Saturday, March 5, 2016

Freshmen Lead Hanover to Final Four

By: Jeremy Leveille
In eight years of covering NH high school basketball, I've never seen a team with four of their top players being freshmen make it to the Final Four - until now.

Led by freshmen Silke Milliman, Julia Golder and the Schwartz twins Lois and Diana, the #5 seed Hanover High girls basketball team went on the road to Amherst on Friday night and beat #4 seed Souhegan 42-27. With their 11th win in a row, the Marauders advance to the D-II semi-finals, where they will take on #1 seed and undefeated Portsmouth on Monday night at SNHU.

"We want it a lot more now, once we started to win more games over the second half of the season" said Milliman, a 6-foot-2 forward with a strong inside-outside game. "I think we've come together as a team. We're running our plays better and hang out together more off the court."

This Hanover team has come a long way this season.

"We were turning the ball over 30 times per game early in the season" explained Hanover High head coach Dan O'Rourke, who should be a favorite for D-II Coach of the Year. "I really think that over the course of the season we've grown up. Ever since our loss to Merrimack Valley our defense has been phenomenal."

The Marauders' defense was the difference in their win over Souhegan in the quarterfinals. Not only did Hanover hold the Sabers to just 27 points for the game, they held Souhegan scoreless for the entire 2nd quarter.

"They pursue the basketball" said Souhegan High head coach Mike Heaney. "The 50/50 balls, the rebounds - they win them. Getting those extra possessions - that's what wins playoff games."

Golder in particular was all over the boards, finishing with 13 rebounds to go with a team-high 15 points. She was nearly unstoppable attacking the glass, especially in the 2nd quarter. She was grabbing boards, hustling for loose balls and going up strong with shot attempts inside.

"Julia wants the ball more than anyone else" said Lois Schwartz.

"It's about wanting it, and having the tenacity and confidence to get it" said Golder.

Milliman and Lois Schwartz started for Hanover, while Diana Schwartz and Golder came off the bench. All four of them played the majority of the game. Often times all four freshmen were out there together. They combined to scored 17 of Hanover's 20 points in the 1st half, and 33 of the Marauder's 42 points for the game. Milliman tallied 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. The Schwartz twins ran the offense, they handled the basketball well vs. defensive pressure, they made some great passes, hit shots and pressured the heck out of the Souhegan guards.

"We know that if someone makes a mistake they will bounce right back, and that there will be someone else there to make up for it" said Diana Schwartz.

"We've played together for so long, and know where each other are on the court" added Lois Schwartz.

The Hanover freshmen play AAU together on the NE Crusaders. They grew up playing youth basketball together as well, and Coach O'Rourke was coaching them back then as well. Get involved with the youth basketball program, build up the feeder system and coach the same group from 5th grade all the way up to high school. Coach O'Rourke is a smart man. As a result his team that's led by freshmen is in the Final Four.

Going into this game the key match-up to watch was the 6-foot-2 freshman Milliman going up against Souhegan's 6-foot-1 senior forward Hannah Chick. Chick scored just 2 points on the game, though. She had 0 points and 3 fouls in the 1st half.

Milliman blocked Chick from behind on the game's first possession. The Sabers got on the board first though, as senior guard Caitlin Watson drove baseline for a reverse lay-in. Then Hanover did what they would go on to do many times in this game - use their intense pressure defense to get a steal and turn it into a basket on the other end. They got the steal and ran a quick fast-break with Lois Schwartz passing it ahead to senior guard Emma Riccardi for the layup.

Chick made a nice block coming from the weak side. Later Milliman converted a put-back. Milliman and Golder attacked the offensive boards all game. Souhegan sophomore point guard Mia Len (team-high 15 points) had a very strong game. She hit a long jumper for 2 (had a foot on the 3-point line). Then after Los Schwartz drove the lane and hit a floater, Len came right back with a drive and banked in the leaner. Then Chick blocked another shot.

Len buried a 3-pointer from the left wing - at the buzzer, as the Sabers take a 9-7 lead at the end of the 1st quarter. Len tallied 7 points in the 1st quarter.

"Mia had a great game, I'm proud of her" said Coach Heaney, who coached her older brother Brandon Len a few years ago on Souhegan's boys team. "She's an all-state player in my book."

The tables turned in the 2nd quarter, though. It was an even match-up in the 1st quarter, but that all changed in the 2nd quarter, when Hanover outscored Souhegan 13-0. Len scored 7 points in the 1st quarter, but 0 in the 2nd.

"Going into the game we know she was a good player" said Diana Schwartz. "We knew she liked to cross-over from her right to left, so we adjusted to that. In the 1st quarter we were getting caught underneath screens, but then we adjusted and started going over the screens so she couldn't shoot it."

You see? These Hanover girls are smart. With their talent and basketball I.Q. it's hard to believe they're just freshmen.

Golder converted a put-back, as the Marauder's went on top 13-9 early in the 2nd quarter. Then they pushed it in transition, with Riccardi making a terrific pass to Milliman for the layup. That made it an 8-0 run, a 15-9 Hanover lead with 4:44 left in the 1st half and forced Coach Heaney to call a timeout.

Chick picked up her third fouled and headed to the bench. With Chick out of the game, Golder really started to dominate the boards. Led by Golder dominating the paint, Hanover took an 18-9 lead with 1:30 left in the 2nd quarter. Diana Schwartz drove and hit a floater in the lane to make it 20-9 Marauders at halftime.

It's not too often that a team goes scoreless for an entire quarter, but that just shows you what kind of defense Hanover was playing.

That Marauders' feisty pressure 'D' continued in the 3rd quarter, as Riccardi stole the ball from Len near mid-court and took it all the way in for the layup. Finally Souhegan ended their scoring drought, as they got out in transition and over to sophomore forward Emma White for the layup.

That layup started a 10-0 run by the Sabers. Len drilled back-to-back 3-pointers, followed by Souhegan steal and a strong finish on the break by Chick, scoring on 2 defenders. Just like that we had ourselves a ballgame again, with the Hanover lead cut to 22-19, forcing Coach O'Rourke to call a timeout. Then Hanover had possession for a solid minute (we need a shot clock!), but Souhegan locked down and played great defense to not allow the Marauders to get any open looks. Hanover finally shot it, but Chick pulled down the rebound.

Unfortunately for the Sabers though, that's where their magic would end. The Marauders responded with a 16-0 run, which put the game out of reach for good. Diana Schwartz hit a floater, followed quickly by a put-back by Golder who continued to attack the offensive glass. Then Diana Schwartz drove and when the defense collapsed she made an outstanding pass to Golder for the layup - what a play by the freshman!

Milliman scored inside for 2, followed quickly by a steal by senior wing forward Caroline Roddy and put-back on the break by Lois Schwartz. Hanover ended the 3rd quarter on a 10-0 run and led 32-19 headed to the 4th.

Milliman made a strong drive and finish early in the 4th quarter, as the Marauders kept pouring it on. Diana Schwartz made a great hustle play, diving on the floor for a loose ball, saving it from going out of bounds, while at the same time tipping the ball over to Golder who was underneath the basket for the layup. Then came another high level play by a Hanover freshman, as Milliman drove to the rim, and when the help 'D' came over she made a great dish to Golder for yet another layup. That capped the 16-0 run, making it 38-19 Marauders with 6:00 left in the 4th quarter. It was essentially over at that point.

This Hanover team is fun to watch, it's scary to think how good they will be when this group of freshmen are seniors.

Milliman made a nice block, wiping away a fast-break layup attempt by Souhegan. On the other end Chick took a charge on a drive by Milliman. Roddy made a good take and finish, extending the Hanover lead to 40-20 with just 3:05 left in regulation. Chick made another block, which started a fast-break for the Sabers, with Len finishing the layup. The teams then pulled their starters, and Hanover cruised to the 42-27 win.

The Marauders will take on Portsmouth in the D-II semi-finals. That should be a heck of a game. Portsmouth is 20-0 and Hanover has won 11 consecutive games. This will be the semi-finals, but it should be the championship game.

"We need to relax and not get too hyped up" said Milliman.

"In games where there's a lot of pressure, we just need to block everything out, not lose out focus and give 100%" said Diana Schwartz.

These kids have the right attitude.

The last time I saw a group of four freshman this good was Bedford back in 2010-2011, with McKenzie Brown, Rachel Collins, Ali Glennon and Haley Driscoll. That group lost in the prelims as freshmen though, whereas this Hanover group is headed to the Final Four. That Bedford group later went on to move up from D-II to D-I, win a D-I title as juniors and lose in the finals as seniors. What will be the fate of this Hanover group? Time will tell, but it should be a fun ride.

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