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Smiles All Around in Raiders’ Easy Victory

— Heading into to last night’s season opener against Pembroke, one of the Lebanon girls basketball team’s primary goals was for the players to enjoy themselves.

Did they ever.

Moriah Morton scored a career high 26 points and junior Heather King added 14 with six rebounds as the Raiders shellacked the Spartans at Lang Metcalf Gym, 67-27.

Lebanon shot 53 percent (18-of-34) in the first half as Morton scored 21 and added four assists and six steals through two periods. She drove through the lane for two more early in the second half, then surpassed her previous career high of 24 at the free throw line, sinking a pair with 3:41 left in the third quarter to give the Raiders a 57-16 lead.

Displaying excellent court vision and instincts, Morton constantly set up teammates and drew fouls. She finished 10-of-13 from the line.

“I’ve said this before: Moriah is probably the best overall kid I’ve ever coached,” Kehoe said. “There aren’t a lot of people better.”

It was far from a one-person show, as the Raiders played their first game without a corps of four seniors — including a pair of would-be starters in Taylor Friedman and Trina Scheie — who elected not to play this season.

King was productive in her first game at power forward after spelling Scheie at center last year, while Scheie nursed multiple knee injuries. Six-foot sophomore Vanessa Fleury scored five points and was a disruptive presence on defense, particularly in the paint, while starting her first game at center.

“She’s gotten so much better this year,” said Morton, perpetually smiling when she isn’t battling on the court. “She puts in an extra couple hours (of practice) every day. She’s in the gym every day at 6 o’clock, working hard.”

Guards Emily Kehoe (nine points) and Samantha MacDonald (three) helped force 14 Pembroke turnovers in the first half and ignite Lebanon’s transition. Kehoe had seven points in the first half and distributed a number of assists.

“We played an unselfish game and passed the ball well, which is always what we’re going for,” Kehoe said. “We have a lot of new girls, but they’re catching on real fast.”

King scored 12 of her 14 in the first half as the Raiders built a 28-6 lead after one quarter and a 40-14 advantage at halftime. With King having added strength since scoring 9.9 points per game as a sophomore a year ago, Tim Kehoe expects a seamless transition as she shifts from center to forward.

“The ‘4’ is her natural position and she’s bigger and stronger,” Tim Kehoe said of the 5-foot-11 King. “She’s a walking double-double.”

Pembroke’s 16 turnovers were actually a small number against a Lebanon team that for years has thrived on stifling opponents start-to-finish with a crunching press. The takeaways came early — the Spartans lost it nine times in the first half, mostly on Lebanon steals — but not as often as Raider fans are accustomed to witnessing throughout the game.

“Every team is different and we’re not the same team as we were last year,” said Kehoe, whose squad went 21-3 and suffered a one-point loss to Souhegan in the New Hampshire Division II semifinals.

“But I like this year’s team. We’re bigger than we were last year. We can still run the press, but we might mix it up. For the last couple years, it’s been, ‘This is who we are (a pressing team), try and stop it.’ This year, we’re going to be looking for mismatches, we might run zone. We’re still going to press, but it might not be for 32 minutes. I actually think it’s going to make us more versatile and harder to guard.”

Free Throws: Bench leaders Claudia Boutin (six points) and Jennifer Laramie (four) joined Morton in singing the National Anthem prior to tip-off. ... According to Valley News cumulative statistics, Morton is 218 points from reaching 1,000 for her career. She scored 352 last season while averaging 14.7 ppg. ... Lebanon held a 28-20 rebounding edge and gathered many of the missed shots that failed to hit the rim. ... Pembroke’s Molly Hamilton (five points) and Hannah Seidner (three) sank the only 3-pointers of the game for either team.

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