The Portsmouth High girls basketball team was a perfect 20-0 heading into their D-II semi-final match-up vs. #5 seed Hanover. The Clippers have arguably the division's two best players in Providence College commit Libby Underwood and Heather Durand as well as a rapidly improving 6-foot-1 freshman forward in Abbe Laurence.
But this was not going to be an easy game by any means, as Hanover came in on an 11 game winning streak, including an impressive double digit win over #4 seed Souhegan in the quarterfinals.
Just like the first semi-final between Goffstown and Lebanon, the higher seeded team led the entire game, built a big lead in the 3rd quarter but then the lower seed team came back to win it in the closing seconds. Hanover 6-foot-2 freshman forward Silke Milliman scored the go-ahead basket, senior forward Caroline Rodi iced it with an offensive rebound and clutch free throw and the Marauders win it 44-40.
Hanover trailed by as many as 12, when Portsmouth led 31-19 with 3:46 left in the 3rd quarter. Yet the Marauders were able to come back and win it.
"It was us not giving up, everyone stepped up their game when they needed to and we played with more intensity" said Milliman.
That intensity picked up when they went down by 12. Portsmouth had the big lead, all of the momentum on their side and their fans were going nuts. Then Hanover head coach Dan O'Rourke called a timeout. His team came out of the timeout and ended the 3rd quarter with a 12-3 run, with all 12 points coming on 3-pointers.
Milliman (10 points) started the run off by hitting a 3-pointer from the corner. Then after a drive and finish inside by Durand (13 points), Hanover senior guard Caroline Merguerian drained a 3-pointer from the right corner. That was followed by a 3 by freshman guard Lois Schwartz (9 points), whose shot from the top of the key was good - nothing but net! Then it was Merguerian again, connecting on a 3-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer.
"My teammates found me, and I have confidence that I can make the shot" said Merguerian.
The Marauders are known as a team that tries to run sets, hit cutters, get the ball inside, use patience and shot selection and rarely shoots 3's. But all of a sudden they were on fire from beyond the arc and now only trailed Portsmouth by 3, 34-31 after 3 quarters.
"Coach tells us to not shoot 3's, so we usually don't because we don't want to get taken out" explained Milliman. "But at halftime he said that we needed to take outside shots."
"Their zone defense took away our inside game" said Coach O'Rourke. "We needed to hit 3's to win and we did. Silke, Caroline and Lois hit big shots."
Hanover may have grabbed momentum, but Portsmouth still had the lead as we began the 4th quarter. The Clippers got the ball inside to Laurence, but Milliman played good, disciplined post defense to force the missed shot. Meanwhile, the Marauders had really picked up their intensity and pressure on defense, especially the Schwartz twins Lois and Diana. They're only freshmen but they are absolute menaces on 'D'.
Milliman drilled another 3-pointer from the left corner, putting Hanover ahead 35-34. The only other time I've seen a 6-foot-2 kid from NH shoot the ball that well is Katharine Fogarty and she's now playing at UNH. That was their first lead since 2-0. Underwood (15 points) stormed right back, banking in a runner to put the Clippers back on top 36-35. Underwood then hit a pair of free throws to make it 38-36 Clippers, but then Hanover quickly pushed the ball in transition, with Diana Schwartz leading the 2-on-1 break, dishing it to her twin sister Lois Schwartz. Lois missed the layup, but Diana converted the put-back and were were tied up 38-38 with 4:00 left in regulation.
Rodi drove to the rim, got fouled and hit both FTs to make it 40-38 Marauders with just 2:31 left to play. Portsmouth got it inside to sophomore wing Sadie Shore for 2, and we were tied back up 40-40 with 1:51 left. The Clippers had a chance to go back on top, but freshman guard Arianna Hebert missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:09 left.
Hanover ball, inbounding from the sideline. Rodi zipped a pass cross-court over to Milliman, who was open underneath for the layup to put the Marauders on top for good, 42-40.
"We've done that play before, it's worked a lot" said Milliman. "We have two guards on either side, then they set a screen for me."
"I've been running that play since I was in high school" said Coach O'Rourke with a smile. "It's either thumbs up or thumbs down. What they came out in defending us, it was thumbs up."
Durand and Underwood both missed shots in the final minute. Lois Schwartz got fouled with 20.8 seconds left. She made the first FT to make it 43-40, but missed the second FT. So if Portsmouth could have got the rebound they'd have a shot to tie it up with a 3. Instead Rodi pulled down a big offensive rebound, got fouled, added another foul shot and Hanover wins it 44-40.
The Schwartz twins pressure the heck out of people on defense and do a great job of forcing turnovers. Then you have Milliman inside who's a great post defender and shot blocker. Together they're 3 of the top defenders in the state - as freshmen. That's a scary thought!
"They'e relentless, they play play with hearts of a champion" said Coach O'Rourke about the Schwartz twins.
Just like the first semi-final between Goffstown and Lebanon, this one also had a very slow start offensively. Laurence made a nice block on a shot attempt in transition by Los Schwartz. Milliman faced up from the right wing and drove to the rim for a strong finish for the game's first bucket.
Durand took it from 3/4 court all the way to the rim for a lefty finish. Underwood missed a shot, but followed it for the put-back. Merguerian drove and kicked it to Rodi for a 15-footer and we were tied up 4-4. Milliman was playing good 'D' inside, forcing a jump ball and then blocking a shot. Duran made a layup, but then Hanover freshman forward Julia Golder dished it to Diana Schwartz for a layup, and we were tied 6-6 after 1 quarter.
Diana Schwartz drove the lane and hit a floater, tying it up 8-8 early in the 2nd quarter. But then the Clippers went on an 11-3 run. Portsmouth was in a 2-3 zone and it was giving the Hanover offense problems, as the Marauders were struggling to move the ball and run their offense without getting the ball deflected or stolen away by Portsmouth. Durand grabbed a steal, pushed it in transition, dished it to Underwood for a layup. Then nDurand pulled down a defensive rebound and took it coast-to-coast, all the way for a layup. Durand was having a strong all-around game.
Shore converted an and-1 put-back, and after 2 FT by Underwood the Clippers had a 19-11 lead. Hanover battled back, as they got a a steal and turned it into a quick bucket on the other end with Diana Schwarz dishing it to Lois Schwarz for a layup. Milliman made a nice block on 'D', and it was 19-13 Portsmouth at halftime.
The Clippers kept building on their lead in the 3rd quarter. Durand drive inside and banked in a runner. The Marauders were hanging tough though, as Diana Schwarz made a nice steal and took it in for an easy layup. On the other end Laurence was left open at the foul line and she hit the jumper to push the Portsmouth lead back up to 23-15.
The Schwarz sisters kept pressuring the heck out of people defensively. This time it was Lois Schwarz, making a great play to steal it from Durand in the back court and take it in for the easy layup. But then Portsmouth countered, as Underwood hit 2 FTs, Durand slashed to the rim for a lefty runner, followed by a steal by Durand and 15-footer by Underwood. Just like that the Clippers were up 31-19, their largest lead of the game.
You know how the rest went though, as #5 seed Hanover advances to the finals on Friday night back at SNHU to take on #7 seed Goffstown. Hanover beat Goffstown twice during the regular season, and the second time it was at Goffstown and Hanover still beat them easily.
"This time I'm expecting a close game" said Coach O'Rourke.
As for Portsmouth, this is a tough loss but they have a lot to look forward to next season. For much of this game they had a lineup of Underwood, Durand, Laurence, Shore and Hebert.