NHIAA Div. II Boys' Basketball Championship: Pembroke struggles but finishes season perfect
DURHAM - Perfection is never easy to attain and, for 16 minutes Saturday in the championship game of the Division II boys' basketball tournament, Pembroke Academy was anything but perfect.
The Spartans' bid to complete an undefeated season was sinking in a pool of fouls, missed shots, turnovers and, maybe most distressing, nerves.
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 3,000 at the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gymnasium was watching a team in danger of having its dream season turned into a nightmare at the hands of a Souhegan of Amherst team that seemed to have destiny on its side.
"Sometimes, this gym will get the better of you," said Pembroke coach Matt Alosa, who has played more than his share of games here. "High school kids are not used to 3,000 people. You can't hear the coach. The floor can be an ocean."
The top-seeded Spartans were down seven at halftime after leading scorer Pat Welch sat out the entire second quarter in foul trouble. They scored two points in the quarter.
But special seasons have special moments and the Spartans had theirs with a flawless second half that allowed them to rally for a 49-41 win to capture their sixth title and first since Alosa was their star player in 1991.
Welch now has that title and he lived up to it by scoring 11 of his 14 points in the second half and keying a decisive 12-0 run in the fourth quarter that turned the game around.
"There's a reason he's a first-team all-state player," Souhegan coach Mike Heaney said of the junior guard who is on track to score 2,000 points in his career.
Pembroke ends its season at 25-0, 22-0 in Division II. Souhegan, a team that went on a late-season run and rallied around the death of former teammate Tony Barksdale, finished 14-8.
"Someone wins a championship every year, but to go undefeated is very hard," Alosa said. "At some point in time you have a hiccup in the road. This was our hiccup. But this team is a great team - not a good team, but great - and it was able to withstand it."
The hiccup came when Welch picked up his third foul after being whistled for his second charge with 1.6 seconds left in the first quarter and Pembroke ahead 12-9. Alosa said he decided he was not going to play Welch in the second quarter and was hoping his team could keep the game close.
It almost didn't.
Souhegan's Brandon Len (16 points) set up center Jake Kennedy (12 points) on his team's first possession and knocked down a three on its second, triggering a 12-0 run. The Spartans looked out of sync offensively without Welch, but Alosa was just as concerned that they weren't defending.
Alosa called time with 3:45 left and Souhegan up 19-12 to remind his players to tighten their defense and not rush their shots on offense. Pembroke held Souhegan to one field goal the rest of the quarter and went into the intermission trailing 21-14.
Both coaches said they were happy with their team's position, but the Sabers quickly lost most of their lead in the third quarter and struggled offensively, shooting 7-for-25 from the field in the half.
Pembroke's three guards - Welch, Rene Maher (17 points) and Matt Persons (8) - scored 15 of the team's 17 points in the third quarter as the Spartans managed to take the lead twice. Only an NBA-range trey by Len allowed Souhegan to hold onto a 33-31 lead going into the fourth quarter.
By then, the momentum had clearly shifted and the Spartans rode that through game's end. Welch tied it at 36-all with a three and put the Spartans ahead for good after grabbing a defensive rebound, speeding downcourt and finishing with an off-balance drive, deftly avoiding a pair of defenders.
He made a great pass to Persons cutting along the baseline to make it 40-36, before it was Maher's turn to take over, scoring Pembroke's final eight points.
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DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIP
Pembroke 49, Souhegan 41
Souhegan: Zack Simmonds 2-0-5; Tyler Ford 0-1-1; Jake Kennedy 5-2-12; Brandon Len 4-5-16; AJ Hayes 2-0-5; Matt Protzmann 1-0-2. Totals 14-8-41. Three-pointers: Len3; Simmonds, Hayes
Pembroke: Rene Maher 5-6-17; Matt Person 3-0-8; Pat Welch 5-1-14; Dom Timbas 1-1-3; Kafani Williams 3-1-7. Totals 17-9-49 Three-pointers: Welch 3; Persons 2; Maher
Souhegan (14-8) 9-12-12-8-41
Pembroke (22-0) 12-2-17-18-49