Merrimack Valley High won their first girls basketball title in school history last March. But this season they lost their second game of the season, a 40-33 defeat to rival school Pembroke Academy. On Wednesday night in Penacook was the rematch. Pembroke knew coming in that beating the defending champs a second time would be much more difficult. That's because MV played that first game back in December without star forward Mayson Kimball, the best player in D-II. Kimball missed the first meeting with a hip flexor injury, but she returned to the lineup over the holidays.
Kimball made an immediate impact, with a combination of step-back 3's and strong finishes inside through contact. The 5-foot-11 junior used a crossover dribble to create space for a 3-point attempt in the 2nd quarter. The shot sailed high up in the air, was nothing but net and gave MV a commanding 19-9 lead. Kimball dropped 22 points in the 1st half and also pulled down 11 rebounds on the game.
Give Pembroke credit though - they never stopped fighting, they held Kimball scoreless for the entire 2nd half, they took the lead in the 3rd quarter and they had a chance to win it in the final seconds but came up just short. MV hangs on for an exciting 43-41 win to improve to 6-2. The Pride get back on the winning track after they fell 54-47 to Coe-Brown last Friday night in a rematch of last year's D-II title game.
"We changed it up on defense, and threw some different looks at them in the 2nd half" said Pembroke first-year head coach Jason Button. "We went to a 1-3-1 trap and half court zone. We packed in the zone and forced Kimball to take tougher shots in the 2nd half."
With Kimball going scoreless in the 2nd half the MV offense sputtered. The Pride managed to pull out the win despite only scoring 15 points in the 2nd half. Additionally, the 1st half was played at a fast pace, with up-tempo action going both ways. This style favored MV. But in the 2nd half the Pembroke zone not only made it tougher for Kimball to get looks but it also slowed the game down to a pace that was more in Pembroke's favor.
"We like to run" said Merrimack Valley head coach David Huckins, a former 1,000 point scorer at MV and father of senior guard Cassidy Huckins. "They went to the 1-3-1 trap and our girls did better against it, at least after the first turnover. We could have done better moving the ball against their zone."
MV needed someone else to step up offensively in the 2nd half and that player was 5-foot-7 freshman Abby Grandmaison, who scored 8 of her 10 points in the 2nd half. Grandmaison had some crucial jumpers, inside buckets, rebounds and free throws down the stretch.
"She's only a freshman, but she has been with me all through the youth program. She's a solid player, can finish around the rim. She's been starting ever since the first game."
It was all tied up 37-37 after 3 quarters, but then Grandmaison hit one of those big shots - a 15 footer to make it 39-37 MV. Grandmaison then hit a pair of free throws, capping a 9-2 run by the Pride and making it 41-37 MV. Then Megan Johnston cut to the rim and Grandmaison hit her with a nice pass for a layup and a 43-39 MV lead with 3:25 left in the 4th quarter.
Pembroke kept fighting back though, as 5-foot-10 junior forward Karli Loiselle (team-high 15 points and 9 rebounds) made a nice second effort to grab her own rebound and put it back in for 2. That cut the Pride lead to 43-41 with 1:24 left in regulation.
MV ball, clinging to a 2 point lead. Of course in this situation they want to run some clock, not turn it over and only shoot if it's an easy layup. Instead Cassidy Huckins took an ill-advised 3-point attempt which was no good. Pembroke gets the rebound and now has possession with 1:16 remaining and still trailing 43-41. This obviously was a HUGE possession for the Spartans. So what happened? Before they could get into any type of offensive set, Pembroke was whistled for a 3 second violation. A tough call at that point in the game, especially considering the Spartans had barely gotten the ball across half court.
But Pembroke caught a break, because MV threw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds pass, turning it right back over to the Spartans. Pembroke calls timeout with 31.6 seconds left. Out of the timeout senior point guard Hannah Seidner (9 points, including 2 3's) had the ball up top, thought about taking a 3 but drove to the rim instead. She missed a runner, and then there was a battle for the rebound. It looked like Loiselle in good position for the board, but the ball went out of bounds and the officials ruled it was last touched by PA.
"The game plan on that play was to get it inside to one of our bigs, make them foul us, get the points at the foul line and if they packed it in then take a 3" said Coach Button.
Johnson is fouled but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Grandmaison grabs a big offensive rebound for MV. She kicks it out and they get it to Sammi Osbourne who is then fouled. Osbourne also missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Grandmaison nearly grabbed the offensive board again, but instead knocked the ball out of bounds while battling for the rebound. Pembroke gets the ball back, still trailing 43-41 but there's only 3.5 seconds left and they need to go the length of the floor. PA senior guard Molly Hamilton races up the floor with the ball, crosses half court, tries to dish it over to Loiselle but throws the ball away. As the ball goes out of bounds the buzzer sounds and MV hangs on for the 43-41 win.
"We still have a lot to work on" said Coach Huckins, who coached MV to their first girls hoops state title last year in his first season as the coach. "Like limiting turnovers, our transition defense, we need to shoot better and set better screens."
The Pride jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead in the 1st quarter. Kaylee Montminy got Pembroke on the board with a 3, but then Kimball answered right back with a 3-pointer of her own off the catch from the top of the key to make it 9-3 MV. Loiselle faced up from the high post, drove left and finished in traffic. Then Seidner showed good quickness off the dribble, penetrating into the lane and kicking it out to Madison Allen fr a 15-footer to cut the MV lead to 11-9.
MV put on a full court press late in the 1st quarter, and Kimball stole the inbounds pass on it, laying it in for an easy 2. On the other end Kimball dove on the floor for a loose ball and then went up strong inside, got fouled and hit 1 of 2 FTs. It was 14-9 Pride after 1 quarter.
Kimball continued to dominate in the 2nd quarter. MV got an offensive rebound and Kimball made PA pay for giving them a second shot, as she hit a 15-footer. Then Kimball crossed over into a 3 to make it 19-9 MV (their largest lead).
The Spartans responded with a 11-4 run. Allen pulled down an offensive board, kicked it back out and Hamilton hit a 3-pointer off the catch. MV quickly answered, as Kimball converted a put-back on the other end. The Mayson Kimball Show continued, as she drove hard down the lane and finished inside through contact. Pembroke was hanging tough though, as Hamilton connected on another 3 to cut the Pride lead to 23-20.
Kimball was just too good though, as she buried a step-back 3 and then slashed through the defense for another strong finish. It was 28-22 MV at halftime. Kimball had 22 points at the half.
he Pride lead increased to 30-22 on a baseline leaner by Morganne Waldo, but then the Spartans went on a 13-2 run. Seidner hit a 3, and then drove hard to the rim from half court for a lefty finish. MV's lead was down to 32-29 with 6:01 left in the 3rd quarter and coach Huckins called timeout.
Pembroke's rally continued out of the timeout. Seidner stole the ball from Huckins, pushed it hard up the floor towards the rim. Huckins hustled back on defense though and blocked Seidner's shot. Montminy hit a foul line jumper and Loiselle hit a scoop shot in the lane off a baseline out of bounds play to put Pembroke on top 33-32 with 3:30 left in the 3rd quarter. It was the first lead of the game for the Spartans. On the next trip down Loiselle drove and converted a lefty finish to cap the PA 13-2 run and make it 35-32 Spartans.
Osbourne tied it up 35-35 with a 3-pointer, then it was Montminy for 2 on the other end to put PA back ahead 37-35. Grandmaison connected on a 15-footer to tie it back up 37-37. Osbourne took a charge, and it was knotted 37-37 headed to the 4th quarter.
"I'm proud of our girls" said Coach Button.
Kimball took D-II by storm last season, but this year is even better. She already had a dominant inside game, but now has expanded her perimeter skill set and is quicker. She can take people off the dribble and knock down shots. Kimball must be viewed at this point as a potential scholarship player. There were coaches from both Proctor Academy and New Hampton School in attendance to see Kimball play, so this may be her last season at MV.