End of the run
Thursday, March 21, 2013
DURHAM – Brandon Len nailed a 3-pointer, the buzzer sounded ending the third quarter, and the Souhegan High School senior pointed to the sky.
The shot gave the No. 7 Sabers a 33-31 lead over undefeated Pembroke in Saturday’s Division I boys basketball championship game. And when a layup by Jake Kennedy gave Souhegan a four-point lead early in the fourth, it seemed everything was going the Sabers’ way.
And all of a sudden, it wasn’t. Pembroke began chipping away and Souhegan began to struggle against the Spartans’ press. Pembroke went on a 14-1 run over a six-minute stretch and pulled out a 49-41 victory to finish the year a perfect 22-0.
“Someone wins the championship every year, but to have a perfect season is very difficult,” said Pembroke coach Matt Alosa. “At some point, you have a hiccup. (Saturday) was a hiccup in the road. The reason this team is great is because they can withstand that stuff and still win.”
Souhegan (14-8) got 16 points from Len and 12 from Kennedy, but after the senior center’s layup early in the fourth, the Sabers had just one field goal the rest of the way. That came on a goaltending call against Pembroke with 1:22 to play.
“I think both teams just played great defense,” said Souhegan coach Mike Heaney. “We were ready for that 1-2-2 (press), we attacked it, we got layups a couple of times (in the first half). But a couple of bad decisions against it allowed them to tie it and take a lead.
“I think what happens with kids is that now they’re nervous. We went from handling it beautifully, and we focused on it the last two days (in practice), and then you turn it over a couple of times and you stop believing in how we were breaking it. That was too bad, because it was definitely a momentum changer.”
The Sabers had all the momentum at halftime after holding Pembroke to just two points in the second quarter. Souhegan led 21-14 at the break, and Pembroke junior Patrick Welch had just three points after spending the entire second quarter on the bench with three fouls.
But in the second half, Welch and teammate Rene Maher got the Spartans going. Maher finished with 17 points and Welch had 14, as Pembroke shot better than 57 percent from the field in the final 16 minutes.
“There is a reason why (Welch) is a first-team all-state player,” Heaney said. “But who we talked about at the end of the game was Maher. He’s not known as a shooter. Great player, but necessarily a shooter, and he made some big shots.”
Kennedy scored the first four points of the game for the second straight contest, but Pembroke answered with a 9-0 run and led 12-9 after one. But another basket by Kennedy and a 3 by Len put the Sabers on top, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the third quarter.
A 3-pointer by Maher gave the Spartans a 24-23 lead with five minutes left in the third, and the teams battled back and forth for the rest of the quarter, the lead changing five times.
Tyler Ford’s free throw with 6:56 to play put Souhegan up 36-33, but Welch tied the game with a 3 of his own and then scored on a tough, driving basket to give Pembroke the lead for good.
“The timeouts were pretty simple,” Heaney said of the fourth quarter. “We’ve got limit them to one shot, we’ve got to close out on shooters, you’ve got to win the 50-50 ball, you’ve got to get to the rim strong. It’s simple at that point. They made the plays they had to have. They’re undefeated for a reason.”
While Souhegan ended up short of the title, Heaney was proud of the season the Sabers put together. After going 11-7 in the regular season, Souhegan beat three teams in the playoffs that it had lost to earlier in the year, including second-seeded Portsmouth and third-seeded Lebanon.
And following the March 2 death of former teammate Tony Barksdale, the Sabers rallied together and played to honor their friend’s memory.
“We’ve challenged them for two years to establish their legacy,” Heaney said. “How will you be remembered? What they did for a family, a school and a community, that’s going to be remembered, not the score of this game.”