Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Souhegan Girls Beat Windham in a Thriller

By: Jeremy Leveille
On a night when seemingly every girls and boys basketball team in the state was in action, the Division II girls game between Souhegan and Windham was the game of the night.

This game was a thriller. The teams battled hard all game. It was a tight game the whole way. Players from both squads had big shots, and there was 3 lead changes in the final 2 minutes. It was senior night for Souhegan, and despite the fact that Windham is much lower than them in the standings this game could have gone either way.

In the end sophomore point guard Mia Len (younger sister of former Souhegan star point guard Brandon Len) hit the game-winning shot after getting her own rebound and scoring inside over 3 bigger defenders, as Souhegan wins it 50-47. The Sabers improve to 13-4 and are in contention for a top 4 seed. Windham falls to 6-11, but they are much better than their record indicates.

"Mia got that offensive rebound in there against 3 big girls and hit a huge shot" said Souhegan High girls basketball head coach Mike Heaney. "I got flashbacks to 2012 - it was like Brandon did for us back then."

Len and senior wing Ciarri Formby-Lavertu (to play college ball at Suffolk) both hit clutch shots in the closing moments. Windham had a 45-43 lead and possession. The Jaguars had a chance to make it a 2 possession game. They ran some clock, methodically looking for a shot. Windham went to the basket, they missed 2 shots inside, there was contact on both but no foul call. Instead Souhegan gets the ball back, and Formy-Lavertu (team-high 16 points) ndrains a huge 3-pointer, off the catch from the left wing to put the Sabers back on top 46-45.

"That shot was really big for us" said Coach Heaney. "I told Ciarri how happy I was for her - she had a big game on senior night."

It wasn't over yet. Windham ball, trailing 46-45. Stephanie Davis, a 5-foot-10 freshman guard goes to the line, but misses the front end of a 1-and-1. Now the Jaguars need to foul. They send Formby-Lavertu to the line, and she also misses the front end of a 1-and-1. So Windhame retains possession, with 1:00 left in regulation and still trailing 46-45. Davis drives to the rim, goes up strong with it inside and gets fouled. This time Davis (16 points) was clutch, hitting both free throws to put the Jaguars back ahead 47-46 with 34.7 seconds left. Those were 2 big free throws for a freshman to make, but clearly Davis is not your typical freshman player.

Now it's Souhegan ball, trying to re-take the lead. This is when Len comes up big. All game long she had been her team's floor general - running the point, distributing the basketball, not looking for her shot but taking it if it was there. Now with the game on the line she had the ball up top with Kaleigh Walsh guarding her (a match-up of 2 of the top sophomore guards in NH). The Sabers spread the floor and let Len go isolation. She tried to drive, dished it out but then got it back. Then Len drove, missed a shot in the lane, got her own rebound and with 3 bigger defenders on her she made the put-back. Souhegan goes back on top 48-47 with just 11.9 seconds remaining.

Windham's last chance to win it. Davis drives from 3/4 court all the way to the rim. She puts up a shot inside and nearly gets it to fall. But instead it rims out, the teams battle for the rebound and it goes out of bounds, off the Jaguars. Windham is again forced to foul, Formby-Lavertu makes a pair of clutch free throws, Davis' half court heave is no good at the buzzer, and the Sabers win it 50-47.

Windham will again be underdogs when they wrap up their regular season on Thursday night at home vs. undefeated Portsmouth. If the Jaguars lose that game as well they'll be 6-12. But again, this team is definitely better than the record indicates. They are a young team, with 6 freshmen on the roster. 2 of those freshmen start and 1 of them is their 6th man. Windham's two best players are a sophomore (Walsh) and a freshman (Davis). They could be scary in D-II over the next few years (as well as Hanover, who is also loaded with young talent).

"I have a lot of respect for coach Haky and her team" said Coach Heaney. "I told her that no one's gonna want to play them in the first round. They played us tough over the summer in the NH Tech tournament, and earlier this season too."

Before the game Souhegan honored their four seniors - Formby-Lavertu, Hannah Chick (will play soccer at SNHU), Allison Canavan (will play softball at Keene State) and Caitlin Watson.

Once the game got started Windham came out in a zone. Souhegan patiently worked the ball around the perimeter, and 52 seconds had gone off the clock before we had our first shot attempt. Yes, we need to get a shot clock and get rid of zone defense!

Not only did Souhegan have more experience (they started 3 seniors compared to Windham who started 2 freshmen and a sophomore), but the Sabers also had a size advantage up front. Their front line was Chick (6-foot), Emma White (5-foot-11) and Formby-Lavertu (5-foot-10).

Walsh wasn't afraid to drive it in against the Souhegan bigs, as she used a hesitation dribble to get to the rim, get fouled and make both FTs. Jaguars 5-foot-10 freshman forward Nina Berni converted a put-back, but then White answered with a good spin move out of the low post for 2. On the other end Walsh buried a 3-pointer. Formby-Lavertu drove left and finished for 2, as the Sabers led 8-7. The teams went back and forth, battling each other on every possession.

Then Windham went on a 10-3 run to end the 1st quarter. Kelsey Kendzulak connected on a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Jaguars back on top 10-8. Watson hit a 3 for Souhegan from the right wing, but then Berni made a nice block defending the post, Davis made a nice dribble-drive move and finish, Walsh drained another 3 and it was 17-11 Windham after 1 quarter.

Souhegan hung tough, and for virtually the whole 2nd quarter they trailed but only by 1 or 2 possessions. The Sabers showed some good ball movement early in the 2nd quarter, getting it inside to Chick (12 points) for the layup. Then Chick made a nice dish inside to Lindsay McCool for a layup. Windham still led 18-15.

Walsh (younger sister of Stonehill College guard Courtney Walsh) drove strong to the rim for 2. Formby-Lavertu countered with a layup in transition. The Sabers again ran the break, and this time it was Jill Roberts with the layup. The Jaguars lead was down to 21-19 and Coach Haky called timeout.

Berni continued to be a factor on the offensive boards. Then Walsh made a good move to the rim on the break, finishing with the left hand. Chick made a nice block on 'D', and on the other end she made a nice up-and-under move for 2. Windham kept answering back with good hoops to maintain the lead though, as they used some good ball movement to get it inside to Davis, who finished the reverse layup.

Chick hit a 15-footer, but then Windham ran a nice high-low feed from Hannah Klaassens up top to Davis inside for 2. The Jaguars led 27-23 at halftime.

The teams kept battling it out, each scoring 11 points in the 3rd quarter. Formby-Lavertu drove and dished it to Watson for a layup. Then Len drove and finished inside, tying it up 27-27. Davis put Windham back ahead 29-27 with a turnaround bank shot inside. Davis scored 2 more inside off some good ball movement by the Jaguars.

Souhegan kept trying to push the ball and run transition when they could - Len led the break and zipped a pass to Formby-Lavertu who took it hard to the rim for 2. Chick connected on a pair of FTs, putting the Sabers back on top 32-31. It was 34-31 Souhegan after White drove to the rim for 2. Walsh answered with a big shot, draining a 3-pointer off the dribble to tie it up 34-34. Davis made a mice block, then led the 2-on-1 break, dishing it to Klaassens for the layup as Windham went back in the lead 36-34. Davis then made a layup off a good pass by Kendzulak, and it was 38-34 Jaguars after 3 quarters.

Len sunk a big 3 early in the 4th quarter, cutting the Windham lead to 38-37. The Sabers then went back on top 39-38 on a good move inside and reverse lay-in by Chick. The Jaguars re-took the lead though 41-40, as Walsh got fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all 3 FTs. Souhegan went back ahead on an 18-footer along the baseline by Formby-Lavertu. But the teams continued to exchange the lead in this exciting back-and-forth battle. Davis turned and scored inside for 2 more, Klaasens made a put-back and the Jaguars were back on top 45-41.

The Sabers were now down by 2 scores and needed one badly. Then they ran a nicely executed pick-and-roll, with Len dishing it to Chick for the layup, cutting the Windham lead to 45-43 with 4:02 left in regulation. What a game!

That's when Formby-Lavertu hit her clutch 3 to put Souhegan back ahead 46-45, and you know how the rest went. This was a great game, a fun one to watch, and we wish both teams luck in the tournament.

Portsmouth is undefeated and they are clearly the favorite in D-II girls. But they can be beat. St. Thomas and Oyster River both took Portsmouth down to the wire recently and neither of those teams are even top 8 seeds. Especially once the teams reach the big college floor in the Final Four, anything can happen. Both Windham and Souhegan are teams capable of making some noise in the tourney.

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