Raiders Reach Pinnacle
Lebanon senior Moriah Morton takes the court under the pregame spotlight at Southern N.H. University before the Raiders’ title game against Portsmouth. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Emily Kehoe took to the stands to hug her mother, Jennifer, following the Raiders’ championship win. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Keelan Carey, 12, middle, and his fellow Lebanon fans wait for a foul shot to drop. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Emily Kehoe took to the stands to hug her mother Jennifer following the Raiders' championship win over Portsmouth Friday, March 8, 2013.
Valley News - James M. Patterson
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To order a reprint of the championship page printed in the March 15 edition of the Valley News, follow this link.
This program has been waiting for this season for a long time.
The last time the Raiders wore the championship nets around their necks was back in 2007. Since that season, the Raiders have been wildly successful — but have come up empty in the hardware department. In the last five years, Lebanon has been to the final four each year, losing in the title game three times. In those five years, the Raiders had an overall mark of 88-10, with an unbeaten regular season in the mix.
You could say they were due. And this time around, nothing stood in their way.
From the opening game — a 67-27 victory over Pembroke — the Raiders sent a message to the rest of the N.H. Division II neighborhood: You’re all playing for second place.
The closest any team got to Lebanon during the regular season was 18 points, 63-45 — and that was against Division I opponent Trinity during a Christmas holiday tournament. In the playoffs, Milford made it a game at 56-41 in the semifinals, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Lebanon led the Upper Valley in team scoring, with an average of just over 60 points per game — the only team in the Valley to top the 60-point mark. The Raiders were no slouch on defense, either, holding opponents to just over 30 points per game. They were, in a word, dominating.
Fueled by their hallmark tenacious defense and driven by their flying fast break, the Raiders ripped through the schedule. Home or away, weekends or weeknights, the Raiders overwhelmed their Division II foes. And this coming after two potential starters and two other bench contributors decided not to come out for the team before the season began. That led coach Tim Kehoe to wonder how his younger, inexperienced second unit would perform.
He need not have worried. First off, the starters were virtually unstoppable — with four of the five in the top 25 of the Upper Valley scoring leaders, including Moriah Morton and Emily Kehoe at second and third, respectively. That allowed the bench plenty of time and cushion to work with as they developed during the season.
The playoffs were much the same as the regular season. Earning a top seed, Lebanon dispatched No. 16 John Stark in the opener, 69-27. Coe-Brown was equally one-sided, with Lebanon taking a 61-28 decision before dispatching Milford in the semis down at Southern New Hampshire University.
A 14-2 burst in the third quarter — with everyone on the floor contributing — broke open a close game and propelled Lebanon to its 13th trip to the finals, setting up a showdown with No. 2 Portsmouth. “A lot of (opponents) might only know a couple of names on our team, but once they play us, they see it doesn’t matter who we get the ball to,” said Morton. “Everyone on the floor can score for us.”
The Raiders needed that ability in the finals when cold shooting and foul trouble combined to turn this into Lebanon’s closest game of the year.
After jumping out to a 25-7 advantage in the second quarter, Lebanon saw its title drive nearly grind to a halt when Morton was forced to the bench in foul trouble. Portsmouth slowly ate into the Lebanon lead, eventually trailing only 28-24 at the break.
But while the Raiders did bend, they did not break. And while Portsmouth held a height advantage at every position on the floor, the Raiders still managed a 43-38 edge on the boards, including a 20-7 dominance in offensive rebounds.
And while Morton was having an off night, Emily Kehoe picked up the scoring slack (20 points) and the rest of the squad made enough critical plays down the stretch to hold the Clippers at bay.
As Tim Kehoe commented after the victory: “A lot of kids can step up on any given night. … I think our kids are confident they can do the job, and they certainly did tonight.”
Heather King chipped in with 12 rebounds, Samantha MacDonald had five steals and Vanessa Fleury added six points in 30 minutes of action.
And though they only scored four baskets the entire second half, the Raiders maintained their lead on the free throw line, going 12-of-20 in the second half.
It all ended up in a 48-41 victory — the fewest points Lebanon scored all season and the closest margin of victory as well. It was also an NHIAA-record 33rd tournament victory for the Raiders.
“Tonight we gutted it out,” said Tim Kehoe after the game. “It was not a pretty game by any means. But y’know what? We still have that same Lebanon M.O. of keep workin’, keep workin’, keep workin.’ ”
— By Don Mahler