Souhegan upsets Portsmouth
Thursday, March 14, 2013
PORTSMOUTH – They are called free throws for a reason.
Great players are supposed to make them, and Brandon Len did just that Saturday night.
Len scored 33 points, including a 12-for-12 performance from the line in the fourth quarter, and the seventh-seeded Souhegan High School boys basketball team upset No. 2 Portsmouth 69-65 in the Division II quarterfinals.
The win puts the Sabers (13-7) in the semifinals against No. 3 Lebanon at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the University of New Hampshire.
Len also had three 3-pointers while Tyler Ford added 14 points, Jake Kennedy had nine and Zach Simmonds had eight, as Souhegan got out to an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, was up 15-4 at the end of one and battled through a back-and-forth second half.
“I’m so happy for these kids,” Souhegan coach Mike Heaney said. “I told them in the locker room, all week they were there for other people. If they keep living their life that way, they keep putting other people before themselves, karma has a way of coming back for people who do the right thing.
“We go to a wake and burry a teammate, and then we come out and play like that. People came up and congratulated me for coaching, but that was purely the players.”
Souhegan took the court Saturday a week after finding out former teammate Tony Barksdale, who graduated in 2012, had died in the early morning hours of March 2.
With the players wearing warmup shirts that read ‘Tony’ with the No. 42 on the back – Barksdale’s number last season – and with students wearing white shirts, Souhegan defeated
Hanover at home in the first round before the victory over the Clippers.
“(Saturday) was so emotional for us,” Len said. “We went to his memorial (Saturday) and his wake (Friday). Everything we’re doing right now, we’re just playing for Tony.
“We’re not out here trying to win basketball games. We’re playing for something so much greater than that. We’re playing for a fallen brother. Portsmouth is a great team, but they’re just out here playing basketball. We’re not just playing basketball, we’re trying to honor someone.”
Before Wednesday’s game, Len and Heaney went to Souhegan athletic director Dick Miller to ask for the chance to petition the NHIAA to let Len change his number from the 11 he’s been wearing to 42. The NHIAA signed off on it.
“I wanted to do something for him and I approached coach with the idea of wearing his number,” Len said. “It’s not just me wearing the number. We’re all wearing the number. We’re playing the way Tony would want us to play.”
It was Len’s free throws in the fourth that helped make the difference for Souhegan. The senior made four straight following a foul and a technical on the Clippers, and he made four more in the game’s final nine seconds.
“They want the ball in (Len’s) hands and he did a good job of making free throws ... but they’re free throws, you’re best high school player should make them and to his credit he made them,” Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey said.
There aren’t many more pressure packed situations than what Len faced in Portsmouth’s Stone Gymnasium – a hostile crowd that’s doing everything it can to be a distraction in the crucial moments of a playoff game.
“I don’t tune it out,” Len said. “I kind of enjoy it. It’s kind of funny. I go to the line, I’ve shot so many free throws, I’ve put so much work in to it. When you practice like it’s a game, when it comes to game time, it’s nothing.”
Portsmouth (16-4) took its first lead of the game, 35-34, on three free throws by Travis MacDonald (15 points) with 4:19 left in the third quarter. After that, there were seven lead changes and two ties over the final 12-plus minutes of the game.
With the Sabers clinging to a 59-58 lead, Portsmouth’s Donovan Phanor was called for a foul, and Clippers’ teammate Ben Landry (team-high 18 points) was hit with a technical after protesting the call.
“I ran up to the ref with a big smile and said ‘I’m shooting all four,’” Len said. “I was so excited, at that point I could put my team up by five. I live for that situation.”
Len went to the line for four foul shots and sunk all of them, giving Souhegan a 63-58 lead with 1:07 to play. Portsmouth twice pulled within two points in the final seconds, but every time Souhegan got the ball back, it went to Len and the Clippers were forced to foul.
“Our kids played through it, even after all those free throws,” Mulvey said. “Our kids had a shot. That’s a lot. I congratulate (Souhegan). They were outstanding and they deserved to win.”
The Sabers were scheduled to face Lebanon in the semifinals. The Raiders defeated No. 6 Bishop Brady in the quarterfinals, and also defeated Souhegan during the regular season.