Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Souhegan Girls Topple Hollis in Battle of Unbeatens


Two rival teams who were both undefeated in girls Division II before tonight squared off in Hollis. But it was one team that made a statement that they are not only a top team in the division but in the entire state. That team is Souhegan.

The Sabers led by as many as 18 in this game, point guard Jane White (21 points and 8 assists) showed why she is the #1 ranked junior in the state. And Souhegan went into Hollis-Brookline's gym and beat the Cavaliers 65-54.

"This was a statement game" said Souhegan first-year head coach Jeremy Faulkner. "We really wanted to win this game."


Hot Start for Hollis
The Cavaliers got off to a quick 13-4 start. They were moving the ball well and hitting shots on offense, and defensively they were forcing turnovers. Hollis was playing without one of their better players, junior guard Jillian Gillis who has been out all year so far with a high ankle sprain. But they were playing on their home court and coming off a big win over Oyster River last week. Gillis' twin sister Olivia, along with fellow junior guards Kelsey Berry and Katie Stopera were leading the way for the Cavaliers. The question became how long could they keep this strong play up against a very talented Souhegan squad.


Souhegan Wakes Up, Then Dominates
"We had a lot of nerves early on" said Coach Faulkner. "But then we settled down and stopped making mental errors."

After going down 13-4, the Sabers closed the Cavs lead to 16-11 after the 1st quarter, then came out in the 2nd quarter hitting on all cylinders. 6'0" junior forward Ceara McNamara found a cutting Christan Wojtas with a pass from the high post, which cut the Hollis lead to 16-13, making it a 10-3 run for Souhegan. Then White drove right, and made a nice bank shot leaner plus the foul.

"Jane's the backbone of our team" said Coach Faulkner. Her and Christan are what really make us go."

Wojtas then continued to play well, drilling a three-pointer to give the Sabers an 18-16 lead, their first lead since it was 2-0. A couple Souhegan baskets later and they were up 23-16 - that's a 19-3 run!

Soon thereafter, Stopera hit her second three of the game to slow down the Sabers run and cut the lead down to 25-21. But then Wojtas (13 of her 18 points came in 1st half) answered right back with her third trey of the game. White then laid it in, and Souhegan went into halftime up 30-21.

Both teams had 9 point leads in the 1st half. Hollis was playing without Jillian Gillis. Souhegan had injuries of their own, as they were missing senior guard Taylor Cordts (out for year with torn ACL) and junior forward Tori Forrest (out for 2 weeks with back injury). In addition to Wojtas with 13 points in the 1st half, McNamara also had 9 1st half points (she finished with 17). McNamara showed the ability to run the floor, finish inside and also step outside and knock down the 18-20 foot jump shot.


White Takes Over in 3rd Quarter
Souhegan was already up 9 at the half, but the 3rd quarter was also crucial, as they were able to push the lead from to 18 to take a daunting 53-35 lead on the previously undefeated Cavaliers heading into the 4th. The spectacular play of White was a BIG reason for this development.

The 5'5" junior scored 10 of her game-high 21 points in the 3rd quarter, as she simply could not be stopped by the Hollis defense. The Souhegan offense was realy pretty simple. Spread the floor, give White the ball at the top of the key. She would then go by her defender off the dribble and then either finish at the rim or get fouled. Or if the defense collapsed she would dish the ball to an open teammate for an easy layup.

White began the 2nd half with a nice drive and and-1 finish. Then Wojtas hit a long two-pointer. After 2 more foul shots by White Wojtas drilled yet another three, and gave the Sabers their largest lead, 40-22 early on in the 3rd quarter. Going back to the 1st quarter, Souhegan was on a 36-9 run.

"Our defense was what did it for us" said Faulkner. "We played good defense, and that led to our baskets on offense."

Then the game really started to get physical. There was a lot of contact, and bodies hitting the floor all over the place. Hollis got a very nice hustle play from Olivia Gillis which lead to a pretty basket as Julia Stopera found Katie Stopera for a layup. It cut the Sabers lead to 42-29, forcing Souhegan to call a timeout. The Hollis crowd really started to get into it. You could tell this was a rivalry game.

Out of the timeout, White went back to work, going for another and-1 finish. She is VERY tough to guard, as White can handle the basketball very well against defensive pressure, is quick off the dribble and can also finish vs. contact.

Sabers freshman standout Mickenzee Larivee then left the game with a leg injury (she would return in the 4th). And senior forward Lauren Cordts fouled out late in the quarter. But Souhegan still lead 53-35 going into the last frame.

"They shot the ball extremely well" said a disappointed Hollis-Brookline head coach Bob Murphy. "They had more intensity, and they also out-rebounded us 40-26. If that happens it's tough to win games."


Hollis Comeback Falls Short in 4th
Give the Cavs credit. They were down 18, which many would think is an insurmountable 4th quarter deficit. But they kept fighting, and actually got the lead down to 61-54, and they could have cut it down to 61-55 with just under 2 minutes left, but Olivia Gillis had a three-pointer which went halfway down the basket and then popped out. Senior guard McHale Perkins grabbed the offensive rebound though and laid it in.

To start the quarter though it was White who took control. She had another nice drive and dish, finding McNamara for an and-1 finish. Larivee was back in the lineup and was playing big minutes with all of the injuries and foul trouble. She definitely was not playing like a freshman, as she contributed 5 points and 5 rebounds off the bench.

"Larivee stepped up big for us" said Faulkner. "She's a player that just keeps getting better and better everyday."

Once again though, Hollis refused to give up. They made a run which was led by Gillis and Berry. Gillis (team-high 19 points) was playing excellent basketball on both ends of the floor. he hit a three that cut the Souhegan lead to 60-51 with 5:09 left to play. Berry (18 points) was also hitting crucial shots, and also playing a solid point guard for the Cavs.

"Kelsey is a tough, smart player and a hard worker" said Coach Murphy. "She can pass, she can shoot, she does everything you would want a point guard to do. She's really improved a lot."

Hollis would cut the Souhegan lead to just 7, but that's as close as they would get. Gillis fouled out with just under a minute left. And the Sabers added a few more free throws at the end to seal the deal. They had won a big game on the road against a good team, 65-54.


The Bottom Line
Both of these teams are still contenders to make it to SNHU for the Division II final four.

Souhegan (even with their injuries) is not only the team I have ranked as the #2 team in D-II (only behind Lebanon), but they have to also be considered one of the top teams in the state regardless of division. White is clearly a 1st-team all-state player in D-II, and a possible Player of the Year candidate along with Oyster River's Danielle Walczak and Allie Wagner from Kennett. When Souhegan has White, Wojtas and McNamara all playing like they were tonight they will be very tough to beat. Tonight they also got strong player form Larivee as well as junior guard Ashley Tighe in supporting roles. And oh by the way, the Sabers host the 6-0 Lebanon Raiders on February 2 (yes, I will be covering that game!).

As for Hollis, they will lick their wounds and go back to work. They can't lament over this loss for long, because they have to play a tough Portsmouth team on Friday night. Coach Murphy hopes to have Jillian Gillis back in the lineup by February 5. When the Gillis twins, along with Stopera and Berry are all playing together this is a team that can really put up a lot of points. I saw it first hand during fall league action, they're tough. They'll be even tougher if they can get strong enough inside play from Julia Stopera, 6'2" junior Rachel King and Sam Zorn. he Cavs don't have a lot of size (their top 4 players are all either 5'7" or 5'8"). But they showed they can beat teams with good size when they defeated Oyster River last week.

These same two teams meet again on February 22 in Amherst, the last game of the regular season. Both Gillis and Forrest are expected to be back by then. Should be another good game.

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