Souhegan rallies to beat Portsmouth

AMHERST – Mike Heaney was ready to give a speech he’s given the Souhegan High School girls basketball teams a few times this season.

But before the Sabers coach could open his mouth, someone was giving it for him.

Maybe it was a different voice that made the message sink in, or maybe the players were just tired of hearing it. Whatever it was, it worked, as Souhegan rallied in the second half Friday night to beat Portsmouth 33-31.

While the Division II playoff pairings won’t be released until Monday, Heaney believed the win would give the Sabers (14-4) the No. 3 seed in the tournament.

“I’ll wait until we get the call, but I think we’re third,” Heaney said. “I was going to give the speech before the fourth quarter, that we’ve been there.

“We have to value the ball and value possessions and understand shot selection. Before I could say it, a couple of seniors started saying it. They took the wind out of my sails. They’ve heard it enough and that’s what you expect from seniors.”

Morgan Brady, one of those seniors, finished with a game-high nine points and Emily Gaukstern added seven as the Sabers overcame a six-point deficit at halftime by holding the Clippers (12-6) to just two points in the third quarter.

“It gets to a point where you have to learn from your mistakes, stop talking in the locker room about what you’re going to do and go do it,” Brady said. “It’s senior night. That’s something we’ve talked about in between the quarters. We need to keep playing our game.”

In the first quarter, Souhegan was playing something that’s been too familiar all season. The Sabers were playing well on defense, and doing just about everything they could on offense, except making shots.

Then, in the second quarter, missed shots turned into bad passes and unforced mistakes.

“I think there have been a few nights where we’ve got the looks we wanted, but I think we lead the league in in-and-out shots,” Heaney said. “That’s not more reps in practice, that’s just shots not going in. But we made some really bad decisions. We forced some the ball where it didn’t need to go, rushed against a patient, well-coached zone. Second half we didn’t do that.”

Portsmouth’s Tighe Loch hit a 3-pointer just 1:14 into the second quarter that put the Clippers up 18-9, but Souhegan’s defense kept Portsmouth in check after that. The Clippers scored just four points over the next 14-plus minutes of the game, allowing the Sabers to tie things up at 22 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Sabers took their first lead in the second half on a 3-pointer by Jaime King with 5:35 to play and went up 27-24 on a layup by Brady with 4:56 left. Portsmouth retook the lead on a basket by Ally Dennehy and two free throws from Phoebe Collins that made it 28-27 with 3:25 to play.

Souhegan looked to be in trouble when Cammie Formby-Lavertu picked up her fourth and fifth fouls just 10 seconds apart, but the Clippers turned the ball over on two straight possessions. The Sabers scored off both to go up 31-28 and two free throws by Devon Hickey made it 33-28 with 1:20 left.

Libby Underwood cut the lead to two with a 3-pointer on Portsmouth’s next possession and the Sabers twice missed the front end of a one-and-one, the second time with 9.4 seconds left.

The Clippers got the rebound, quickly got the ball down the floor, but Loch’s 3-pointer from the corner was off the mark and Gaukstern grabbed the rebound as time expired.

“I was right there, the next girl over,” Brady said of the final shot. “I saw (Souhegan’s) Hannah Keeney had her hand right in up in her face. If it had fallen, there was nothing else Hannah could have done, she was right there. I held my breath a little bit, but when I turned, I could see that it was off in the air. And then Emily got the rebound and I was like ‘thank you.’ ”