Grinding It Out
Lebanon Holds Off Portsmouth to Complete Spotless Season
Lebanon coach Tim Kehoe roars as his team gets off to a strong start against Portsmouth during the NHIAA Division II girls basketball championship at Southern New Hampshire University last night. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon’s Jennifer Laramie dives to keep control of the ball after Portsmouth’s Tigh Loch knocked it loose during the NHIAA Division II championship last night in Manchester.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Vanessa Fleury gets a hug from coach Tim Kehoe after Lebanon’s 48 - 41 win over Portsmouth last night in the state championship game. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Manchester — It’s the hurricane-swollen wave crashing upon the helpless beach house.
It’s the great white shark, leaping out of the ocean depths to devour its prey.
It’s the 10,000-ton meteorite exploding over your head before your morning coffee takes hold.
There were times this winter when the Lebanon High girls basketball team resembled a force of nature, something of wonder and awesome power. The Raiders pressed teams into submission, winning by 20, 30 points a night and seemed unstoppable.
And so it proved last night, when No. 1 Lebanon beat No. 2 Portsmouth, 48-41, at Southern New Hampshire University for the NHIAA Division II state championship. The Raiders ran the table — 22 wins in a row in the league, 24 in a row overall — and nature very much played into the outcome.
But instead of the awe-inspiring power and breakneck pace, Lebanon needed the inexorable drip-drip-drip of the foul line to send the Clippers home. With their best player beset by foul trouble and their turnover-fueled offense slowed, the Raiders countered a four-basket second half with a 12-for-22 effort at the charity stripe over the final 16 minutes in a game in which they never trailed.
The victory — head coach Tim Kehoe’s fourth in nine state title attempts — included a game-high 20 points from his daughter, Emily, and a unexpected 20-7 edge in offensive rebounds against a foe featuring a 6-foot-3 center and a 6-0 forward.
“We’ve played here enough to know why this place gives us the nerves and the jiggles, but at the same time I think that’s why we play well,” said Emily Kehoe, who was part of Lebanon teams that came up a game short of state honors at SNHU in 2010 and ’11. “I think we deserve this. … We needed this. We definitely worked hard enough for it.
“We needed it as someone who spends three seasons a year playing basketball, two-hour practices, working hard, it’s something that fulfills you in a way that you need it. It’s something you’re going to strive for, no matter what.”
The championship was Lebanon’s to own from the first 10 minutes onward.
In typical frantic fashion, the Raiders charged to a 19-5 lead after one quarter with sprints, traps, steals and conversions. Lebanon gave away inches at every position, yet was more aggressive on the glass until the Clippers (18-4) forced the Raiders’ Moriah Morton to the bench with fouls and ground the top seed’s transition game to a halt.
Lebanon’s interior defense and play on the glass limited 6-3 Portsmouth senior Alicia Brown to 10 points, six below her average.
“We started using a double-screen thing against their press, and it was fine, but we never did find a good way to get the ball in to our big girl,” Portsmouth coach Dan Parr said. “They kept us out here. I thought we made some great adjustments on defense. … As a coach, you say there are certain things you can do and can’t do, and I thought Tim’s kids adjusted to what we did.”
The question for the first half would come down to whether Lebanon would blow the Clippers out to sea before Parr burned all of his timeouts in search of the lighthouse.
The Raiders had the game to their pace immediately. Emily Kehoe, Vanessa Fleury and Morton all contributed to an 8-3 opening run, all scoring in transition to force Parr to call a stop to play. Seventy-five seconds and five more Lebanon points later, Parr cooked No. 2.
“We came in with about three press offenses, and they worked in our gym against our own kids fine,” Parr said. “But I told them if they’re not working, we were taking a timeout and try something else.”
Parr was a man of his word. Lebanon had the lead to 19-5 with 1:20 to go in the quarter when he signaled a third TO. And the edge was 23-7 two minutes into the second quarter when the Clippers returned to port a fourth time, still unable to navigate a way through Lebanon’s defense.
“First quarter, we were feeling pretty hot,” Lebanon junior point guard Samantha MacDonald said. “We were on top, everything was going our way. We were having a good run at that point.”
Dominant in transition and on the glass and unafraid to challenge Brown and 6-0 forward Devon Parker in the paint, the Raiders still didn’t shoot well from the floor in the first half (13-for-40). That opened the door for a Portsmouth rally.
With substitute Abigail Salvadore leading the way, the Clippers started snapping Lebanon pressure to get three-on-two breaks from center court. Salvadore scored all nine of her points in the second period to draw the deficit down to 28-24 by halftime.
“We came out loose tonight and rotated really well,” Tim Kehoe said. “I think our problem was when they came back, we over-rotated and our bigs … didn’t let our guards do their jobs. We got beat over the top a lot.”
The Raiders’ task became more difficult when Morton drew her third and fourth fouls in quick succession early in the third quarter, costing Lebanon its most fearless force.
“It was definitely hard,” said Morton, who finished with eight points, seven rebounds and shared the team lead of six steals with Kehoe. “They kept the lead while I was out, so it would have been a lot worse if we’d gone down and ended up losing. As long as we got the win … whatever.”
“Don’t get me wrong: Moriah is one of best players I’ve ever coached, but there’s a lot of great players on this team,” Tim Kehoe added. “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.”
Even with Morton sidelined, Portsmouth never got closer than two possessions from the lead. When the senior returned with 5:23 left, Emily Kehoe and Heather King (nine points, team-high 12 rebounds) had done enough at the free-throw line to rebuild Lebanon’s lead to 42-35. With Vanessa Fleury and Jennifer Laramie also providing important minutes, the Raiders finally had their elusive championship.
“Tonight, we gutted it out,” Tim Kehoe said. “We outworked them in a lot of ways. It was not a pretty game by any means. We didn’t shoot our best tonight. But, y’know what? We still have that same Lebanon M.O. of keep workin’, keep workin’, keep workin’.”
It wasn’t inevitable that Lebanon would win this championship.
But it certainly was natural.
Free Throws: The undefeated state championship is the first in Lebanon girls basketball history. Tim Kehoe: “No matter what happens, these guys can be 40-, 50-years-old and look at the banner and say, ‘Somebody might be as good, but nobody can be better.’ That’s an amazing accomplishment that they can take away.” … The key to victory? Maybe field hockey. As was the case this season, the Raiders’ last girls basketball championship in March 2007 as prefaced by a field hockey state crown the previous fall. … Portsmouth’s Brown snagged a game-high 16 rebounds for a double-double in her final game. Parker grabbed 10 boards, and guard Christina Jones added nine points. … Lebanon owned a 43-38 overall rebounding edge. … Kehoe and Morton are Lebanon’s only graduation losses. Morton will enter Dartmouth in the fall, hoping to earn a walk-on spot with the Big Green’s women’s basketball team. Kehoe is looking at Castleton State, the College of St. Joseph’s and Keene State as potential college hoop opportunities.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.