To say Coe-Brown and Hanover started off slow in their Division II semi-final game would be an understatement. With 3:56 left in the 1st quarter the score was Coe-Brown 2, Hanover 1. Neither team has any experience in a Final Four, playing in game of this magnitude, so naturally there were some early jitters. But the pace picked up and so did the scoring.
Coe-Brown was only up by 1 after 3 quarters, 34-33. But then the Bears went on a 10-0 run en route to a 22 point 4th quarter and that was the difference. After that run Coe-Brown had a commanding 46-35 lead with just 4:30 remaining. They held on from there for the 56-52 win to advance to their first girls basketball title game since moving up from D-III to D-II.
"In the huddle we just said that we needed to stay calm" said Coe-Brown junior forward Abigail Ahern, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the win. "We run a lot in practice, so our conditioning also helped."
Junior guard Sarah Curtin made a nice entry pass to Ahern in the post, leading to a layup to start the quarter. Hanover senior forward Cathleen Beliveau answered with a 15-footer to cut the lead back to 1, 36-35. Then Coe-Brown went on a 10-0 run. Ahern made a great move, backing down her man with the dribble and using a spin move into the lane before hitting the turnaround shot for 2. Coe-Brown got a quick steal near half court, and then junior forward Jenny Schlim zipped a pass over to Ahern for a layup. Hanover was then called for a back court violation, and then junior guard Debbie Peabody connected on back-to-back jumpers to cap the run.
Peabody is an unselfish player who typically doesn't score a lot and is instead known for her tenacious defense and overall scrappy play. But those jumpers she hit tonight were huge.
"My teammates did a good job to open some room up for me so I had open shots" Peabody explained.
Right after Coe-Brown opened up their 46-35 lead, Hanover star sophomore guard Lexie Hamilton fouled out. It as an uncharacteristically off-game for Hamilton. Hamilton averaged over 16 points per game on the season. A couple weeks ago she hit 6 three-pointers in a win over Souhegan. But tonight she fouled out with 0 points and 9 turnovers.
"All of the credit for that goes to her, she played great defense" said Coe-Brown head coach David Hartnett, as he pointed over to his scrappy guard Peabody.
"We were in a 3-2 zone and Debbie was on her side, she shut her down" said Ahern.
Hamilton is still one of the top sophomore players in the state. She should keep her head up and hang in there.
"The whole year she played great and led our team" said Hanover head coach Dan O'Rourke. "Even LeBron James has bad nights sometimes."
Give Hanover credit, because even after going down by double digits late and having one of their best players foul out they still kept fighting. Junior guards JJ Daniell and Christine Croituro both drilled 3-pointers, as the Marauders closed to within 53-48 with 55 seconds left - it wasn't over yet!
But then Curtin hit a pair of clutch free throws to push the lead to 55-48. Hanover senior wing Eileen Daley made a put-back to cut the lead to 55-50, but Coe-Brown held on from there for the 56-52 final.
"In the beginning of the year we were probably one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the state, but the kids worked hard to get better" said Coach Hartnett, who's in his third year as the coach for Coe-Brown. "Right from the beginning I believed in them, right from when they first walked into the gym 3 years ago."
#6 seed Coe-Brown will take on #4 seed Merrimack Valley in the D-II finals on Friday night at SNHU.
In the 1st quarter it was a combination of both teams coming out playing really tough defense with some big stage jitters. Ruth made a long pass on the break, hitting Schlim (11 points) in stride for a layup. Schlim made another nice catch and finish on the break, this time it was a tough catch as the pass was overthrown and she was somehow able to haul the pass in while avoiding falling out of bounds and all in one motion she made the catch and the basket. Then Ahern made a layup on the break. It was clear that Coe-Brown was having success when they pushed the ball and got out on the break, as Hanover wasn't getting back on defense quick enough. Schlim again showed a soft touch on a shot in close, and it was 8-5 Bears after 1.
Daniell (12 points) and Croituro hit back-to-back three-pointers to start the 2nd quarter, as Hanover took an 11-8 lead. Curtin answered right back for Coe-Brown with a 3 of her own to tie it up 11-11. The Marauders regained the lead, as Daley drove inside for 2, then Croituro (11 points) buried another 3, this time from the right wing off the catch. Hanover now led 17-11 and was on a 12-3 run.
Coe-Brown stormed right back with a 13-4 run of their own to end the half. Junior guard Ashley LeBlanc and Curtin hit 3-pointers, Schlim made another smooth jumper off a catch. Then Schlim made a layup to tie it up 21-21 before Peabody hit a 3 from the left wing to put the Bears back on top 24-21. It was 24-23 Coe-Brown at halftime.
In the 3rd quarter both teams scored 10 points, with Coe-Brown maintaining a slim lead. Sophomore wing Sydney Fisher drove inside for 2, and the Bears led 32-27. Then Daley made a big play with a strong drive down the middle of the lane and and-1 finish to cut the lead back down to 32-30. Hanover cut the lead to 32-31 after they got a steal with their press, and Daley went hard to the rim where she got fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws.
"Eileen Daley is a kid who never gets any credit, but she is a very hard worker" said Coach O'Rourke. "She has really stepped up, scoring in double figures each of our past 6 games against all tough teams. And tonight she had 15 points and 16 rebounds. She's a smart kid, and will be going to Middlebury College."
Daniell made a strong drive and finish, it was 34-33 Coe-Brown and you know how the rest went.
"Our kids wanted it" Harnett said. "Not to say that Hanover didn't. I think Dan O'Rourke is one of the best coaches in the state. But our kids really wanted it. They worked hard, especially at being stronger with the ball."
Don't be surprised if both teams are back in the Final Four next year. Coe-Brown has no seniors on their roster, and their starting 5 is all juniors. Meanwhile Hanover brings back Daniell, Hamilton and Croituro, a back court trio which should be as good as any in D-II.
MV and Coe-Brown should be a great title game. Who's the favorite? There is none, and that's why it will be so fun!