Sunday, March 16, 2014

Merrimack Valley Wins First Girls Hoops Title in School History

The Merrimack Valley girls basketball team made history on Sunday afternoon, winning their first state title in school history. Sophomore sensation Mayson Kimball dropped a game-high 18 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and senior forward Mary Mullen had 16 points and 5 rebounds. The Pride jumped out to a 15-2 lead in the 1st quarter (Kimball had 12 of those points), and they went on to defeat Coe-Brown Northwood Academy 55-49 in front of a packed house at SNHU for the Division II title.

“Coach told us to believe in ourselves and we did” said Kimball, who scored a whopping 91 total points in 4 games in the state tournament. “We worked hard for this.”

It wasn’t easy though. Coe-Brown battled them all game, overcoming the 15-2 deficit to take a 38-35 lead after 3 quarters. As the teams came out for the 4th quarter the standing room only crowd was on their feet going nuts in support of these kids who were out there giving it their all. There were 2 ties and 4 lead changes in the 4th.

Mullen had a strong and-1 finish to begin the quarter and tie it up 38-38. Coe-Brown junior guard Debbie Peabody hit 1 of 2 FT’s to put the Bears back up 39-38. Kimball put Merrimack Valley back in the lead 40-39 as the 5-foot-11 forward went coast-to-coast dribbling past the whole Coe-Brown defense on her way to the rim for a strong finish.

“She’s an athlete” said Merrimack Valley head coach David Huckins, who won a championship in his first year as head coach. “She’s so strong. Unfortunately on my team she plays the 5, but she could be a 1 on any other team.”

MV junior guard Cassidy Huckins got fouled on a 3-point attempt, making 2 of 3 FTs and it was 42-39 Pride. Coe-Brown answered back with quick buckets by Sarah Curtin and Abigail Ahern, as the Bears re-take the lead 43-42. Mullen converted a put-back, and MV went back on top 44-43. Coe-Brown guard Haley Ruth made 1 of 2 FTs and we were all tied up 44-44 with 5:22 left in regulation.

Huckins broke the tie with a clutch 3-pointer to put the Pride back ahead 47-44 with 3:45 left. A layup by teammate Erin Frost made it a 2 possession game, 49-45 with 3:13 to play. Coe-Brown cut the lead to 49-47, but then Mullen made another big play. The 5-foot-10 forward drove baseline, for a strong finish, scoring on 2 defenders to again make it a 2 possession lead, 51-47 with 1:40 left in the 4th.

“That was a new play that coach just put in” explained Mullen, who was a 4-year varsity player at MV. “It is supposed to get Mayson and I open on the baseline and it worked.”

It wasn’t over yet, though. Coe-Brown junior forward Jen Schlim (12 points and 7 rebounds) scored quickly inside out of a timeout. The Bears got the ball back, trailing 51-49. Ahern got a good look near the foul line but the shot didn’t fall. MV got the ball back, Coe-Brown had to foul. They fouled Pride senior wing Olivia Thurber, who missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 30 seconds left.

Coe-Brown gets the ball back, still trailing 51-49. Curtin, who had already hit a pair of 3-pointers earlier in the game, had an open look at another 3 from the right wing. She took the shot with just under 10 seconds on the clock. The shot rimmed out and Kimball got the rebound.

“Coach told us, you’re one rebound away from a championship” said Mullen with a smile. “I thought Schlim was going to take the shot for them, so we focused on guarding her.”

After grabbing the rebound Kimball got fouled. She went to the line and calmly drained both shots, making it a 2 possession game, 53-49 with just 9.5 seconds left. MV added 2 more FT’s at the end for the 55-49 final.

“It still hasn’t sunk in” commented Mullen. “I don’t think it will feel real until I see the championship banner go up on the wall.”

Give Coe-Brown credit for battling back after such a slow start.

“This was the only game down the stretch where we didn’t get off to a good start” lamented Coe-Brown Northwood Academy head coach David Hartnett. “We had to play so hard to come back they just got tired at the end. You just can’t go down 15-2.

Merrimack Valley’s fast start was in large part thanks to Kimball, who was a beast early on. With 4:55 left in the 1st quarter it was 9-0 MV, and Kimball had all 9 points. On one play she drove the length of the floor, stopped on a dime and hit the pull-up jumper. Not bad for a 5’11” sophomore! Then she caught it inside, turned and score an and-1 finish to make it 9-0.

“I’ve been playing for a long time, and my parents have always encouraged me to try playing with older girls” said Kimball.

Ahern finally got the Bears on the board with a nice post move before hitting a turnaround lefty leaner. Kimball answered with a put-back, and then Frost hit a 15-footer to make it 15-2 Pride.

Curtin and teammate Sydney Fisher hit 3’s, and it was 18-10 Merrimack Valley after 1. Fisher (also only a sophomore) continued to play well in the 2nd quarter to help get Coe-Brown in it. She hit another 3, then Ahern turned inside for 2 more and the MV lead was down to just 3, 18-15. Sammi Osbourne hit a 3 of her own for MV from the right wing, but then Peabody hit a 3 and the lead was again back down to 3, 21-18. The Osbourne hit another 3-pointer and the MV lead was back up to 6, 24-18.Fisher scored a put-back at the buzzer, and it was 30-25 Merrimack Valley at halftime.

Coe-Brown really played well in the 3rd quarter, outscoring MV 13-5. Curtin hit a 3 to tie it up 30-30, and then Schlim buried a pair of free throws to give the Bears their first lead of the game, 32-30. Kimball (scored 0 in the 2nd after 12 points in the 1st) scored inside, but Coe-Brown still led 33-32. Ahern again made a nice move inside for 2 more and it was 35-32 Coe-Brown, but then Mullen answered right back with 2 more points inside to cut the Coe-Brown lead to 35-34. Schlim hit a runner, and it was 37-34 Bears. Coe-Brown led 38-35 as the team’s headed to the 4th.

“We had a tough start this year” explained Coach Hartnett. “Jen Schlim had heart issues; we had some seniors who decided to not come out for the team.

The championship surely feels extra sweet being the first in school history for MV. Not only that, but it’s the second year in a row where a father has coached his daughter to a D-II girls title. Last season it was Lebanon winning it with head coach Tim Kehoe and his daughter Emily Kehoe. This year’s it’s Merrimack Valley, with head coach David Huckins with his daughter, junior guard Cassidy Huckins.

“It’s very special” said Coach Huckins, who was also a part of MV’s first boys basketball title 25 years ago. “I’ve coached her all growing up. Not too many people can say that they coached their daughter to a championship.”

And since Cassidy Huckins is only a junior, father and daughter could win the title together again next year. The team graduates Mullen, but Kimball will be your preseason D-II Player of the Year and her along with Huckins and Osbourne gives them some nice weapons.

Coe-Brown however will likely be the preseason favorite next year, since they will have their whole team coming back. Schlim and Ahern will likely both be first team all-state next year as seniors.

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