DURHAM — For the second consecutive year, the Pembroke Academy boys’ basketball team found itself locked in a duel at the University of New Hampshire with a spot in the Division II championship game on the line. Unlike the first time around, the Spartans weren’t left behind.
Late free throws and defense, along with a Noah Cummings second-half takeover, helped third-seeded Pembroke avenge last year’s semifinal misfortune as it downed second-seeded ConVal of Peterborough 50-42 in Monday’s D-II semifinal at Lundholm Gymnasium.
An 11-3 finish by the Spartans, which was fueled by 9-of-9 at the free throw line, broke a 39-39 stalemate with 3:57 to play.
The Spartans will see No. 9 Kearsarge of North Sutton in Saturday’s noon championship game back at Lundholm Gymnasium. The Cougars beats Merrimack Valley in Monday’s second semifinal.
“We just weren’t hitting shots in the first half, but we stayed composed. We’ve been here before,” Cummings said. “Battling back on Saturday (in the quarterfinals) really did help us in terms of staying composed and never panicking. We knew we were going to make those shots in the second half.”
Cummings made sure those shots were going to fall in the second half, scoring 13 of his game-high 20 points over the final two quarters. The senior, who was announced as Division II Player of the Year on Sunday, offered seven points in the fourth quarter, but his biggest bucket might’ve been a 3-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer, giving Pembroke a 37-35 lead entering the fourth.
“I try to do what I can, whether it’s scoring or passing to the other guys,” Cummings said. “I missed an opportunity at the end of the first quarter and I just tried to call my number with (Pembroke coach Rich Otis). I said I want to take this shot, and it ended up being a big moment for us.”
ConVal battled back in the fourth as Connor Buffum hit a 3-pointer to tie the game before Cummings converted a three-point play with 2:21 left to give the Spartans the lead for good.
“We pretty much put the ball in Noah’s hands in the second half,” Otis said. “That 3-pointer got us moving into the fourth and then he gave us a few more afterwards. He was definitely fatigued there, but we put the ball in the best player’s hands and he made great plays.”
Sean Menard added 15 points for Pembroke to support Cummings while they both combined with Tim Pitman and Shea Shackford to comprise the flawless effort from the free-throw line during the Spartans’ closing run.
“Middle of practice or the end, we’re shooting free throws all the time,” Otis said. “We’ve got kids that are good shooters. I feel real comfortable getting Sean up there and Timmy doesn’t get a whole lot of accolades like those other three, but he’s very important to our team.”
ConVal got 17 points from Mather Kipka and eight from Buffum. The Cougars were looking at holding the game to a nip-and-tuck affair, which featured 12 lead changes in the third quarter and 16 for the game. Three key ConVal misses around what ended up being the game-winning points from Cummings to kick off Pembroke’s finish doomed the Cougars.
“Whether we’re up or down by one or two, we always make that one shot and never look back,” ConVal coach Leo Gergorin said. “Tonight we could not make that shot. I turned to the coaches with 2:40 left and said ‘This is where we need to make one.’ That was the moment to do it. We kept holding them defensively on three great possessions, but we couldn’t get the ball in the hoop.”