Out of reach
HOLLIS – Some believe the Hollis Brookline girls basketball team has the look of a Final Four contender.
Souhegan coach Mike Heaney can be counted among them.
The Cavaliers built a 22-point cushion in the third quarter, withstood a rally from the Sabers and held on for a 67-55 victory in a Division II tilt on Tuesday in Hollis.
Cassandra Stapelfeld paced a balanced attack with 17 points, five rebounds and three steals for HB (9-2), which featured five players with at least nine points.
Although the Cavs never trailed, Souhegan (4-7) caught fire and made it uncomfortable down the stretch.
“It’s been a struggle at times for us this year,” Heaney said of the offense. “In the second half, kids looked at the rim and they knocked in shots.”
The Sabers entered the fourth quarter facing a 50-33 hole, but a couple of 3-pointers from Mia Len, a putback from Katherine O’Brien and a driving layup from Beth Greenwood trimmed the deficit to 61-53 with under two minutes remaining.
“I’m still shaking a little bit,” Hollis Brookline coach Bob Murphy said. “We were up by I think 22 points and all of a sudden you look up, and we’re up by (eight). … They have kids that can bring them back quick.”
Hollis Brookline closed it out, but the loss didn’t deter Heaney.
“None of us are about moral victories, but I was incredibly proud of us,” the Souhegan coach said. “I think that’s one of the best teams in Division II. I told Bob I think he’s going to make a run at a Final Four.”
Joanna Balsamo was imperative over the final eight minutes. She scored eight straight for the Cavs during the fourth quarter and finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
“She’s our point guard, and yet, she hits outside shots and she gets a lot of rebounds under the basket because of those long arms,” Murphy said. “When you have multiple kids scoring, it’s easier to win that way than relying on one or two kids.”
Kenzie Day supplied 14 points and five rebounds for HB, while Brodie Kelley tallied nine points, six boards and four assists. Elizabeth Atkinson was a force in the paint with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“What’s tough about a team like Hollis, I thought we did as good a job as we could on Stapelfeld, but then other kids did their job and made shots,” Heaney said. “Teams that get to the Final Four have four weapons, and they have four weapons.”
Len led the way for the Sabers with 17 points. O’Brien gave Souhegan a major spark off the bench with 12 points and a game-high 13 boards.
“She’s a volleyball player. She didn’t know what a double-double was until this year, and she’s close to averaging a double-double,” Heaney said of O’Brien. “I have two more years with her, which is great.”
Greenwood had eight points, five assists and four rebounds, while Jillian Roberts and Madison Robicheau chipped in six points apiece.
“Most of the game was a 10- or 12-point lead, but we never quit,” Heaney said. “It was easily our best offensive game of the year. We moved the ball well and we got great contributions.”
The win keeps the Cavaliers in a tie for fifth place with Hanover. Perhaps more importantly, HB remains clear of a second-round matchup with undefeated Lebanon, which beat the Cavs 55-38 on Jan. 20.
“I’m just happy we’re where we are right now. We don’t want to go back to Lebanon again,” Murphy said. “Nobody that I know wants to go back to Lebanon. If you finish eighth in the standings, that’s the likely spot you’re going to end up in the second round of the playoffs.”
Hollis Brookline seeks a third straight win Friday at Milford, while Souhegan will look to snap a four-game skid on the same night at ConVal.
The young Sabers have taken strides over the season, and Heaney hopes his team can peak at the right time. Souhegan’s seven losses have come against six teams with a combined record of 49-18.
“Back in December, we struggled. … We needed varsity IQ and there’s no shortcut to get there,” Heaney said. “Our schedule is brutal, but playing good teams, that IQ curve is much sharper than I thought it was going to be. We’re getting there. So many kids are coming back next year, so again, these games are great.
“Our message from November has been, let’s just play our best basketball on Feb. 28,” Heaney added, “and I think we’re still heading towards that.”