Before the game the St. Thomas Saints girls basketball team honored their 3 seniors - each of whom is going on to play collegiate athletics. They have Reagan Williams (lacrosse at University of Richmond), Brenna Chrisom (volleyball at Assumption College) and Ashley Coneys (basketball at University of New England).
But once the game got started Pembroke spoiled the Saints' party. Pembroke led by as many as 13 when it was 32-19 late in the 3rd quarter. St. Thomas made a valiant comeback effort in the 4th quarter, cutting the Spartans' lead to 4 but it was too little too late as Pembroke hung on for the 42-38 win in Dover. Pembroke improves to 10-5 on the season, while St. Thomas falls to 5-12. STA is better than their record indicates though - Williams is one of their best players and was out for over a month with a high ankle sprain.
So these teams are actually pretty even. However only one of them had a kid come off the bench and sink 5/6 shots from downtown and that was the difference. Spartans' sophomore guard Brooklyn Zanis was on fire shooting the basketball, dropping a game-high 15 points. She hit three 3-pointers in a row in the 2nd quarter, another 3 in the 3rd which gave Pembroke their largest lead of the game and then another from beyond the arc in the 4th quarter which extended the Pembroke lead to 37-28.
It's ironic that a sophomore guard coming off the bench ends up being the difference, since going into this game the story was the match-up of the two all-state senior forwards - Pembroke's Karli Loiselle and Ashley Coneys of St. Thomas. The former AAU teammates are two of the top players in D-II.
Unfortunately both teams played zone (or at least a form of zone) for the entire game. And combined with the fact that there was no shot clock it really slowed down the past of the game. Williams got the scoring started by hitting a 3-pointer off the catch from the left wing against the Pembroke zone. STA meanwhile was playing a box-and-one, with Williams defending Loiselle. The Spartans' other senior big, Madison Allen dished it inside to Loisell for the layup. Overall though, Williams did a great job defensively on Loiselle, limiting her to just 8 points and only two field goals.
Not only were the zone defenses slowing the pace down, but both teams were playing tough defense and shooting poorly. The 1st quarter was almost over and the score was only 3-2 Saints. Then St. Thomas forward Brianna Michaels converted a put-back in transition to make it 5-2 STA. Pembroke sophomore point guard Olivia Langevin connected on a 3-pointer to tie it up 5-5, but then Chrisom drained an 18-footer off the bounce, and it was 7-5 Saints after 1 quarter.
Madison Allen hit a jumper off the dribble from the elbow, tying it back up 7-7 early in the 2nd quarter. But then Coneys (9 points) knifed her way to the rim for a tough finish in traffic and Williams (team-high 12 points) followed that with another 3-pointer. That put the Saints ahead 12-7 - their largest lead of the game.
That's when the momentum swung to Pembroke's side, as the Spartans ended the 1st half on a 15-4 run. Loiselle beat the box-and-one, getting to the rim for an and-1 finish. That's when Zanis entered the game and immediately started sinking 3-pointers like it was her job. She hit three 3-pointers in a row, all off the catch from the right wing vs. the St. Thomas zone. The Saints kept leaving Zanis open, and she kept making them pay for it! To her credit, Zanis does have a quick release on her shot. By the third one she hit, as soon as the ball left her hand you know it was going in - automatic! It went from a 5 point STA lead to a 5 point Pembroke advantage.
Coneys countered on the other end with a put-back. But then the Spartans got a 3-pointer from yet another one of their sophomores - Ciera Clark, and it was 22-16 Pembroke at halftime. Four of the Spartans top six players are sophomores and three of them hit 3's in the 1st half.
Williams connected on a pull-up jumper along the baseline from 18-feet early in the 3rd quarter, cutting the Pembroke lead to 22-18. But then the Spartans kept the momentum going, with a 10-1 run. Langevin drove to the rim for a lefty finish. Then the Pembroke siuze advantage up front with the Allen sisters and Loiselle was playing a factor, as they were controlling the paint.
Morgan Allen ripped down an offensive rebound and banked in a lefty runner for the put-back. That made it 29-18 Spartans with 3:47 left in the 3rd quarter, forcing St. Thomas head coach John Simmers to call timeout. Out of the timeout Zanis buried her fourth 3-pointer of the contest, this time from the left wing. That made it 32-19 Pembroke - their largest lead of the game.
St. Thomas was trying to battle back, as they showed some good ball movement which resulted in a layup by sophomore forward Kiara Crowley (10 points, all in 2nd half). The Langevin cut to the basket, caught a pass in the lane and hit the floater. Crowley made a good move inside for 2, and it was 34-24 Pembroke after 3.
The Saints kept fighting to stay in it, again using good ball movement to get it back inside to Crowley for a layup. They got the ball back, and Williams showed her blazing quickness in the open court by driving from 3/4 court all the way to the rim for an and-1 finish. That cut the Spartans' lead to 34-28, capping a 9-2 run by St. Thomas.
Then came the biggest possession of the game. Just when STA was making a 4th quarter rally and had momentum, Madison Allen grabbed not one but two offensive rebounds on the same possession. Pembroke made the Saints pay for not boxing out, as Zanis drilled her fifth 3-pointer of the game, and just like that the Spartans' lead was back up to 9, 37-28 - what a dagger!
Crowley made a good move inside for 2 more. Then Langevin (10 points) hit her second 3-pointer of the game, again pushing the lead back to 9, 40-31 with just 3:10 left in regulation. Crowley fouled out with 2:12 left and STA trailing 40-32 which also hurt the Saints' comeback chances. St. Thomas never gave up though, as Williams hit 2 free throws and Coneys made a quick layup to cut the Pembroke lead to 40-36 with 1:35 remaining.
STA kept hanging around, as Abigail Bass hit a shot in the lane, again cutting the Spartans lead to 4, 42-38 with 1:01 left in the 4th quarter. But Pembroke hung on from there, winning it 42-38.
Both teams are capable of making some noise come tournament time, but this looks like Portsmouth's year in D-II. Maybe they should move up to Division I like their boys team is?