Upstart Pioneers fall short against Marshall, Pinkerton

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Jamar Gregory-Alleyne and the Pioneers faced a tall task taking on Jackson Marshall and the top-seeded Astros Wednesday. Stacy Harrison photo

EXETER, NH – Returning to Exeter for the second time in five days, the Trinity High School boys basketball team’s deep postseason run ended when in ran into a 6-foot-8 wall Wednesday night.

Relying on speedy, endurance-based transition basketball, the fifth-seeded Pioneers (15-6) zoomed past their first two playoff opponents, including a 78-65 victory over No. 4 Exeter High School Saturday to reach the NHIAA Division-I semifinals, which were hosted at the same venue Wednesday night.

There, Trinity stayed neck-and-neck with top-ranked Pinkerton (19-1) for the first two quarters but couldn’t overcome Astros senior big man Jackson Marshall and his sharpshooting comrades in the the second half.

Pinkerton 82, Trinity 71.

Pioneers senior DeVohn Ellis said the game plan was not to overcomplicate their approach against the D-I favorites.

“We were just going to play them straight,” he said. “We didn’t want to do too much scheming, didn’t want to focus too much on single people, so it was really about just switching it up, giving them different looks, and it was working. We just couldn’t really get them out of the paint.”

The Pioneers were able to chip back from a  first quarter deficit to draw within two heading to halftime, however, down 32-30, they came out cold in the third quarter, failing to convert their first five possessions while the Astros seemingly couldn’t miss.

“Coming out of the locker room, we just had to compete a little more defensively,” said Pinkerton head coach Matt Dunham.”You know, I think we made it a little harder for them in the first couple minutes of the third quarter, and just having Drew (Brander) and Jackson (Marshalll) compete just a little more than they did in the first half, and (Trinity) maybe had some jitters, which happens, but we came out (firing) and it was great.”

A 10-0 Pinkerton run was only halted after a double-technical foul was administered following the second called charge on Marshall in the first few minutes of the third.

Each shooter hit one of two free throws, which ended up being a sign of things to come as the teams traded blows the rest of the third quarter and Pinkerton entered the final frame with a 57-47 advantage.

Trinity didn’t give up in the fourth, cutting the lead to seven with five minutes remaining, but couldn’t draw any closer as Marshall saved 16 go his game-high 39 points, including nine free throws, and the Astros cruised out of Exeter with a ticket to the D-I championship game.

“We had a good game plan,” said Trinity head coach Ray Farmer. “I thought we did a good job of almost executing it. It just came down to missing some shots and it is what it is. I’m not sure we could have played any better. You know, a couple things fall our way and it’s a different ball game.”

Trinity missed several layups in the first half and early in the third quarter, which made it difficult to keep pace with the Astros, who leaned heavily on put-backs from Marshall inside, as well as the outside shooting prowess of Brander and Charles Ludden – who drained five pivotal second-half threes – to keep the Pioneers off balance. They finished second and third for Pinkerton with 22 and 15 points in the contest, respectively.

Now the Astros head to Lundholm Gymnasium at the University of New Hampshire in Durham for the title tilt Sunday against No. 3 Nashua North (which upset second-ranked Bedford, 84-68, in the first game Wednesday).

And Ray and his upstart Pioneers now look ahead to next season, where they’re likely to be an early favorite in an always-competitive D-I field.

“They’re a young team, and Ray Farmer is a phenomenal coach,” said Dunham. “I’ll say it again, hands down, a phenomenal coach. He did a great job with those kids, and they bought into what he’s doing and he’s doing a great job at Trinity.”

Ellis, who played a significant role in helping the Pioneers with the D-I championship as a sophomore in 2022 (under previous head coach Keith Bike), credited Farmer with creating a culture of hard-work and focus that directly led to Trinity’s success and deep playoff run this season.

“From day one, we ranked as 14 (in a pre-season poll), and we thought that was disrespectful and we used that as motivation throughout the entire season and really just got to work, every day of the week, put in the work and got to the semifinals,” said Ellis. “It didn’t end how we wanted it, but we worked hard and proved a lot of people wrong, and they’re going to have a great next season as well.”

Ellis capped his high school career with 17 points, while junior Shawn O’Neil flashed a glimpse of things to come next year with 22 markers and Evan Dunker, Connor Bishop and freshman Jordan Torres each contributed nine points.

“We’re a young team and I think that came out,” said Farmer. “You know, we have a lot of inexperienced guys playing at the varsity level for the first time in a high-intensity semifinal playoff game, and I’m happy with what we did. I think next year we’ll come out better for it.”

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About this Author

Ryan O'Connor

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.