LITTLETON — Parker Paradice provided punch on offense and the Littleton defense took care of the rest Friday night.
Paradice scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half and the defending Division IV co-champion Crusaders limited visiting White Mountains to three second-half field goals to pull away for a 53-37 rivalry win inside a nearly empty gym.
It was the first game in 10 months for Littleton, which reached the D-IV title game last March but never got a shot to win the title outright. The championship game against Newmarket was canceled because of COVID-19, and the two teams were named co-champs.
“It was very exciting to finally get back out there on the court with my team,” said Paradice, the senior point guard who also finished with six steals and just one turnover. “We knew it was going to be different with all of the COVID restrictions [masks on and no spectators], but we were pumped up no matter what.”
“We’ve been in the gym since Nov. 30 with no scrimmages, no games,” said LHS coach Trevor Howard, headed into his 24th season. “The kids have waited for a long while and they handled it well. I didn’t think they got over-excited. In an empty gym, I told them there’s no one else to support them but each other.
“It was a good way to start the season.”
Landon Bromley hit three triples and scored 14 points and sweet-shooting Cole Hadlock splashed a trio of triples off the bench for Littleton, which led 32-29 at halftime, but outscored the visitors 21-8 in the second half, including a 14-2 game-closing run.
Tyler Hicks was a force, finishing with 17 points and 17 rebounds for the Spartans (1-1). Brody LaBounty finished with 11 points, nine coming in the first half. Only two other players scored for WMR — Avery Hazelton (seven points) and Parker Valdez (two).
Thirteen of Hicks’ points came in a dominant first half as the 6-foot-2 junior forward scored from deep, in transition and at the rim while helping break the LHS press to keep the Spartans close.
A quick burst to start the third put Littleton up 39-31, but a Hicks bucket and a Hazelton basket brought WMR within 39-35 midway through the quarter.
It was the final bucket of the game for the Spartans.
Littleton closed the third quarter with a 7-0 run and the lead ballooned to 51-36 late in the fourth.
Clamping down on Hicks keyed Littleton’s second-half success.
“Our whole halftime discussion was about not letting Hicks get free in the open floor and making their other players with less experience have to score,” Howard said. “The kids did a good job and really dug in on D.”
“Littleton made nice adjustments on Tyler,” WMR coach Mike Curtis said. “We got tired and our kids tried to execute but missed on a lot of passes in the second half. Our guys did a lot of nice things in the first half. We missed two easy bunnies to open the fourth, which could have got us back into the game.
“We are still in the process of developing a bench and a rotation.”
Meanwhile, Littleton is looking to replace graduated seniors Todd Krol-Corliss and Parker Briggs, two of the premier scorers in the division last season for the 20-0 Crusaders.
They got a dazzling offensive spark from Paradice in the opening 16 minutes — seven buckets, including a 3.
“It was maybe the best offensive game of his career,” Howard said. “He controlled pace, went to the hole and finished. “For these guys to be good, though, it will be about consistency night in and night out.”
While the Crusader offense might take time, their defense looks to be their calling card.
“When we want to be, we can be really good defensively,” Howard said. “We have good length and quick hands.”
Littleton is also working on adding depth to veterans Paradice, Josh Finkle, Bromley and Lucas.
“I am happy with how our bench played; I wasn’t sure what we would get,” Howard said. “Hadlock was great. And Jason Hamilton, a 6-3 lefty, gave us some good minutes.”
Meanwhile, Littleton junior Mike Hampson hit one of two free throws to get in the scoring column in his first game in two years after an ACL injury.
It was a strong start for the Crusaders, who have title expectations.
“This group of guys is very experienced,” Paradice said. “We are a close-knit group that gets along well together on and off the court. This group has the potential to be just as good as last year. The only thing different is we don’t have the go-to scorers, so someone will have to step up every night.”
Littleton is at Colebrook on Monday at 4:30. White Mountains is at Gorham on Tuesday.
WMR (1-1): Brody LaBounty 4-2-11, Parker Valdez 1-0-2, Tyler Hicks 5-6-17, Avery Hazelton 3-1-7. Totals: 13-FG 9-14-FT 37.
LITTLETON (1-0): Parker Paradice 9-0-19, Landon Bromley 4-3-14, Mike Hampson 0-1-1, Stephen Lucas 1-0-2, Josh Finkle 3-0-6, Jason Hamilton 1-0-2, Cole Hadlock 3-0-9. Totals: 21-FG 4-5-FT 53.
WMR 12 17 6 2 — 37
LHS 16 16 14 7 — 53
3-Point FG: W 2 (LaBounty, Hicks); L 7 (Paradice, Bromley 3, Hadlock 3). Team Fouls: W 10, L 12.