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Pembroke boys rally to finish off perfect season

  • Pembroke's Matt Persons embraces Rene Maher and their coach Matt Alosa as Maher returned to the bench in the final seconds of the Division II state championship game against Souhegan on March 16, 2013 at UNH. Pembroke defeated Souhegan. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke's Matt Persons embraces Rene Maher and their coach Matt Alosa as Maher returned to the bench in the final seconds of the Division II state championship game against Souhegan on March 16, 2013 at UNH. Pembroke defeated Souhegan.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke's Pat Welch looks to move the ball past the Souhegan defense during the Spartans' 49-41 victory in the Division II  championship yesterday at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke's Pat Welch looks to move the ball past the Souhegan defense during the Spartans' 49-41 victory in the Division II championship yesterday at UNH.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke's Dominic Timbas looks for an opportunity to make a shot during the game against Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke's Dominic Timbas looks for an opportunity to make a shot during the game against Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke defeated Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke defeated Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke defeated Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke defeated Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke's Matt Persons embraces Rene Maher and their coach Matt Alosa as Maher returned to the bench in the final seconds of the Division II state championship game against Souhegan on March 16, 2013 at UNH. Pembroke defeated Souhegan. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Pembroke's Pat Welch looks to move the ball past the Souhegan defense during the Spartans' 49-41 victory in the Division II  championship yesterday at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Pembroke's Dominic Timbas looks for an opportunity to make a shot during the game against Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Pembroke defeated Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Pembroke defeated Souhegan in the Division II state championship on March 16, 2013 at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

DURHAM – In the first half of the season’s biggest game, Pembroke Academy had its worst offensive performance. But the Spartans didn’t waste any time or worry in the locker room at halftime of yesterday’s Division II title game.

“There wasn’t much to talk about,” said Pat Welch, Pembroke’s leading scorer, who sat the whole second quarter with foul trouble. “We knew we were going to come out and win.”

Which they did. The top-ranked Spartans found their offensive flow on the fast break, held No. 7 Souhegan to 28 percent shooting in the second half, and erased their seven-point halftime deficit for a 49-41 championship win at the University of New Hampshire. And when the Spartans went back to the locker room after the game, they were singing, “We undefeated, we undefeated,” echoing the fans who traveled with them all season and proclaiming their 22-0 perfection.

“At some point in time, you just have a hiccup in the road. And the reason this team is great, not good but great, is because they can withstand that stuff and still come back and win,” Pembroke Coach Matt Alosa said. “We’ve done it four or five or six times this year, not to this magnitude, but trying to grind out a win when it’s not going your way.”

The game’s opening minutes weren’t going Pembroke’s way until Souhegan center Jake Kennedy, all 6-foot-3, 285 pounds of him, picked up two quick fouls and was forced to the bench. With Kennedy out for the next six minutes, Pembroke went on an 11-5 run and took a 12-9 lead after the first quarter.

But fate twisted in the closing seconds of the first when Welch was called for a foul, his third of the game. With Welch out for all of the second quarter, Souhegan (14-8) went on an 11-2 run and took a 21-14 lead into the break.

The 14 points was the lowest the Spartans had scored in a half all year, and the two they had in the second was certainly the lowest quarter total. Pembroke had five turnovers and four misses on their first nine possessions of the frame and didn’t score until senior Rene Maher (game-high 17 points, six rebounds) connected with 2:15 left in the half.

“During the second quarter I think we got a little panicky, started to throw the ball away and having turnovers,” said senior Matt Persons (eight points, three rebounds, two assists). “But once the third quarter got going, we got rolling and that’s who we are. We try to be calm.”

The players get that from their coach, who was starring for Pembroke the last time the Spartans won a title (1991).

“Coach is an ultra professional; he never makes us worry when we’re down,” said Maher, who started for Alosa for four years. “Rather than go in the locker room and scream at us, he just told us we got to step up, we got to be men, and it’s there for the taking, so just go out there and play ball. We weren’t playing ball at the end of the first half, we were nervous, but we figured it out.”

It didn’t take them long. The Spartans went on a 10-2 run in the first three minutes of the third – 3-pointers from Persons and Maher bookending two fast-break layups from Welch – to take a 24-23 lead. Souhegan senior Brandon Len (16 points, three assists) responded with a 3 to end the run and hit another (this one from 25 feet) at the buzzer to give the Sabers a 33-31 lead at the end of three, but it was clear the nervous Spartans from the second quarter were gone.

“I just saw it in the kids’ eyes at halftime, that when we went out for the second half, we were going to grind that lead down,” Alosa said.

They erased the lead for good when Welch (14 points, two steals) hit a pull-up 3 from the wing to make it 36-36 with 5:05 left in the game. The Pembroke defense held Souhegan scoreless for the next four minutes as the Spartans went on a 12-0 run to ice the game and the title.

“Defense has been our mantra all year,” Persons said. “The offense will work some nights and some nights it won’t, but if we rebound and play defense, we’re tough to beat.”

It’s the sixth boys’ basketball championship for Pembroke, breaking the tie with Bishop Brady (five) and giving Pembroke the most titles in D-II/Class I history.

Alosa spoke to his players about that history during his post-game talk, and he thanked them for the year-round work they put in to continue that tradition. And then he mentioned something about a parade and a fire truck, and the Spartans broke back into delirious song.

“We undefeated, we undefeated, we undefeated.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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