Monday, December 30, 2013

Lebanon Comes Back to Beat Trinity for Girls QCIBT Championship

The Lebanon High girls basketball team has made 4 straight final four appearances. They've been to 3 title games in that span and won the Division II championship last season going a perfect 22-0. However with the graduation of star players Moriah Morton (now playing for Dartmouth) and Emily Kehoe (now playing at St. Joseph's of Maine), plus the resignation of legendary head coach Tim Kehoe and a 1-2 start to the regular season there were surely some folks already the Raiders off. Well, think again.

Led by the dynamic duo of forward Heather King and point guard Samantha MacDonald (both seniors), Lebanon overcame a slow start to end the game on a 12-2 run. They defeated Division I Trinity 47-42 on Monday night at the Simon Gymnasium in Manchester, capturing the 2013 QCBT girls championship and proving that they are indeed a contender to repeat as champs.

"We finally started working together better and moving the ball" said King, who was named tournament MVP. "At the end of the game we realized it was time to step up as a team."

King notched a team-high 21 points and 13 rebounds, while MacDonald had 10 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. Trinity's super sophomore Amanda Torres led all scorers with 25 points.

Lebanon trailed 40-34 with just 3:19 remaining - it was time for a Raider rally. King grabbed an offensive rebound and finishing strong plus the foul. That cut the Trinity lead to 40-39. Trinity answered right back though, as Torres battled inside for an and-1 put-back of her own, showing good toughness and tenacity. The Pioneers now lead 42-40.

Then MacDonald makes a big time play. Trinity is up 2 with 1:42 left - they're trying to run clock while Lebanon is pressuring hard trying to get a steal. Trinity senior Lizzy Meehan was near half court, trying to get the ball to Torres. MacDonald was out there pressuring on 'D' and made a huge steal. She went hard to the rim, making the layup plus the foul. Her free throw was no good and we were all tied up 42-42 with 1:20 to go.

Lebanon gets the ball back, again looking to push the tempo and get a shot off quick before Trinity sets the defense. MacDonald misses a pull-up from the elbow, but King grabs the rebound and puts it back in. That be the go-ahead basket, putting Lebanon up 44-42 with 49 seconds left.

Right after that the Raiders got a quick steal with their press, but King was unable to convert the shot inside. Trinity grabbed the rebound and immediately pushed it back the other way, looking to tie the game back up. Torres went hard to the rim, but was met by 2 defenders inside and lost the ball out of bounds.

Lebanon ball, up 44-42 with 37.5 seconds to play. Trinity is pressing to try and force a steal. However lebanon gets it in to MacDonald, who singlehandedly breaks the press and pushes it the length of the floor. She stops near the foul line and makes a great dish to junior forward Vanessa Fleury. Fleury misses the layup, but grabs her own rebound and puts it in for 2. Lebanon leads 46-42. Trinity then needs to foul, but it's Torres who gets called for it and she fouls out. Lebanon tacks on 1 more foul shot and hangs on for the 47-42 win.

The story of the 1st half was Torres. Trinity led 13-8 after 1 quarter and Torres had 11 of their 13 points. At halftime it was tied 18-18, and Torres had 16 of her team's 18 points. The 5-foot-7 guard is lightning quick with the ball, goes hard to the rim, finishes well even over bigger players and can also knock down the 3.

After a low scoring start to the game, things picked up as King made a good pass to Mariah Ramos (9 points) for a layup and then Torres drilled a 3-pointer right after that.

"We have Heather King and Samantha MacDonald, we're trying to find out who will compliment those two out there" said first year head coach Rob Marsh, who served as Tim Kehoe's assistant for the past 12 seasons. "Mariah Ramos played well, she has worked extremely hard behind the scenes and doesn't get enough credit."

Trinity freshman guard Shannon Roberge and Torres hit back-to-back layups, and Trinity took a 13-6 lead. King made a strong drive to the hoop and finish at the end of the 1st quarter.

Lebanon went to a zone defense in the 2nd quarter to try and slow down the young but fast Pioneers. It worked well, as Trinity was held to just 5 points in the quarter. MacDonald finally got on the scoreboard, hitting a free throw with 3:20 left in the half to cut the Trinity lead to 13-12. Torres answered with a 3-pointer though and the lead was back up to 16-12. MacDonald countered that with a 3 ball of her own, and again the lead was down to 1, 16-15 with 1:47 left in the 2nd. Torres came right back with a layup and it was 18-15 Pioneers.

In the 3rd quarter both teams came out with an increased level of intensity, battling each other on every possession. MacDonald made a great pass up ahead to King, hitting her right in stride for a layup. Meehan then drilled a 3-pointer to put Trinity back up 21-20. King then made a strong drive and finish with her left hand. At 5-foot-11, King has good size, skill and strength. MacDonald is a tough, smart point guard who passes well, has excellent court awareness, can shoot and play 'D'. Don't be surprised if both of them are on college rosters next winter.

MacDonald went to the bench, and Trinity took advantage. Torres hit a 3, then right after that a tough and-1 finish. Trinity now ed 29-25. MacDonald goes back in and immediately makes an impact, pushing it hard up the floor, stopping at the foul line and delivering a solid pass to Ramos for a layup. King then made another strong drive and finish (she had 17 of her 21 points in the 2nd half). That tied it up 29-29, but then Trinity got another steal with their press which led to a layup by Meehan. It was 32-30 Trinity headed to the 4th quarter.

Elizabeth Graveline hit a jumper to start the 4th for Trinity. She had a foot on the 3-point line so it was 34-30 Pioneers. Then came a play that was reminiscent of the dominant Lebanon teams of the past few years. Against the Trinity press MacDonald gets the ball and zips it over to Fleury in the middle of the floor. Fleury immediately turns and whips it cross court to King in stride for the layup. That's how you break the press for a layup!

Trinity was now clinging to a 34-33 lead with 5:36 left in the game. The Pioneers respond with a 7-1 run. Roberge drills a 3 to break the tie and give THS a 37-34 lead. On the next trip down the floor Roberge makes a nice steal on defense. Hope Willard made 2 FTs, then Ashley Hill made 1 of 2 at the line. Trinity led 40-34, and you know how the rest turned out.

Despite the loss, Trinity certainly has a strong young nucleus. Torres is one of the top sophomores in the state, while Hill and Graveline are only sophomores too and Roberge is one of the better freshmen we've seen so far. They missed the tournament last year but the future looks bright for this squad.

As for Lebanon the good news is the return of Fleury, who sat out the team's first three regular season games but has returned to the lineup. Fleury, MacDonald and King all started for Lebanon's undefeated championship team last year, and Jennifer Laramie was the 6th man. It's important for them to have all 4 players out there as much as possible. With Fleury and King both in the lineup that gives the Raiders size up front that is un-matched in D-II girls basketball.

"Vanessa is just returning from a broken foot" explained coach Marsh. "We're trying to work her back in slowly, only playing her for 2 minutes per quarter for now."

The Raiders have a big game on Friday night vs. Souhegan, in a match up of Final Four contenders.

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