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Pembroke’s title worth the wait for senior Maher

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 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)

DURHAM – With just over a minute left in yesterday’s Division II championship game, Souhegan was down by seven and forced to foul. The Sabers’ Tanner Kent got to Pembroke’s Rene Maher and hit him with an inadvertent knee, re-aggravating a charlie horse Maher had picked up in the quarterfinals.

Pembroke’s senior point guard could barely move for a moment. But he shook it off, limped to the line, and drained both to help the Spartans wrap up a 49-41 title win and an undefeated (22-0) season.

“I was just stunned for a second there,” Maher said. “I wasn’t coming out. I was going to work it out. I wanted those free throws. I missed some in

the first half, so I needed to redeem myself.”

Maher went 0-for-3 from the line in the first half, and 1-for-5 from the field, as Pembroke scored a season-low 14 points and trailed Souhegan, 21-14, at the break. But in the second half, Maher went 4-for-6 from the floor and 6-for-7 from the line to finish with a game-high 17 points and lead the Spartans to the win at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym.

“Rene was unbelievable today,” said Pembroke’s Pat Welch, the team’s leading scorer, who was saddled with early foul trouble yesterday. “Without him, it wouldn’t have been close.”

Maher grabbed three defensive rebounds in the first quarter to help Pembroke counter Souhegan’s physicality on the boards. He moved to guard Souhegan’s top player, Brandon Len, after Welch picked up his third foul at the end of the first quarter. Maher had seven points, two rebounds and an assist in the third quarter as Pembroke pulled back into the game, and he scored eight in the fourth as the Spartans pulled away.

“Rene Maher, man,” said Pembroke Coach Matt Alosa, pausing because there really wasn’t more to say if you had seen the game. “I told my staff Rene Maher is going to do what he does every single night of the tournament, and he has, the whole tournament.”

Maher started as a freshman when the Spartans were in the 2010 final. He never expected it would take him this long to get back to the championship game (Pembroke was upset in the quarterfinals the last two seasons), but in the end it was worth the wait to claim the school’s first title since 1991.

“This is great,” Maher said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

A long time not only for Maher, but for all the Spartans who helped build the program in recent years, bringing Pembroke to the semifinals in 2008 and ’09 and the final in ’10. Players like Sheldon Benson (Class of 2011), who shared a long hug with Maher during the post-game celebration on the Lundholm floor.

“Sheldon and a lot of those guys have been talking to me all week and they just told me we’ve got to get this done because it’s for everyone,” Maher said. “The town of Pembroke has been waiting for this for a while.”

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

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