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Cinderella run ends in Division II final for John Stark girls’ basketball team

  • John Stark lost to Hollis Brookline, 54-43, during Friday's Division II girls' basketball championship at Southern New Hampshire University, Mar. 9, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • John Stark's Autumn Nelson (23) goes up for a shot during Friday's Division II girls' basketball championship at Southern New Hampshire University, Mar. 9, 2018. John Stark lost to Hollis Brookline, 54-43. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • John Stark's Autumn Nelson (23) is blocked by the Hollis Brookline defense during Friday's Division II girls' basketball championship at Southern New Hampshire University, Mar. 9, 2018. John Stark lost to Hollis Brookline, 54-43. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • John Stark’s Emily Patten (22) drives to the basket on Hollis Brookline’s Joanna Balsamo during Friday’s Division II girls’ basketball championship at Southern New Hampshire University. No. 13 John Stark lost to No. 3 H-B, 54-43. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • John Stark players embrace following Friday's Division II girls' basketball championship at Southern New Hampshire University, Mar. 9, 2018. John Stark lost to Hollis Brookline, 54-43. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • John Stark lost to Hollis Brookline, 54-43, during Friday's Division II girls' basketball championship at Southern New Hampshire University, Mar. 9, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Saturday, March 10, 2018

MANCHESTER – The final game reflected the entire campaign.

The John Stark girls’ basketball team finished the regular season 9-9, but then the No. 13 Generals took off on an incredible tournament run to reach Friday’s Division II championship against No. 3 Hollis Brookline.

For the first half of the final at Southern New Hampshire University, John Stark looked mediocre, just like its .500 regular-season record. Then the Generals went on a stunning second-half run, turning what had been a 16-point second-quarter deficit into a one-point third-quarter lead. But the magic ran out at the end of the game, and season, as Stark (12-10) went cold in the final quarter while the Cavaliers (20-2) played confident and composed to claim a 54-43 win and the D-II crown.

“I think we started to lose our composure a little bit in the fourth quarter,” said John Stark senior Jillian Douzanis, who finished with a team-high 13 points. “We kind of saw the end coming a little sooner than we had hoped.”

The end seemed like it was going to come a lot sooner than the Generals hoped during the first half. Hollis Brookline built a 23-7 lead midway through the second quarter and took 31-20 advantage into the locker room. Four 3-pointers in the first half, including two from Emily Patten (nine points, seven rebounds) kept Stark within sight of the Cavaliers, but it felt like they could run away with the game at any moment.

“We came in and gathered ourselves and had a little lecture at halftime,” Stark coach Bruce Johnson said.

Asked to elaborate, Johnson hesitated and smiled.

“Well, we just said some things we haven’t had to say for a long time, let’s put it that way,” said Johnson, the long-time Timberlane coach who is in his first year at Stark. “They got lectured to stop feeling sorry for themselves and go play basketball the way we know how to play.”

“He only lectured us a little bit,” Douzanis said, “just to get our butts back out there.”

Big or little, the lecture worked.

The Generals opened the second half with a 9-0 run that saw contributions from everyone on the court, a balance that has been standard operating procedure for Stark during their playoff run. Douzanis drove for a bucket. Patten found Chelsea Woodsum (six points, six rebounds) for an easy layup. Autumn Nelson (eight points, six rebounds) attacked the rim for a pair. And a smart skip pass from Laura Martin led to an open 3 for Douzanis that made it 31-29 and forced Hollis Brookline to call a timeout with 5:29 left in the third.

The Cavaliers got a post bucket from center Elizabeth Atkinson (nine points, seven rebounds) out of the timeout, but the Generals weren’t done. Woodsum hit a jumper, Patten connected on another 3 and when Douzanis hit a pair of free throws with 2:48 left in the third, Stark had its first (and what would prove to be its only) lead of the game, 36-35.

It was a stunning turnaround, but it was no surprise to the Generals.

“Honestly, for us it wasn’t that different because we’ve been down and we’re used to making those kind of runs,” Douzanis said. “We were pretty confident.”

As it turned out, so were the Cavaliers. After Stark took its lead, Hollis Brookline went on a 9-2 run to re-establish control and take a 44-37 lead with 6:20 left in the fourth. Nelson scored five straight points from there to pull the Generals within two, 44-42, with 5:48 left, but they wouldn’t get any closer. As a matter of fact, they wouldn’t hit another shot from the floor.

“It was more of not executing to the full extent that we’re capable of,” Johnson said of the fourth-quarter struggles. “And then we got down a little bit so then we’ve got to rush to get a shot or do something, and that’s the way it goes.”

On the other end, Joanna Balsamo (15 points), Christina Balsamo (15 points) and Brodie Kelley (12 points) were all making free throws and smart passes as the Cavaliers sealed the win and the title they just missed out on last year when they lost in the finals to Lebanon.

“I’m really excited about how they held their composure,” Hollis Brookline coach Bob Murphy said of his team. “And even when the game was down to like two points, the kids still hung right in there and nobody showed signs of intimidation or anything.”

It may have been a disappointing end for the Generals, but Johnson helped them put it in perspective during his post-game talk.

“He told us he was really proud of us,” Douzanis said. “Because coming from my freshman year when we went 2-16 and didn’t even make playoffs to this year making it to the championship, it’s unreal for us. We left a mark on this program.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)