By: Ross Laorenza
The Spartans of Pembroke Academy beat the Souhegan Sabers 49-41 today, in the Boys Division-II Finals, at UNH. It was a tale of two halves for the Spartans who only scored 14 first half points. They turned to some excellent defense in the 2nd half to turn the game around.
“Defense is how we won games all year;it’s how championships are won,” said Head coach Matt Alosa postgame. He continued, “We have a soft press and an aggressive press. We went to our aggressive press in the second half; it forced Souhegan into tough shots.”
Here is how the game unfolded…
Rene Maher (#10), Matt Persons (#13), Pat Welch (#15), Kafani Williams (#23) and Dominic Timbas(#21) started the game for Pembroke Academy. Souhegan countered with Zach Simmonds (#2), Tyler Ford (#3), Tanner Kent (#22), Jake Kennedy (#31) and Brandon Len (#42).
Jake Kennedy scored the first four points of the game giving Souhegan an early lead with a minute-and-a-half gone by. He picked up two fouls shortly thereafter and was forced to sit for the remainder of the quarter. Matt Protzmann (#33) saw some extended time filling in for Kennedy today.
Momentum shifted slowly over the next two minutes as the Spartans went on a 9-0 run that included a nice three-pointer by senior Matt Persons and a powerful basket by KafaniWilliams. Time out: Souhegan.
Both teams broke the huddle with 4:47 remaining. After two free throws by Brandon Len, Souhegan brought in junior guard (#1) A.J. Hayes. Hayes shined in the first half defensively. He blocked one shot with an amazing SWAT on a Matt Persons drive to the hoop and then with the help of his teammates blocked an attempt by Kafani Williams down-low. The junior knocked down a 3-ball on the next possession the tied the game 9-9.
Pat Welch stopped the rally with a 3-pointer of his own, after an incredible move to create space. However, with just 1.6 second left in the quarter he picked up his third foul which almost spelled disaster for Spartan nation. End of the First quarter Pembroke led 12-9.
Sabers take advantage in the 2nd
Without Pat Welch on the court, Souhegan was able outscore Pembroke 9-2 in the second quarter.Jake Kennedy returned off the bench and scored an monster basket with 7:20 left in the half. Brandon Len followed him with a deep three. Sabers now lead 14-12. The points continued to come. Zach Simmonds scored 5 consecutive points as the lead grew 19-12. Len then added two more to cap the run on an incredible hustle play, coming from beyond the arch, to grab an offensive rebound and lay the ball in. 21-12. Rene Maher scored the Spartans only points of the half. Souhegan led at the break 21-14.
Playing for Tony
The Sabers fans were out in full force today and kept cheering for their boys from start to finish. The entire student section wore white T-shirts with the #42 and Tony written on them, in memoriam of Tony Barksdale. His name became a rallying cry for the Saber students throughout today’s game. It was a very touching tribute to a young man, who left this World all too soon.
Brandon Len, who has worn Barksdale’s #42 since the tragedy, spoke after the game.
“I know basketball players always say their teammates are their brothers, but with this team its true. We had so much fun playing together. Even though we accomplished a lot, it was never about winner; it was about playing for Tony.”
Welch, Maher and Person lead Pembroke back in the 2nd half.
Much and more has been said about the skill level of the young junior from Pembroke, Pat Welch. He is truly blessed with great skill and leadership qualities. With his team down 7 points he began to assert himself physically on both sides of the ball and helped turned the tide of this game back in the Spartan’s favor.
Pembroke outscored Souhegan 17-12 in the crucial third quarter that had six lead changes. Matt Persons drilled a three with less than minute gone by in the half to cut the lead to four. After a basket by Jake Kennedy, Welch knocked down a nice shot making the score 19-23. Rene Maher scored five in a row to complete the comeback and take the lead 24-23, with 4:58 left in the 3rd quarter. Let the fun begin…
Brandon Len nailed a three and A.J. Hayes scored as part of a 5-0 run for the Sabers over the next two minutes. 26-24: Sabers.
Welch responded with another three to cut the lead of one point. Kafani Williams put Pembroke back on top with a nice basket of his own. 29-28: Spartans.
With 1:43 to go Matt Protzmann gave Souhegan the lead with a nice lay-in making the score 30-28. Time out Souhegan.
Pembroke slowed the pace of the game down considerably after the time out. They kept all five starters on the floor for the remainder of the game. I don’t think they did not want to see their perfect season slip after in the last game of the season. After the Souhegan time out Rene Maher took the ball up the court. He took his time dissecting the Saber defense and then gave his team a 31-30 draining a long two from just inside arch.
But the scoring wasn’t over yet. With time slowly ticking off the clock and his team down one, Brandon Len casually dribbled up court. With heavy pressure by Pat Welch Len moved closer to the hoop and then fired a shot from well beyond the three point arch.
“I knew a deep three would be a good look, then he stepped back and I took it,” – Len. GOOD! The shot swished down with 1.6 second left in the quarter and gave Souhegan a 33-31 entering the fourth quarter. What a game….What a game…
The Final Quarter
Souhegan started the 4th with Jake Kennedy, Brandon Len, Zach Simmonds, Tyler Ford and A.J. Hayes on the court. Pembroke came out with their starting five as the Championship and an undefeated season hung in the balance. Pat Welch took command.
A flurry of baskets in the first two minutes of the 4th still had Pembroke trailing 36-33. Pat tied the game with a three over Brandon Len then gave his team a 38-36 lead with yet another stunning shot. To follow it up he hit Matt Persons with a great pass for an alley-oop! Incredibe! 40-36.
Pembroke never looked back after that. They hit their free-throws down the stretch and finished the game on a 14-1 run. Final Score Pembroke: 49, Souhegan 41.
Rene Maher was 6/10 from the line and scored a game high 17 points and played the whole way through. Brandon Len scored 16 points in the loss. He was perfect from line (5/5).
Pat Welch totaled 14 points, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arch and 8-for-11 overall in 24 minutes. Jake Kennedy finished with 12 points and six rebounds. Game high in rebound was seven by Kafani Williams, who also scored 7 points on the afternoon. Pembroke outscored Souhegan 35-20 in the second half to take home the Division-II crown. Matt Persons finished with 8 points.
When asked how it felt winning title he said this,
“It feels great. All those long hours me and Rene shot together is worth it.”
Persons also touched on the comeback his team had,“2nd half we weren’t panicked; just thought that we only have 16 minutes left, to my high school career…”
Congratulations to both teams on an incredible year. I can’t wait to see what next fall brings to both these promising programs. From Durham, New Hampshire; Ross Laorenza: New Hampshire Notebook.