Lebanon is the D-II powerhouse who makes annual trips to SNHU, but prior to this season was on a 2 years hiatus from the Final Four. Goffstown was the team who struggled for years, but now was back in the semi-finals for the second straight year. Who would prevail?
For most of the game it looked like it would be Lebanon. The #3 seed Raiders led 29-20 with 1:18 left in the 3rd quarter and Goffstown standout point guard Sarah Doherty headed to the bench with 4 fouls. But the Grizzlies chipped away at the lead, Doherty came back in the game and teammate Katie Howe tied it up 35-35 with a bucket inside with a minute left. Lebanon turned the ball over and Goffstown got it back, still tied up 35-35 with just 15 seconds left in regulation.
Doherty drove from 3/4 court all the way to the rim, flipping it in at the buzzer with a crowd of defenders around her. The Grizzlies win it 37-35 and celebrate on the court - it was the first lead Goffstown had all game. Doherty might only be a sophomore and she might only be 5-foot-4, but she plays with a lot of heart and she hit the game-winner to send her team back to the finals.
"It feels amazing" said Doherty. "The plan was to get it to Katie, because she had been doing well. But then my bench was yelling how much time was left, so I tried to get a shot up."
Give the Grizzlies credit for fighting back and never giving up in order to make that 2nd half comeback.
"Everyone just kept working and stayed together" said Goffstown head coach Deanna Goodwin. "We made sure that we played our game. It this was going to be our last game we wanted to make sure we gave it our all."
"We just had to keep the energy up and keep playing defense" said Doherty. "Everyone stepped up."
Lebanon junior forward Joslin Wainwright (11 points and 4 rebounds) scored inside for 2, and then Doherty picked up her 4th foul with 1:18 left in the 3rd quarter and the Raiders up 29-20. Things were looking pretty bleak for Goffstown at that time. Then Grizzlies freshman guard Sofia Piriz (7 points and 5 rebounds) gave them a lift, slashing to the rim for a bucket and then playing some great defense to force Lebanon into a 10 second violation. Goffstown had some momentum finally back on their side, but still trailed 29-22 after 3.
The Grizzlies kept that momentum going, as senior guard Molly McQueeney stepped up, and with ice water in her veins buried a clutch 3-pointer to cut the Lebanon lead to 31-25. Raiders freshman guard Anna Wolke (10 points) made a good take and finish, but Goffstown answered right back, getting it inside to Howe (9 points and 13 rebounds) for a layup to cut the Lebanon lead to 33-29 with 4:30 remaining.
Wolke (yes, she's only a freshman) made another slash to the rim for 2 more. Goffstown got it back inside, with McQueeney dishing it in to Howe for another layup, cutting the Raiders lead to 35-31. Senior guard Hannah Larochelle (13 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals) drove from the left wing to the bucket for 2, and now the Raiders were only up 35-33.
The Grizzlies got the ball back, and again fed Howe in the post. Howe turned and scored, tying it up 35-35. Lebanon then got called for a travel, which gave possession back to Goffstown for the winning basket by Doherty.
"We just didn't handle the last two minutes very well" lamented Lebanon head coach Tim Kehoe.
Both teams struggled offensively early on. There was likely some nerves playing on the big court in a high pressure game. With 3 minutes gone off the clock we still had no score. Then Lebanon junior Kassidee Rogers drove and hit a runner in the lane, giving the Raiders the 2-0 lead. The Grizzlies got out in transition, with Larochelle finishing on the break. Lebanon junior guard Meredith Melendy took it strong to the rim along the baseline for 2. Then it was the Raiders running the break, as Wolke notched the quick bucket. Lebanon was out to the 8-2 lead with 1:00 left in the 1st quarter, forcing Goffstown to call a timeout.
Goffstown got some momentum back, as Howe stole the ball in the back court and laid it in for the and-1 finish. It was 8-5 Raiders after 1. Rogers made a tough drive, knifing her way to the rim for 2 early in the 2nd quarter. Larochelle was keeping the Grizzlies within striking distance, as she hit a running hook inside off a baseline out of bounds play.
Goffstown had a possession last over 45 seconds, as they moved the basketball but struggled to find any good looks against a tough Lebanon defense. Finally, Piriz banked in a 3-pointer, sending the Grizzlies fans into a frenzy and cutting the Raiders' lead to 11-10. Lebanon senior guard Kendra MacDonald hit a 3-pointer, pushing the lead to 14-10, but on the other end Doherty drained a 3 of her own to cut the Raiders' lead back down to 1, 14-13. Finally we had some offense!
Larochelle spun into the lane off the dribble, making a good move before hitting the lefty hook shot, tying it up 15-15. Wainwright answered, with a strong take from the high post and finish, making it 17-15 Lebanon at halftime.
The teams kept battling it out in the 3rd quarter. Wainwright converted a put-back, Piriz answered with a 15-footer off a kick-out by Sierra Gilmore, followed by another strong take and finish by Wainright, this time for an and-1.
The officials were calling a foul literally every time a player drove it to the rim, rather than letting them play a little bit. This favored Lebanon, since they were doing a better job of attacking the basket as opposed to Goffstown, a jump shooting team.
Larochelle was doing a good job of driving it to the rim though, and she drove for a lefty finish. That's when Wainwright scored 2 more inside, Doherty picked up her 4th foul and you know how the rest went.
"I'm proud of the kids" said Coach Kehoe. "From the beginning of the season to the end we showed great improvement. In games where hard work beat talent, we won those games."
Goffstown advances to the D-II title game back at SNHU on Friday night vs. Hanover.