The standings in Division II girls are starting to take shape and teams are trying to jockey for favorable seeding and the all important home playoff games. The top 8 teams in the division get a first round home game and the top 4 put themselves in great position by getting 2 home games before the playoffs move to Southern New Hampshire University for the semi-finals and finals.
Tuesday night there was a match up between 2 teams fighting for those highly desired home court spots. Merrimack Valley at 8-3 traveled to North Sutton and took on the 10-1 Kearsarge Cougars. This was the Pride's first opportunity to play at the newly renovated Kearsarge gymnasium and it's new playing surface named after longtime athletic director and former boys head coach Marty Brown. The Pride has a big fan base and travels well, and they filled up the gym early, making for a playoff type atmosphere.
With the Cougar pep band playing the national anthem and the crowd excited to see playoff caliber basketball the Pride of Merrimack Valley didn't seem to be intimidated by the atmosphere. MV starts one of the biggest lineups in Division II. The 6'1" shot blocker Beckka Donavan at center, the Mullen sisters Molly and Mary, (MV's version of the double tight end offense) at forward, and 2 very athletic guards Jordan Fillon and Cassidy John. They play a very tight 1-3-1 defense and force teams to take shots from the outside. They rebound so well they usually give teams only one shot at the basket per possession. Earlier in the season they held the very explosive Lebanon Raider team to their lowest scoring output of the year.
The 1st quarter was a tough defensive battle with MV holding Kearsarge to just 4 points and a lead of 10-4. Both teams seemed a little nervous at the start with Kearsarge being held to one shot per possession and MV guard Cassidy John picking up 3 quick fouls and a trip to the bench.
The 2nd quarter things started to flow. MV's Jordon Fillon went on a tear hitting 2 three-pointers and scoring 12 points in the quarter. The Pride was hitting on all clylinders and it looked like this game would be over early. MV leads at the intermission 30-15.
Coach Rob Bennett of Kearsarge has a knack of making the right adjustments at halftime. They were down 24 points to Lebanon early in the season and were able to cut the lead to 10 in the 3rd quarter but ran out of steam in the end.
In this game they came out on fire in the 3rd quarter, pressing MV all over the court. The defense was led by Katie Levesque, Brittney Page, Eliza Henley and Morgan Church put the pressure on MV and caused several of MV's 21 total turnovers.
Church started to find her stroke and brought Kearsarge back to a 4 point defecit with her game-high 15 points. MV bent but they didn't break and in the 4th quarter they were able to convert their foul shots with Mary Mullen and Cassidy John both hitting critical shots to get the lead back to 8 and seal the win with a final score of 51-43.
Jordan Fillon was the star of the game for Merrimack Valley, finishing with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Becca Donovan was a monster on the boards, finishing with 14 rebounds while the Mullen sisters picked up 6 rebounds apiece.
With this win Coach Raycraft has put his team in great position to run the table and ensuring them a first round playoff game at home. The standings right now has Kearsarge in 3rd and MV 6th which could lead to a rematch in the playoffs.
With 3 weeks left in the regular season Lebanon and Hollis-Brookline have positioned themselves as top dogs in the division, but there are several teams with just 2 or 3 losses who are all fighting for that all important first round home playoff game. There's a big game in Lebanon tonight with last year's champion Souhegan and Player of the Year candidate Jane White heading north to the Upper Valley.