Last year's tilt between Souhegan and Lebanon was a classic and will go down as one of the best championship games in NH girls basketball history. Souhegan won that game to complete a perfect 22-0 season. Even though they went down 18-4 in the 1st quarter they came back to win it behind the heroics of point guard Jane White. For the second straight year the Lebanon girls suffered a heartbreaking loss in the D-II finals.
This year the Raiders had revenge on their minds. And even though they did beat the Sabers during the regular season 62-56 their mission wasn't yet complete. Lebanon went on to go 17-1 and once again it was championship or bust. On Monday night at SNHU they had a shot to really get their revenge, as they took on Souhegan in the semi-finals with a chance to advance to the title game by knocking off the Sabers. But it wasn't meant to be, as Souhegan was able to hold on for a 49-48 win behind a game-high 23 points from White.
"I think a lot of people were down on us since we lost 5 games during the season" said Souhegan head coach Jeremy Faulkner. "But we had the toughest schedule in the division and got off to a slow start to the season. Then we had a long talk as a team and then started playing better."
Lebanon had a chance to win it at the end. They had the ball with 20 seconds left trailing 49-48. Taylor Friedman (10 points, 6 steals, 3 assists, 2 blocks) had an open look from 3-point range. She was 3/5 from beyond the arc so far, but this time the shot rimmed out. The Raiders came up with the offensive rebound, and Colleen Taylor got an open look from about 10 feet away on the baseline with 4 seconds left. That shot was no good either and Souhegan won it.
"I give Souhegan a lot of credit, they made the plays down the stretch" said Lebanon head coach Tim Kehoe. "But we didn't bring our A game tonight. Our defense wasn't as good, and we were digging up hill the whole night. Still we had a great season. After Trina got injured a lot of people counted us out. But this team worked hard all year."
Moriah Morton led the Raiders with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals. She's a tough defender and is extremely quick off the dribble when driving to the basket (just like with White you need to force her left to have any chance). Unfortunately Morton fouled out with a couple minutes left in the game. For Souhegan they also had their two 6-footers foul out in the 4th quarter (Tori Forrest and Ceara McNamara). Sophomore forward Heather King also had a great game for Lebanon with 14 points including a big and-1 finish late to put Lebanon ahead. Forrest answered right back on the other end with an and-1 finish of her own to put the Sabers back on top.
This is a tough loss for Lebanon, but they will be the hands down favorites to win the title next season. Morton, King, Friedman and Emily Kehoe all return to the starting lineup, along with 6th man Samantha MacDonald. Plus the Raiders will be getting Trina Scheie back healthy after she missed the entire season this winter with a torn ACL. With Scheie and Morton as seniors next year Lebanon will have the 2 best players in Division II on the same team, with King, Friedman and Kehoe also being potential all-state players. If they lose game next year it will be a shocker.
For Souhegan you have to be impressed by the performance of Jane White, who once again carried her team to victory. It was definitely a team effort, as McNamara, Forrest and Mickenzie Larrivee all did a nice job on the boards, Ashley Tighe played some great defense and did all the little things well and Larrivee also hit some big shots late.
But in the end White was simply too much for Lebanon to handle. Late in the game when it was a one possession game I was definitely surprised they were guarding her one-on-one. I would have double teamed White to make someone else beat me. White is just too good of a scorer and play maker to just guard her straight up late in a close game. She hit a couple big threes, showed a killer hesitation dribble to get to the rim, finished in traffic and made clutch free throws. If White doesn't win D-II Player of the Year this season something has gone terribly wrong. Last year there was at least a debate, with Katie Cullerot, Danielle Walczak, Allie Wagner and Trina Scheie all being worthy candidates in addition to White. But this year there's no question White is the Player of the Year in D-II.
Souhegan takes on Kearsarge in the championship game on Friday night. They will be heavy favorites to win that game.