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Too Much Bear to Bear: Coe-Brown Overcomes Cold Hanover

  • Coe-Brown's Jennifer Schlim (10) and Haley Ruth (21) fight with Hanover's Holly Schlosser during the first quarter of the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Coe-Brown's Jennifer Schlim (10) and Haley Ruth (21) fight with Hanover's Holly Schlosser during the first quarter of the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover's Cathleen Beliveau goes for a three point shot during the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hanover's Cathleen Beliveau goes for a three point shot during the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover's Head Coach Dan O'Rourke gives his team instructions during the third period of the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hanover's Head Coach Dan O'Rourke gives his team instructions during the third period of the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover's Carolne Merguerian clutches her face as Coe-Brown scores more points during the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hanover's Carolne Merguerian clutches her face as Coe-Brown scores more points during the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Coe-Brown's Jennifer Schlim (10) and Haley Ruth (21) fight with Hanover's Holly Schlosser during the first quarter of the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hanover's Cathleen Beliveau goes for a three point shot during the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hanover's Head Coach Dan O'Rourke gives his team instructions during the third period of the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hanover's Carolne Merguerian clutches her face as Coe-Brown scores more points during the Hanover vs Coe-Brown Northwood Academy girls semifinal basketball game for the NH Division II title at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Manchester — It wasn’t nervousness, injury or fatigue that hampered the Hanover High girls basketball team in Monday’s 56-52 NHIAA Division II semifinal loss to Coe-Brown.

The second-ranked Marauders (19-4 overall, 18-3 league) entered the Southern New Hampshire University Field House loose and confident, but failed to execute in key moments during an upset that sent the No. 6 Bears (16-5) to a state championship game for the first time since 1998. Coe-Brown will take on No. 4 Merrimack Valley, another upset winner over top-ranked Milton on Monday.

Four players reached double figures for the Bears, who broke open a nip-and-tuck game with a 12-2 run to start the fourth quarter. Junior Abigail Ahern (game-high 15 points) scored six straight during the rally, helping stake Coe-Brown to a 46-35 lead with five minutes to play.

The Bears stretched their lead to as many as 12 points before a 13-5 Hanover run over the final 1:44 brought the Marauders closer.

Hanover senior Eileen Daley matched Ahern with 15 points and added a game-high 16 rebounds. Junior J.J. Daniell added 12 points and Christine Croitoru had 11 for Hanover, but the Marauders shot just 50 percent from the free throw line (13-of-26) and suffered a rare off-night from sophomore Lexie Hamilton. Averaging 11.6 points per game for the season and 17.5 in this year’s playoffs heading into Monday, she went 0-for-7 from the floor, committed nine turnovers and fouled out with 2:50 to play.

Hamilton was 0-for-6 on 3-point attempts as she was held scoreless for the first time in her career.

“They’re kids, and everyone has bad games sometimes,” said Marauders coach Dan O’Rourke. “Lebron James has off-nights sometimes. It happens. But as this team has done all season, when someone isn’t playing well, other girls stepped up. Girls like Christine Croitoru and Cathleen Beliveau (six points) did a great job off the bench.”

The game started slowly for both teams, with seven turnovers apiece in the first quarter. There were just seven total points scored in the first 6:25 before Ashley LeBlanc finally helped the Bears establish a little rhythm on offense with a transition assist to Ahern for two and then hitting a bank shot in the final seconds to make it 8-5 after one quarter.

O’Rourke insisted his team’s poor first quarter wasn’t jitters-related.

“We talked a lot about not playing nervous, and we didn’t. We were loose,” the coach said. “That said, it was our worst quarter of the year, and we were still only down three points.”

Bears coach David Hartnett thought his team was tight early on.

“It’s something about this building,” the former St. Thomas coach said. “I’ve been here before, and I don’t know if it’s the big stage or if the rims are a little bit stiffer or exactly what it is, but girls always have a hard time shooting here.”

Hanover got in sync in the second quarter, Croitoru sinking a pair of 3s and Daniell hitting from deep during an 11-3 run to give the Marauders a 17-11 advantage with 3½ minutes to go until halftime.

Coe-Brown responded with three 3s of its own over the next two minutes, Deborah Peabody’s basket from beyond the arc capping a 13-4 Bears run. Jennifer Schlim (10 points, nine rebounds) scored four points during the rally before Daniell hit a bank shot at the buzzer to pull Hanover within 24-23 at the break.

A back-and-fourth third quarter finished with Hanover still facing a one-point deficit, another final-seconds basket by Daniell making it 34-33 entering the fourth.

The next six minutes belonged to Coe-Brown as Ahern and Peabody took turns scoring six straight points for the Bears, the last four on a pair of pull-up jumpers in the lane from Peabody — the kind of shots that previously hadn’t been falling for either team all night — to make it 49-37 with 2:50 to play.

“Those baskets from (Peabody) were huge because (Hanover) was doing a great job against Schlim, who’s normally one of our go-to scorers,” said Hartnett. “They’re one of the most well-coached teams in the state, and they played great defense.”

With Hanover in double-bonus foul trouble from the midway point of the fourth quarter, Coe-Brown was 8-for-14 from the free-throw line over the final 3:30. Hanover senior Holly Schlosser had an offensive put back, Daley dished to Daniell for 3 and Daley coaxed in a roll-around-the-rim triple to pull the Marauders within 53-48 with 53.9 seconds left.

Sarah Curtin (11 points) had a steal and sank both ensuing free throws for the Bears to make it a seven-point game with 35 seconds to play. Daley had one last layup, and senior Erica Hinck hit a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds left to make it a four-point game.

Free Throws: On two separate occasions, play had to be stopped because of incorrect figures on the scoreboard. Both times, Coe-Brown had been given 106 points. “That was scary,” said O’Rourke. … Hamilton’s previous low point total was three in January 2013 at Coe-Brown. … The Bears avenged the Marauders’ 46-40 win in Hanover on Jan. 8. … Hanover held a 47-34 rebounding advantage, but had 24 turnovers to 14 for the Bears. … It’ll be the first championship game appearance for Coe-Brown since it beat White Mountains for the 1998 Class M (now Division III) title, its third in six years. … Hanover is set to lose Daley, Hinck, Beliveau and captains Schlosser and Molly Cornell to graduation.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.