One win away

MANCHESTER – Elizabeth Atkinson stepped to the free-throw line with eight seconds left in the Division II semifinals as a chant erupted from the Hollis Brookline student section: “It’s all over!”

Indeed, it was. The sophomore drilled the foul shots for good measure.

Cassandra Stapelfeld poured in 27 points – 19 in the second half – and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, leading No. 6 Hollis Brookline to a 57-46 triumph over No. 2 Portsmouth in the Division II

semfinals on Tuesday at Southern New Hampshire University.

Stapelfeld – a senior who eclipsed 1,000 career points in December – scored six points in the final 1:03 to help secure the victory over the Clippers (19-2), whose only losses of the season came at the hands of the Cavaliers.

Hollis Brookline will play top-seeded and undefeated Lebanon – a 36-35 survivor over No. 4 Pelham – on Friday at SNHU starting at 7 p.m.

“It’s such an exciting feeling, I don’t even know how to describe it,” Stapelfeld said. “I can’t think of better way to end the season, and we have one more game. I’m just so excited. I’m so pumped.”

Brodie Kelley gave the Cavaliers an early lift with 11 of her 16 points in the first quarter. She also converted a key layup to give the Cavs a two-possession cushion at 47-43 with 1:27 remaining.

“It feels absolutely amazing. We’ve worked so hard this season,” Kelley said. “Our first goal was to make it here for the semifinals. Once we got here, we figured we might as well go all the way, so we did everything that we could. We played awesome defense and our shots fell.”

Hollis Brookline, which used the same five players – Stapelfeld, Kelley, Atkinson, Kenzie Day and Joanna Balsamo – for all 32 minutes, jumped out to a 20-13 lead after the first quarter, but the Clippers cut it to 26-25 by halftime.

The Cavaliers managed to avoid foul trouble while building a 40-35 edge after three quarters. Atkinson, who had nine points and nine rebounds, was particularly key due to her ability to handle Portsmouth’s post presence.

“Thank the lord in heaven. That was my biggest concern,” Hollis Brookline coach Bob Murphy said of the foul trouble. “They have a couple of bigs and we only have one, and if she had gotten in foul trouble or if I had to take her out, they would have had a clear advantage in that situation. (Atkinson) did a great job on both ends of the court tonight.”

Portsmouth, trailing 42-39 midway through the fourth quarter, called timeout and applied full-court pressure. Hollis Brookline didn’t handle it well at first, as consecutive steals and layups from Porstmouth’s Libby Underwood (team-high 23 points) supplied the Clippers with a 43-32 lead with 3:39 left.

“I think it caught us by surprise, but we all kind of settled down after the two turnovers,” Stapelfeld said. “Coach called a timeout and said we had to send someone to the middle, get the ball over halfcourt and control it, and the game would be ours.”

And it was.

Stapelfeld answered with a pair of free throws before coming down with a rebound and sprinting the length of the floor for a layup to give the Cavs a 49-43 with 1:03 to go.

“You look at Stapelfeld and she’s a four-year varsity player,” Porstmouth coach Tim Hopley said. “She’s a good free-throw shooter and she doesn’t get rattled.”

Stapelfeld and Day, HB’s senior duo, converted their free throws down the stretch to cement the game.

“They have a lot of heart. They love the game, but they have a lot of heart,” Murphy said of his seniors. “They’re great role models for all the younger kids on this team and they just come to win. I’m so happy for these kids, because they deserve it.”