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Kennett gets in the zone to eliminate Lebanon

  • Lebanon junior Rebecca Wright looks for a chance to pass during the NHIAA D-II semifinal game against Kennett in Manchester, N.H., on March 5, 2019. Kennett won, 49-42. (Alan MacRae photograph)

  • Lebanon junior Megan Gradijan bats the ball away from Kennett's Elizabeth Kenney in the NHIAA D-II semifinal in Manchester, N.H., on March 5, 2019. Kennett won, 49-42. (Alan MacRae photograph)

  • Lebanon sophomore Sally Rainey drives to the hoop in the NHAA D-II semifinal game against Kennett in Manchester, N.H., on March 5, 2019. Kennett won, 49-42. (Alan MacRae photograph)

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 3/5/2019 11:26:04 PM
Modified: 3/5/2019 11:26:10 PM

MANCHESTER — When is a thing not what it appears to be?

A zone defense isn’t supposed to shut down good 3-point shooting. Battle-tested teams usually prevail in the end. But neither item applied in the case of No. 3 Kennett in Tuesday’s 49-42 NHIAA Division II girls basketball semifinal win over No. 2 Lebanon at Southern New Hampshire University.

The Eagles (20-1) got the start they wanted with a big first quarter only to stall as the Raiders (19-2) zoned them into a slower pace. Kennett regained its footing in a 21-point final period, with sophomore guard Maddie Stewart (18 points) stepping on the accelerator to end Lebanon’s night and season.

“Our game plan was to come out fast, hard, attack,” Kennett coach Larry Meader said. “We love it when teams come out in man, because we’re real athletic and quick. When they went to their zone ... we weren’t attacking. We really weren’t getting the ball inside. We’re best when we get the ball inside and kick it out. We just weren’t doing that.”

Lebanon junior Rebecca Wright nearly willed the Raiders to their 15th state title appearance in program history, dominating Kennett’s interior defense to the tune of 25 points and nine rebounds. Lebanon’s problems came on the perimeter: few successes — let alone attempts — from the outside combined with inopportune turnovers.

Experience also worked for the Eagles. Buoyed by a senior core than won all of three games as freshmen three years ago, Kennett hit 11 of its 12 fourth-quarter free throws to take the night.

“I knew it was going to be a 50-50 kind of a game,” Lebanon coach Tim Kehoe aid. “We had to play really, really well in order to win. I don’t think we quite brought our ‘A’ game tonight, but we still played.”

The Eagles gained the first advantage, taking a 17-11 lead at the first-quarter buzzer thanks to accurate outside shooting. Elizabeth Cote, Isabel Wrobleski (11 points) and Stewart all stuck 3-pointers in the opening period, often working around baseline screens against a flatfooted Lebanon defense.

The theme seemed set to continue in the second stanza when Wrobleski banged her second triple of the night. The Raiders answered with more aggression on the boards and less of it defensively.

Lebanon slipped into a 2-3 zone midway through the second, daring Kennett to continue its outside accuracy. The Eagles couldn’t, going scoreless the final 4:59 of the half on 0-for-6 shooting with four turnovers. With Wright and Sally Rainey (12 points) finding access to the hoop through the Kennett defense, Lebanon closed to within 22-21 by halftime.

“It was bizarre for us, because we didn’t really establish tempo with our offense,” Kehoe said. “I think we were tentative offensively; a lot of our kids were tentative offensively. We were one-dimensional tonight. We didn’t just keep running our offense. We just tried to get the first available opportunity.”

The Raiders’ comeback continued slowly, steadily and largely through Wright. Last year’s D-II player of the year had the Raiders’ first eight points of the third quarter, the last of which gave Lebanon a 29-28 lead with 1:31 left in the period, its first since 11-9 midway through the first period. Rainey followed with a foul-line jumper for a three-point edge with eight minutes left.

“This is an experienced group,” an unconcerned Meader said. “They’ve been down before, and they know they can come back.”

Down 33-30 with 5:49 to play, the Eagles reeled off seven quick points to take control. Stewart scored from the low right post, and Wrobleski swished her third triple of the night before scoring from the right elbow for a 37-33 advantage.

Kennett finished Lebanon off at the line, with Stewart and Elizabeth Kenny (eight points) both going 4-for-4 in the final 2½ minutes.

“I don’t think, in the second half, it was the defense that lost the game,” Kehoe said. “They’re a pretty good team. You have to score over 50 points to beat a pretty good team like that.”

Kennett, Lebanon and Hanover all posted 17-1 records during the regular season. The Eagles’ relatively lighter schedule — eight games against tourney teams against the Raiders’ 12 the Marauders’ 14 — knocked them down the pecking order, giving Lebanon the appearance of opportunity.

On Tuesday, the Eagles proved some things aren’t as they seem.

“To beat a team like that,” Meader said of Lebanon, “is pretty special.”

Notes: Lebanon shares with Fall Mountain the NHIAA record for Division II/Class I/Class AA state girls basketball titles at six. … Lebanon High student Nicole Alvarez capably handled the national anthem. … Lebanon’s Megan Gradijan played with a plastic mask to protect a broken nose sustained in December. ... Lebanon graduates guard Anna Wolke and forward Izzy Peress.

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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