfield looks to earn its first win and gain some momentum heading into the playoffs when they host winless Bishop Brady on Thursday before closing out the regular season with back-to-back games against 5-2 Epping on Feb. 23 and 25.

Holy Family enters a four-game stretch to complete the regular season, first with a home-and-home against 1-5 Nute Tuesday night and Friday, and then with back-to-back duels with Division III St. Thomas Aquinas on the 23rd and 26th.

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About Ryan O'Connor 9 Articles
As a longtime journalist in Southern New Hampshire, Ryan O'Connor has written for several local online and print publications covering everything from school board meetings and local high school sporting events to major crime stories and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary (yes, the last two are mutually exclusive). In addition to spending time with his beautiful wife and four amazing children, Ryan enjoys attending and serving at church, golfing as much as possible, home brewing, playing softball and snowboarding when time allows.