Lebanon Girls Roll Into Finals
Lebanon’s Emily Kehoe (5) slaps a rebound out of the hands of Milford’s Taylor Steinbrecher during their NHIAA Division II girls basketball semifinal at Southern New Hampshire University last night. (Alan MacRae photograph)
Lebanon’s Moriah Morton makes her way to the bucket during last night’s NHIAA Division II girls basketball semifinal win over Milford. (Alan MacRae photograph)
Lebanon's Claudia Boutin presses through a tough Milford defense on her way to the bucket in Monday's NHIAA semi-final game at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. (Alan MacRae photograph)
Lebanon's Moriah Morton looks for a chance to pass around Milford's Jennifer Dupuis in Monday's NHIAA semi-final game at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. (Alan MacRae photograph)
Manchester — Throughout its undefeated season, speed and balance have carried the top-ranked Lebanon High girls basketball team.
It took until the third quarter for those qualities to fully surface in last night’s NHIAA Division II semifinal against Milford. But the game was never in doubt for the Raiders once they did ignite in Lebanon’s 56-41 win at Southern New Hampshire University.
The No.-4 Spartans were within striking distance at halftime, 28-17, before a 14-2 Lebanon run in the first 3 minutes, 53 seconds of the third quarter essentially put the game to bed.
The Raiders (23-0; 21-0 D-II) move on to Friday’s final back at SNHU against No. 2 Portsmouth, a 47-41 winner over No. 3 Windham in yesterday’s early semi. It’s Lebanon’s fifth trip to the final in the last seven years and 13th overall.
Four different Lebanon players scored during its decisive early second-half spurt, allowing the Raiders to build a 42-19 lead midway through the third quarter. All of the Raiders’ starting five finished with at least seven points on the night, with Moriah Morton (15 points), Emily Kehoe (12 points) and Samantha MacDonald (12) reaching double figures.
“A lot of (opponents) might only know a couple of names on our team, but once they play us, they see that it doesn’t matter who we get the ball to,” said Morton, who added nine assists and nine rebounds to her assault. “Everyone on the floor can score for us.”
Senior Dina Pitsas scored a team-high 12 points and her younger sister, Adelle Pitsas, had 10 for the Spartans (15-6 league), who played Lebanon much tighter than during the Raiders’ 55-27 win in Milford on Jan. 18.
The Raiders held a 48-28 rebounding edge in that contest, but Milford led on the boards 41-40 last night, including 19-15 on the offensive glass. Milford hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions as part of an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter to pull within 48-37, but the Spartans never got it to single digits as the Raiders went 5-of-6 from the free-throw line and ran off the clock down the stretch. Lebanon’s tempo slowed considerably in the fourth quarter as they managed with Kehoe and center Vanessa Fleury (seven points, eight rebounds) spending time on the bench with foul trouble.
“We were trying to slow the game down but still run our offense,” said Lebanon coach Tim Kehoe. “When you’re up by 20, you have to approach the game differently. We were in a little bit of foul trouble (during Milford’s 11-2 run), but the girls responded well. They knew it didn’t matter if we won by eight points or 30 points, just that we won.”
Lebanon wasn’t as explosive during a turnover-filled first half, but the Raiders nonetheless took control early. Morton sank a 3 on their first possession to kick-start a 10-3 run out of the gate, with MacDonald also hitting from downtown. Milford’s Brianna Hoffman hit a 3 to bring the Spartans with 10-7 with a minute left in the first quarter, but the Raiders responded with an 11-2 rally.
MacDonald heaved up a bounce-around-and-drop 3, then hit a jumper; Heather King had an offensive putback, and Morton found Fleury inside for a bucket as the Raiders built a 22-9 lead three minutes into the second quarter.
Dina Pitsas and Jennifer Dupuis hit from beyond the arc during an 8-2 Milford spurt to make it 24-17, but Kehoe and Morton scored in the final minute of the half for Lebanon to bring its lead back to double digits.
Fans were still filing back to their seats after halftime when the Raiders put the game nearly out of reach in the third quarter. The first four minutes were a flurry of Lebanon excellence: Fleury hit quickly underneath, Kehoe had a steal and fast-break layup, King and MacDonald also scored in a hurry, Morton sank two from the line and Kehoe scored again as Lebanon went up 42-19. Milford had nine of its 21 turnovers in the third quarter.
“Just a lot of great energy,” Tim Kehoe said. “We went from a press (defense) into a zone with some trapping, and the girls really fed off it. We’re a team of runs.”
They were on the wrong end of Milford’s 11-2 run in the fourth quarter, with two 3s from Adelle Pitsas, one from beyond the arc by Taylor Steinbrecher and a pair of free throws from Rebecca Cleary pulling the Spartans within 11 with 3:55 left.
Yet the Raiders never wavered from their slow-it-but-don’t-blow-it approach and scored nine of the game’s final 13 points. King found Morton for a layup, Kehoe and King were both 2-for-2 from the line, Morton went coast-to-coast for two more on a steal and Morton dished to King for another basket with eight seconds left.
“We never panicked; we knew what to do,” Emily Kehoe said. “We didn’t get down because we knew we had experience and a lot of good players to fall back on.”
Lebanon’s only real weakness was on the boards, where the Raiders will likely have to be stronger Friday against a taller Portsmouth team.
“I think we might have been caught up in the atmosphere a little bit and started watching the ball instead of doing our jobs,” Tim Kehoe said. “I always wished the quarterfinals were here at SNHU so the girls can get a game here under their belt (before the final four). But I think we needed the challenge we got tonight.”
Free Throws: Friday’s title game against the Clippers will be a rematch of Lebanon’s 64-32 win in last year’s quarterfinal in Lebanon. … Lebanon is 0-3 in title games since beating St. Thomas in the ‘07 final. … Milford shot just 14-of-55 from the field (25.5 percent) while the Raiders were 23-of-57 (40.4 percent). … Milford committed 21 of the game’s 38 turnovers. … Officials accidentally sent Morton to the free-throw line for a one-and-one opportunity when Milford still had a foul to give with 2:15 remaining. Morton hit one of two before the scorekeeper called officials to the scorer’s table and the point was eventually deducted. … The Raiders were also undefeated heading into the final three years ago before losing to Kennett.
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.