Milford makes 3rd straight final four

MILFORD – The Milford High School girls basketball team has a drill it’s run in practice for the last three seasons.

The Spartans line up for two free throws, and for every one the shooter misses, she has to run down the court and back.

Practiced paid off Saturday night, as No. 2 Milford went 13 of 14 from the line in the final five minutes to pull away for a 44-27 win over No. 10 Hanover in the Division II quarterfinals.

The win sends Milford to the final four for the third straight year, where the Spartans will face No. 6 Goffstown, which knocked off No. 3 Bishop Brady, on Thursday at Southern New Hampshire University.

Jess Ryan finished with 15 points for Milford (18-2), including 6 of 6 from the line, and Kaitlyn Matthews added nine in a game where points were hard to come by for the first 31?2 quarters.

Milford led 27-22 in the fourth quarter when the free throw run started, and Hanover cut the lead to 28-26 with 3:20 to play before the Spartans were able to pull away.

“We practice them (free throws) every day,” Milford coach Rich Parent said. “You miss the front end, you’re running. It gets their heart rate going. We’ve shot that well before. Over the season, the starters have shot close to 75 percent, but I was surprised that it was in a big-game situation.”

And it was all of the Spartans, as five different players made at least two free throws.

“We’ve been working on that (drill) for three years,” Pitsas said. “It’s just such great practice. (Saturday) it was everyone.”

Hanover (11-9) got 18 points from JJ Daniell, including three 3-pointers, and Hannah Wittman added nine points, but no other player had more than two.

The Spartans controlled the first quarter, taking advantage of second chances on offense and playing solid defense to take a 10-0 lead with 1:55 left in the quarter. Milford was up 12-1 going into the second, keeping Hanover out of it press.

But as the second quarter continued, the Marauders started taking the air out of the ball and Milford started to get into foul trouble.

A jumper by Daniell cut the lead to 12-7 with 2:36 to go until halftime, but Milford answered with baskets by Pitsas and Ryan to push the lead to nine. Daniell hit a 3 before halftime to make it 16-10 and that’s where it stood at the break.

Milford went up 21-10 on a putback by Matthews early in the third, but Daniell went on an 8-2 run on her own to get Hanover within five.

After going 30 years without a final four appearance, Milford has now made it three times in a row. This year’s seniors have been a part of all three trips and hope to take the next step despite missing two starters to season-ending injuries.

“You look back and think you can do it again, but it’s hard thank you think especially with two of our really important players out,” Pitsas said. “But I have faith in our poise and confidence.”

Prelims: No. 2 Milford 51, No. 15 Timberlane 21

Following its 22-point, season-ending loss to Merrimack Valley, the Milford girls basketball team didn’t resemble the second-seeded squad in Division II. Luckily for the Spartans, they bounced back in a big way in the first round of the tournament Wednesday night.

Milford stormed out to a big lead and never looked back, cruising to a 51-21 victory over 15th-seeded Timberlane Regional (5-14).

The Spartans ran into injury and foul issues during their regular-season finale, contributing to the lopsided loss. However, coach Rich Parent wasn’t ready to make excuses for his squad, and he was happy with the way his team responded in the victory over the Owls.

“I absolutely do think it was a bounce-back victory,” Parent said. “I think the girls really got the message that everybody on the bench needs to be prepared. Some of these girls started the year in JV, so I don’t think they were all mentally prepared. They definitely are now.”

The team wasn’t operating with a full squad during their playoff victory, either. Sophomore Devany Pitsas missed the contest with a lingering shoulder injury, but her teammates were more than willing to step up in her place. The Spartans got 10 points and seven rebounds from their second unit, including four points from sophomore Christina Arnoldy.

“It’s something we’ve been focusing on because of all our injuries,” Parent said. “We need the bench to contribute, and they’ve slowly but surely been doing that.”

While the Milford bench proved to be the unsung hero, it was the starting five who got the Spartans off to their big lead. Milford jumped out to an early 16-4 lead, and they extended their lead to 20 heading into halftime. In the third quarter, Milford wasn’t scoring with as much ease, but continued its defensive effort, limiting Timberlane to only three points during the frame.

Jessica Ryan, who finished with a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds, scored Milford’s first six points of the fourth to secure the victory.

“We executed everything we’ve talked about,” Parent said. “Up and down the bench, everybody knew what to do. (Timberlane) is a good team, and they’ve got some good players, so I thought we did a phenomenal job.”

Adele Pitsas and Kaitlyn Matthews each scored six for Milford, with Pitsas grabbing nine boards. Brooke Rooney led Timberlane with eight points and seven rebounds.