Sunday, February 20, 2011

Souhegan Girls Over Lebanon in Battle of Unbeatens

Every so often you have one of those special nights in high school basketball. A packed gym filled with screaming fans. A great atmosphere. 2 excellent teams laying it all out on the line and giving it everything they have for all 32 minutes. And everyone in the gym leaves knowing that they will not forget this game or this night for a VERY long time. That's exactly what happened on Saturday evening in Amherst.

Lebanon was 15-0 going into this game. Souhegan was 14-0. It was the 2 best teams in girls division II going at it on a Saturday night. This game had a lot of hype and build-up. It lived up to every bit of it and then some. It was the game of the year in D-II and possibly the best girls game all year regardless of division. And in the end it was Souhegan who outlasted Lebanon to pull of the 60-56 win.

Here are the game's highlights, plus a post-game interview with player of the game Jane White from Souhegan.

Instant Classic
Back and forth they went. This game had over 10 lead changes. The teams ran up and down the floor at a fast and furious pace. There was big play after big play. Neither team backed down all game, even when some of the best players from both teams were on the bench due to either injuries or foul trouble. They just kept fighting, hustling, persevering, like 2 heavyweight champions going at it. It was 'Sabers Fan Appreciation Night' at Souhegan, and boy did these teams reward each and every one of the many fans who were in attendance with an amazing display of effort, teamwork and pride.

It was a little unfortunate however, that with how great of a game this was the pace really slowed down towards the end. At certain points of the 3rd quarter, and for the last 3 minutes of the 4th quarter, there were fouls being called on seemingly EVERY play. Lebanon senior guard Sara Romano got called for a foul while trying to take a charge on White. It was Romano's 5th foul and a tough call. Then teammate Emily Kehoe was guarding White and it looked like she was playing good pressure defense but she was also called for a foul. Then Moriah Morton, a sophomore guard for the Raiders had a tough foul call go against her while trying to take a charge along the baseline.

"This was the first time in 3 years we have been out-shot from the foul line" said Lebanon head coach Tim Kehoe. "I don't think we've ever had 22 fouls called on us in a half before."

There were also questionable fouls called on Souhegan. The officials were calling a VERY tight game.

Having said that, the story of this game wasn't the officials. The story was how these 2 great teams battled each other tooth and nail the entire way. Even when some of their best players were on the bench with injuries or foul trouble the girls from both squads just continued to work hard and make big plays. Players were forced to step up and play more minutes due to the injuries and foul trouble and they did.

Romano, Kehoe and Colleen Gilliat all fouled out for Lebanon. For Souhegan, White and senior wing Christan Wojtas both fouled out.

Injuries Played a Part
The fact that this game was such a classic is even more impressive considering the key players for both squads who sat out this game. For Lebanon, sophomore forward Trina Scheie was out with a hyper-extended knee. Scheie is arguably the best player Lebanon has. Also, Kehoe was seeing her first game action in 2 weeks coming back from a MCL injury.

Souhegan meanwhile was playing without 3 of their better players in Ceara McNamara, Tori Forrest and Taylor Cordts. McNamara was out with a back injury, Forrest is hoping to return soon from a knee injury. And Cordts is out for the year with a torn ACL.

This was a fantastic game, and if the 2 teams do end up meeting again in the tournament it could be an even better game if the teams are healthy.

Big Play After Big Play
Even when one team was able to build a 4 or 5 point lead, the other team would come storming back. Souhegan went up 17-12 late in the 1st quarter as White hit a pull-up three-pointer, then freshman Mickenzie Larivee got the ball inside and banked it off the glass with a turnaround. Just 37 seconds into the 2nd quarter though, the Sabers had already committed 8 team fouls. Christan Wojtas, who hit a pair of threes in the 1st quarter picked up her 3rd foul and had to sit for the rest of the half. The door was open for the Raiders to make a run, and Morton converted inside followed by a three by Colleen Taylor. Just like that it was a 25-21 Lebanon lead, as they had just completed a 13-4 run.

Morton and White each had 10 points in the 1st half. To begin the 3rd quarter, Lebanon senior guard Pete Kauer showed some great hustle, grabbing 2 offensive rebounds on the same possession. Not bad for a player (5'4") who was the shortest player on the court. Later on, Taylor would also have a pair of offensive rebounds on the same possession for the Raiders as well. Every rebound, every loose ball, every possession was a battle, with both teams giving it everything they had.

Wojtas and Romano then both picked up their 4th personal (seemingly every player in the game was in foul trouble). As a result, both coaches had to go a little deeper into their benches.

"We had a lot of kids out there who were inexperienced" said Coach Kehoe. "We will get better though because of it. I was forced to play my daughter a little more than I would have liked to coming off the injury."

Players who stepped up included Kehoe and Friedman for Lebanon. And also Gilliat, who was the team's only player taller than 5'9" without Scheie in the lineup. For Souhegan, Ashley Tighe, Bailey Gendron and Allison Sumski all stepped up into larger roles and came through.

In the 3rd quarter, Souhegan again matched their largest lead at 37-32, taking advantage of Lebanon's foul trouble (with 3:23 left in the 3rd they were already called for 8 fouls!). The Raiders just kept fighting though, and ended the quarter on a 10-4 run and led 42-41 heading to the 4th. Kehoe made a nice steal and then laid it in on the other end. The Sabers answered right back though as Larivee (10 points) had a mid-range jumper from the baseline.

Morton (14 points) then again came up with a big play for Lebanon. She drove to the basket on the left side, got fouled, through up a shot with her left hand and banked it in off the glass. It should have been an and-1 play, but instead the officials said that the foul was on the floor. Ouch! Taylor (team-high 17 points) then came right back with another three-pointer (this one from about 3 feet behind the line). Kehoe then made a nice drive on the left side of the floor and finished it off the glass.

Lebanon continued their momentum into the 4th quarter. They extended their lead to 50-45, their largest lead of the contest. Friedman made a couple of big shots. She got the ball in the right corner off an inbounds play and immediately fired a three ball - nothing but net. Then Morton grabbed a loose ball, pushed it hard up the court and found Friedman with a cross court pass. She buried the baseline jumper, with very high arc to avoid having it blocked by the Souhegan defender. After going scoreless for the game's 1st 3 quarters, Friedman (who like Kehoe, Morton and Scheie is only a sophomore) had just hit back-to-back BIG shots to begin the 4th.

But once again Souhegan came storming back to answer it. The Sabers went on an 8-0 run, which was capped by back-to-back shots inside by White and Tighe (10 points). With her team trailing 53-50 after just moments ago being up by 5, Taylor (a 5'9" junior wing player) again hit a BIG three-pointer to tie the game up at 53-53 with 5 minutes left. Gilliat then fouled out, and just like that Taylor and Morton were the Raider's tallest players.

The game then started to get a little hectic and sloppy, as both teams were tired and had to go deep into their bench. Coach Kehoe wanted to call timeout to settle his team down, but just after the officials blew the whistle, Taylor caught a pass up the floor for a wide open layup. The basket was no good. Tough break for Lebanon.

The excitement then came to a peak late in the game. The crowd (which was as big as you'll see for a regular season girls game) really started to get into it. And the teams continued to go back-and-forth. After 3 free throws by White it was 58-55 Souhegan. Then White got a steal in the back court while pressing. Just seconds later though, Morton stole the ball right back from White and took it hard to the rim. She was fouled and went to the line.

Sabers Defense Steps Up Down the Stretch
Lebanon would score just 1 point in the game's final 3 minutes, as Souhegan's defense really stepped up for them late and made it very difficult for the Raider's to get any good looks at the basket. Sabers senior forward Lauren Cordts (team-high 9 rebounds) also did a nice job on the boards to limit the Raiders to one shot. Lebanon's offense came to a half (with Romano, Sheie, Gilliat and Kehoe now all on the bench due to either injury or fouls) and Souhegan added a couple more free throws for the 60-56 final.

"We picked up our defense, and stopped their dribble penetration" said Souhegan 1st-year head coach Jeremy Faulkner. "We struggled with that in the first half, but did a much better job in the 2nd."

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