Souhegan looking sharp in tourney
PENACOOK — The Souhegan Sabers were in a position Friday night they never figured to be in when the season started.
The defending Division II girls' basketball champions needed to win a quarterfinal game on the road for a chance to get back to Southern New Hampshire University and be part of another Final Four.
Buoyed by Jane White's game-high 20 points and showing the cool of a team that knows how to close out games, the sixth-seeded Sabers knocked off third-seeded Merrimack Valley, 55-45, to advance to Monday's semifinals at SNHU in Manchester.
Souhegan (16-4) rolled to a title last year without losing a game, but this year's road has not been so easy. They started 4-3 and were showing no signs of the team that ruled the division a season ago.
But things started to click again midway through the season and carried right into the postseason. The Sabers have now won 12 of their last 13 games, knocking off five of the division's top 10 seeds in the process, including a road win at top-ranked Hollis/Brookline.
“We've been here; we know we can do it,” senior guard Ashley Tighe said.
“It's something we want so bad,” White said of a second straight title. “Every team wants to kill us and some of our underclassmen weren't ready for that at the start. Now we're ready.”
The Pride (16-4) were the latest to set their sights on the Sabers, entering the game on a 13-game winning streak that featured suffocating defense. Merrimack Valley was holding team to 30.9 points per game during the streak.
Souhegan did better than that thanks to White, a senior point guard who controlled play and scored in a variety of ways. She knocked down two 3-pointers, suckered a defender into a foul on a 3-point shot right before the end of the first quarter and got into the lane for a pair of big-time floaters midway through the fourth quarter that quelled the Pride's final run.
And when the Sabers held a double-digit lead in the final minutes, she worked with Tighe and fellow senior Ceara McNamara to take valuable seconds off the clock.
She also had enough help on offense to keep MV's box-and-1 from being too effective. Sophomore forward Mickenzie Larivee had 10 points, McNamara and senior Tori Forrest had seven each and junior Bailey Gendron made a couple of timely 3s.
“They have an outstanding player,” MV coach Joe Raycraft said. “We wanted to slow her down and let other people try to beat us, and tonight they did.”
Defense, however, wasn't the Pride's problem. They struggled offensively, turning the ball over 32 times, while shooting 14-for-50 from the field and 14-for-26 from the foul line. Foul trouble that kept starting guards Cassidy John and Jordan Filion (10 points) on the bench for most of the third quarter didn't help.
The Pride played hard, worked the boards and got a monster game from junior center Rebekka Donovan (16 points), but they just made too many mistakes and had too much trouble against Souhegan's trapping, ball-hawking defense to get by.