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Marauders Hunker Down: Hanover Traps Pelham in First Round

  • Hanover girls basketball coach Dan O'Rourke gives his team encouragement after they started to pull away from Pelham in the third quarter of their playoff game against Pelham at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Hanover girls basketball coach Dan O'Rourke gives his team encouragement after they started to pull away from Pelham in the third quarter of their playoff game against Pelham at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pelham's Katelyn Surprenant, left, is swarmed by the defense of Hanover's Eileen Daley (10), Lexie Hamilton and Erica Hinck (20) during their playoff game at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Pelham's Katelyn Surprenant, left, is swarmed by the defense of Hanover's Eileen Daley (10), Lexie Hamilton and Erica Hinck (20) during their playoff game at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Hanover girls basketball bench cheer on their teammates in the third quarter of their playoff game against Pelham at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    The Hanover girls basketball bench cheer on their teammates in the third quarter of their playoff game against Pelham at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover girls basketball coach Dan O'Rourke gives his team encouragement after they started to pull away from Pelham in the third quarter of their playoff game against Pelham at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Pelham's Katelyn Surprenant, left, is swarmed by the defense of Hanover's Eileen Daley (10), Lexie Hamilton and Erica Hinck (20) during their playoff game at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • The Hanover girls basketball bench cheer on their teammates in the third quarter of their playoff game against Pelham at Dartmouth's Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., on March 4, 2014. Hanover won, 70-49. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Hanover — Moments before Hanover High’s girls basketball team took to the Leede Arena court Tuesday, public-address announcer Rob Grabill took to the microphone with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Grabill requested that, in case of emergency, those in attendance at the Dartmouth College facility should “place their seat backs and tray tables in the upright and locked position and leave in a calm and orderly fashion through any of the 17 marked exits.”

There was no escape for the Pelham Pythons, however, who went down to a 70-49 defeat after keeping the NHIAA Division II opening-round contest close for the first two quarters. Trailing 29-27 at halftime, the 15th-seeded visitors were blitzed, 30-19, during the third quarter and lost to the Marauders for the second time in a week, finishing 5-14.

So what did Hanover coach Dan O’Rourke say to his troops at halftime?

“I told them that it’s easy to play well and have your chest out when you’re up by 20, but the true measure of a person is how you respond to adversity,” said O’Rourke, whose team was displaced by Hanover’s annual Town Meeting, held Tuesday night in the school gym.

“We didn’t get a lot of easy hoops in the first half, but we just had to focus on the little things we’ve done all year. Box out and run the floor. Our fast break starts with rebounding so we had to do that better.”

J.J. Daniell had 21 points and Lexie Hamilton 17 for Hanover, which hosts Goffstown on Friday in a quarterfinal clash. The Marauders also received 13 points from Christine Croitoru and 12 from Eileen Daley, who added 10 rebounds.

“We were complacent early and Pelham took it to us,” O’Rourke said. “They broke us down on defense and got some easy layups, so we talked about staying low and helping each other more. Once we got a little breathing room, our kids relaxed and played like they have all year.”

Hanover was once an annual state title contender, but hasn’t claimed a crown since 2008 and last reached a state championship game in 2009. One of the reasons is the cyclical nature of high school sports, but O’Rourke and a group of his basketball brethren also recognized that Hanover’s youth hoops program wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

“In 2009, I went to the Hanover (recreation department) tournament and not one Hanover team won a game,” O’Rourke said. “We recognized that our infrastructure was broken. We had very well-meaning people coaching, but kids have to have the fundamental skills.”

Thus was born the Hanover Heat, an Amateur Athletic Union program for 50 second- through eighth-graders that emphasizes fundamentals and basic team play. O’Rourke has coached the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders for several years, and the first players produced by the Heat are now Hanover High sophomores.

“We have a lot of talent in the pipeline now,” O’Rourke said. “The (Heat) kids practice three days a week and whether we win an AAU game or not isn’t important.”

It’s different at the high school level, of course, and the Marauders have improved in recent seasons. Many of the team’s juniors and seniors took their lumps as freshmen and sophomores on struggling varsity teams, but Hanover was 11-11 two years ago, 15-7 last winter and is now 18-3.

Last season ended in bitter fashion, seventh-seeded Hanover leading 10th-seeded Merrimack Valley by 14 points during an opening round game before losing by two.

“The kids really remembered that and our core played AAU basketball in the spring and summer with the goal of getting better,” O’Rourke said. “We also had 20-some kids at open gym twice a week, where we did 90 minutes of skills work and 30 minutes of scrimmaging.”

A group of Marauders players also signed up for sessions at a local fitness center. It’s starting to pay off in earnest, but challenges remain.

“I’ve always thought the quarterfinal game was the hardest to win in the playoffs,” O’Rourke said. “It’s often a trap game and there’s a lot of parity in Division II.”

Hanover beat Goffstown by 15 in the first game of the season, but O’Rourke noted the Grizzlies (11-8) beat fifth-seeded Lebanon later in the season. Goffstown has won four of its last five games, but will face a Marauders team that doesn’t rely on any one scoring source.

“We had four players in double figures tonight and I hope we can do that again Friday,” O’Rourke said. “Christine Croitoru, when we were reeling a couple of times, drove to the hoop or hit a three. Eileen Daley ran the floor and got layups. Holly Schlosser and Cathleen Beliveau, although they didn’t score, they got rebounds and got us out of our end.

“We went with a quicker lineup tonight, but there will be games down the road where we face some bigger teams. We have a nice mix of eight quality players who can handle the ball and score and that’s what’s made us so successful this year.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.