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Big first half carries MV girls over Concord, 45-31

  • Merrimack Valley's Erin Frost breaks away past Concord's Peyton Osgood during the game between the schools in the Capitol Area Holiday Tournament on December 28, 2012 at NHTI. Merrimack Valley defeated Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

    Merrimack Valley's Erin Frost breaks away past Concord's Peyton Osgood during the game between the schools in the Capitol Area Holiday Tournament on December 28, 2012 at NHTI. Merrimack Valley defeated Concord.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

  • Concord's Janessa Luciano winds around Merrimack Valley defense in the game between the schools at the Capitol Area Holiday Tournament on December 28, 2012 at NHTI. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

    Concord's Janessa Luciano winds around Merrimack Valley defense in the game between the schools at the Capitol Area Holiday Tournament on December 28, 2012 at NHTI.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

  • Merrimack Valley's Erin Frost breaks away past Concord's Peyton Osgood during the game between the schools in the Capitol Area Holiday Tournament on December 28, 2012 at NHTI. Merrimack Valley defeated Concord. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)
  • Concord's Janessa Luciano winds around Merrimack Valley defense in the game between the schools at the Capitol Area Holiday Tournament on December 28, 2012 at NHTI. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff)

At halftime it looked like the opening of the Capital Area Holiday Tournament was going to be a mismatch. After all, the Merrimack Valley girls had a 25-12 lead thanks to a 27-6 run spanning three quarters and boasted a taller, deeper and more experienced team.

The Concord girls battled back in the second half, closing the Pride’s lead to six points in the fourth quarter, but in the end, MV’s experience and consistent strong play gave it a 45-31 victory.

Surprisingly, it was Concord that took an early 6-2 lead despite a starting lineup that featured mostly underclassmen and was missing a key starter versus a senior-laden Pride squad. Sophomore guard Debra Morrill scored the game’s first bucket and followed up on a steal by hitting two free throws to help Concord get out to a quick start.

That lead was short-lived, and a 3-pointer from Pride guard Emily Mulleavey (eight rebounds, two assists) midway through the first quarter started a 27-6 run that included tremendous free-throw shooting and defense and good execution on offense that put the Pride up by scores of 11-6 after the first quarter and 25-12 at halftime.

The Pride built those leads by increasing its aggressiveness and intensity, forcing and capitalizing on turnovers thanks to a combination of steals, blocks, traveling calls and poor passing from the Tide. Concord’s Janessa Luciano hit a 3 with 5:30 left in the half, but Rebekka Donovan (seven rebounds), Jordan Filion (four assists), Olivia Thurber (five points, two steals) and Mary Mullen (six points, six rebounds) combined for three blocks and four steals during that stretch and along with Erin Frost and Mulleavey, formed a nearly impenetrable defensive unit that did not allow a Concord field goal for another 10 minutes.

Offensively, MV Coach Joe Raycraft said his girls “moved the ball better than they had all season.”

Frost and Mulleavey helped move the ball upcourt and Donovan scored eight of her game-high 12 points during that stretch, while she and Mullen each hit four free throws. Molly Mullen (six rebounds) scored four of her eight points in the second quarter.

With the score at 29-12 in the third, it appeared that the Pride was going to run away with the game. Then Brynne Rardin, the lone senior starter for the Crimson Tide, hit a free throw and Luciano hit a jump shot from the right wing following one of four Morrill steals to end the Pride run with 3:30 left in the quarter.

Toward the end of the third quarter, Concord was finally able to fully execute its game plan.

“We wanted to put pressure on MV,” Concord Coach Mike Achilles said, adding that, “I wish we could’ve played the first half like the second … we had better shooting on a more consistent basis.”

Rardin (seven points, five rebounds) scored a basket off another Morrill steal to cut the lead to 29-17, but a Belle Weeks 3 extended the Pride’s lead to 15 points going into the fourth quarter.

After exchanging a few points and the score at 35-21, Luciano (seven points) had a steal under the Pride’s basket and converted the ensuing layup with 3:47 left to play. Thirty seconds later, Luciano had another of her game-high five steals and passed to Morrill for a layup.

Morrill reciprocated seconds later with a steal and assist on a Maegan Cudworth basket. Morrill (10 points) scored on a fast break after her fourth steal and freshman Peyton Osgood capped off the Tide’s hot streak with a long jumper to cut MV’s lead to 37-31 with 1:08 remaining.

That was as close as it got, however, and the Pride’s experience showed in the final minute with Thurber, Molly Mullen and Filion each going 2-for-2 from the line down the stretch to seal the win. The Pride shot 17-for-20 from the line for the game.

“Give them credit … they didn’t falter under pressure, they handled it well,” Coach Achilles said of his opponent’s finish.

Although the Tide looked impressive during the second half, the Pride played more consistent basketball throughout the whole game.

“We’re looking to improve every game. This is just another step.” said Raycraft, adding that his team displayed “good efforts by a lot of people.”

MV plays Hopkinton today at 4 p.m. in the semifinals.

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