EXETER — The Exeter High School gym was packed at the start of Friday night’s Division II semifinal between top-seeded Pembroke Academy and fourth-seeded Pelham, but there were plenty of seats available by the end of the third quarter.
Pembroke, last year’s Division II champion, was in control from the start and extended its season with a 62-40 triumph.
Top-seeded Pembroke will meet second-seeded Portsmouth for the Division II championship today (3 p.m.) at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium. Portsmouth handed Pembroke its only loss this season, a 53-49 setback in Pembroke.
“I think we played real smart and in practice we went over their plays all week,” Pembroke guard Pat Welch said. “That was the key to making it an easy-looking game. We built a lead and took good shots after that.”
There was a little more than a minute to play when the Pembroke fans began chanting UNH ... UNH … UNH, but the chant could have started much sooner. Pembroke led 16-7 after one quarter, 31-17 at halftime and 45-23 entering the fourth.
The victory raised Pembroke’s record to 20-1. Pelham completed its season with a 17-4 record.
“It was just their physical defense,” Pelham coach Matt Regan said. “They fought through everything and disrupted our shooters. We’re averaging 70 points a game, but we didn’t get any good looks.”
Pembroke senior Kafani Williams, a 6-foot-4 forward, led all scorers with 23 points. Pembroke received 22 points from Welch and 12 from junior forward Dominic Timbas.
At one point late in the third quarter, Welch had scored as many points as Pelham (19).
“We had seven turnovers, so the guys did a real good job handling the press,” Pembroke coach Matt Alosa said. “I’ve seen Pelham go on 20-point runs with a 2-2-1 or man-to-man press. We were real cautious when we had a lead.
“They want to play Portsmouth,” said Alosa. “I know they were hoping Portsmouth won. For me, it’s nice to see the two best teams on the court at UNH at the end. I think it will be a great final.”
It was the second time Pembroke beat Pelham this season. The Spartans won the regular-season matchup 63-49.
The highlight for Pelham came when senior Jake Vaiknoras scored his 1,000th career point early in the fourth quarter. Vaiknoras led Pelham with 12 points.
“I’ve never been around a 1,000-point scorer who’s as unselfish as he is,” Regan said. “He’s the hardest-working kid in games and practice.”
Joe Slattery added nine points for Pembroke, Portsmouth played a box-in-one on Welch when the teams met earlier this season. “I wanted to get another shot to try and take (Portsmouth) and I think we’re going to be able to,” Welch said. “We just have to concentrate on defense and be patient on offense, because they’re a good help-side team. On that big court I don’t think the box-and-one is going to work.”
Portsmouth 49, Lebanon 43
It was a strong start and a strong finish that carried the second-seeded Clippers (19-2) to today’s championship game.
Portsmouth scored 10 of the game’s final 13 points to pull away. Nick Mackey gave Portsmouth its first lead of the second half when he made a jumper with 3:13 to play that put the Clippers up 41-40.
Portsmouth also scored the game’s first 11 points. “We had a tough start, and then in the end we were forced to foul,” Lebanon coach Keith Matte said. “It’s hard to score on them and they did a nice job of holding the ball. They had some pretty long possessions in the final two minutes.”
Guard Donovan Phanor scored a game-high 12 points for Portsmouth, which advanced to the Class I/Division II championship game for the fifth time in the last eight years.
Brothers Patrick and Joey Glynn each finished with 10 points.
Dom Morrill scored a team-high 11 for third-seeded Lebanon, which completed its season with a 17-4 record. Nic Shepherd added eight for the Raiders.
Portsmouth led 11-6 after one quarter, but trailed 24-18 at halftime. Lebanon had a 33-29 lead entering the final eight minutes.
“In the second quarter we got totally beat up on the boards,” Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey said. “They weren’t making shots on their first try, they were making second and third shots. At halftime we told them, ‘There’s no more of that.’” Portsmouth’s last title came in 2012, when it beat Bedford 58-33. The teams will have less than 24 hours to prepare for today’s title game.
“I’ll play right now,” Mulvey said. “It’s not going to be easy. No doubt about it.”