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Merrimack Valley girls beat No. 1 Milford to reach Division II final

  • Merrimack Valley's Mayson Kimball shoots the ball over Milford's Devany Pitsas, left, and Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley's Mayson Kimball shoots the ball over Milford's Devany Pitsas, left, and Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley 's Emily Mulleavey dribbles the ball past Milford's Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley 's Emily Mulleavey dribbles the ball past Milford's Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Coe-Brown's Abigail Ahern fights for the ball against Hanover's Cathleen Beliveau in the Division II game between the schools on Monday, March 10, 2014. Coe-Brown defeated Hanover 56-52.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Coe-Brown's Abigail Ahern fights for the ball against Hanover's Cathleen Beliveau in the Division II game between the schools on Monday, March 10, 2014. Coe-Brown defeated Hanover 56-52.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley 's Emily Mulleavey dribbles the ball past Milford's Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley 's Emily Mulleavey dribbles the ball past Milford's Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley's Mayson Kimball shoots the ball over Milford's Devany Pitsas, left, and Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley 's Emily Mulleavey dribbles the ball past Milford's Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Coe-Brown's Abigail Ahern fights for the ball against Hanover's Cathleen Beliveau in the Division II game between the schools on Monday, March 10, 2014. Coe-Brown defeated Hanover 56-52.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley 's Emily Mulleavey dribbles the ball past Milford's Jessica Ryan during the Division II semifinal at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014. <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

MANCHESTER – The first three quarters were a mess of missed shots, deflected passes, floor burns, turnovers and tie ups. Merrimack Valley muddled through that disorder with 24 total points. And then the Pride dropped 27 in the fourth.

“I don’t understand,” MV junior Cassidy Huckins said. “I really don’t understand how we did that.”

Her confusion was understandable. After all, Huckins had just slogged through the grinding, back-and-forth Division II girls’ basketball semifinal against the physical, trapping defense of No. 1 Milford. So this is how MV did it in the fourth – Huckins scored all 11 of her points in the final frame and the team went 16-for-20 from the free throw line in the quarter to pull out a 51-43 win last night at Southern New Hampshire University. The No. 4 Pride (17-4) will now face No. 6 Coe-Brown in Friday’s championship.

While Milford (18-3) was making life difficult for the MV offense, the Pride was returning the favor on the other end. The Spartans scored just 12 points in the first half, shot 14-for-52 (26.9 percent) for the game, including 1-for-16 on 3-pointers, and committed 21 turnovers.

“I would say that was our best (defensive game of the year),” MV Coach Dave Huckins said. “They’re a good shooting team, but their shots weren’t falling tonight, hopefully due in part to our defense.”

The only time Milford found any offensive rhythm was at the end of the third quarter. The Spartans went on a 10-0 run to close the third, with all 10 points coming from bench players, and took their first lead of the game, 26-24, going into the fourth. That caused some concern on the Pride bench, but there wasn’t any panic.

“I just wanted to go out there and get it back,” said sophomore Mayson Kimball, who scored six of her game-high 17 points in the fourth. “We hadn’t had our run yet, but I knew we’d have it.”

The Pride has found runs at key moments for most of the season, but doing that against Milford was hardly a given. The Spartans didn’t allow any such run when they beat MV 47-37 back on Feb. 14, they came into the night allowing just 31.1 points per game, they hadn’t given up more than 49 points in a game all year, and they had kept all their opponents under 40 since the second game of the season.

“They’re so tough because the force the game to be played at their level. They want it to be a low-scoring game and that’s what it is,” Cassidy Huckins said. “They have an unbelievable defense, but we just found a way to get it done at the end.”

The most important stop along that way the free throw line, even when the Pride missed. With the packed stands in an uproar, Huckins hit a pair of foul shots with 1:48 left to give MV a 42-39 lead. Then 5-foot-5 guard Emily Mulleavey (eight points, seven rebounds, seven steals) grabbed a huge defensive rebound in traffic and went 1-for-2 from the line on the other end, but Kimball (11 rebounds) grabbed the miss and put it back to push the lead to 45-39 with 1:05 remaining.

The Pride’s defense forced two turnovers on Milford’s next two possessions, and Mulleavey and Huckins shot a combined 6-for-6 from the charity stripe in the final :39.2 to seal the win. It was the second straight game that free throws have been pivotal for the Pride, which got a pair of clutch foul shots from Mary Mullen with two seconds left in regulation to force overtime in an eventual 67-61 quarterfinal win over defending-champion Lebanon on Friday.

Mullen (nine points, eight rebounds, two assists) and Kimball combined for eight points in the first quarter to help MV take a 10-4 lead after one. Milford cut it to 14-11 with 1:59 left in the second quarter, but the Pride went on a 6-1 run to close the half on buckets from Olivia Thurber (two points, six rebounds, two steals), Morganne Waldo and Kimball to take a 20-12 lead into the break.

“We just played excellent defense in that first half,” Coach Huckins said.

That defense continued for the first four minutes of the third, but after that the Spartans found their lone surge of the game to take that 26-24 lead after three.

“We were getting scared towards the end of the third, or I was at least,” Cassidy Huckins said. “That happened the first time they played us and it happened again where they made a run like that. We knew it was going to happen sooner or later, and it ended up happening at the end of the third quarter. But we made our free throws when it mattered.”

And now the Pride will get to play when it matters the most – the final.

“That was our goal all year and we’ve just worked so hard for it,” said Kimball, who has scored 73 points in her team’s three playoff games. “We didn’t want to stop at the first round, or the second. We wanted to go all the way, that’s what we talked about and worked for in practice every day.”

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