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High Schools: Pembroke basketball goes inside to reach Final Four

PEMBROKE – Pelham was giving, so Kafani Williams took. And he used the spoils to chase away some lurking Pembroke Academy ghosts.

With No. 8 Pelham obsessing over the Spartan guards, Williams found room to work on the inside and finished with a game-high 16 points and 10 rebounds as top-ranked Pembroke (20-0) pulled away late for a 47-35 victory. After suffering quarterfinal upsets the last two years, the Spartans have now earned a trip to the University of New Hampshire and the Division II semifinals.

“I’ve always wanted to go to UNH, and I’m a junior now,” Williams said, “it’s time to go.”

Pembroke will face No. 13 Coe-Brown in the second semifinal on Wednesday, scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Coe-Brown was the team that upset the Spartans in the quarterfinals in Pembroke last year, repeating the trick Souhegan pulled the year before. But the Spartans said neither of those losses were weighing on them last night, even when the score was tied at halftime and within one early in the fourth.

“No nerves, not at all, not even one nerve,” Williams said. “We just knew we were going to get it done this year. We’re undefeated and we knew if we went out there and played with confidence that we’d show we’re the best team.”

Pembroke also had to play with smarts and patience against the Pythons (11-9), who used a gimmick defense with two men playing zone in the paint and the other three face-guarding PA guards Pat Welch, Matt Persons and Rene Maher.

“Fortunately for us, we’ve played against these quirky defenses in almost half of our games this year,” Pembroke Coach Matt Alosa said. “So if you try to limit our guards, we need people like (Williams) and Dominic (Timbas) to step up, and they did.”

They started early as the 6-foot-3 Williams and the 6-5 sophomore Timbas (10 points, seven rebounds) scored eight of Pembroke’s first 10 points to help the Spartans to a 12-8 lead after the first quarter. The interior duo then scored six of Pembroke’s nine points in the second quarter, but Pelham kept things tight by slowing the pace with deliberate offense, and a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Jake Vaiknoras (15 points) knotted the game, 21-21, at halftime.

“In a 21-point game, how much are you going to be up anyway, 10? How? So I felt indifferent to the score at halftime,” Alsoa said.

“At halftime we just knew we had to bring up our focus on defense,” Timbas said. “We knew we were going to score, we just had to stop them.”

That is what happened in the second half, but it took some time for the Spartans to get there. Welch, who came in averaging 21.7 points per game, scored his first points of the game in the third (three from the free throw line), while Maher (13 points, four rebounds) and Williams each scored four in the frame, but that was all Pembroke got in the quarter, and it wasn’t enough to shake the Pythons.

A layup from Maher gave Pembroke a 26-21 lead with 5:42 left in the third, but Pelham got a timely 3-pointer from Alex Newton and a jumper from Ryan Frank (six points) to key an 8-2 run and give the visitors a 29-28 lead with 3:16 left in the third. Williams answered with a power move in the post and Welch connected on a pair of free throws, but Pembroke led by just a skinny point, 32-31, going into the fourth.

The defense that the Spartans focused on during halftime came alive and made the difference in the final frame. Pembroke forced a miss and three turnovers on Pelham’s first four possessions, Timbas came through with a pair of clutch buckets, and when Welch (six points) hit his first (and only) shot of the game with 3:15 left, the Spartans held a seven-point lead, 40-33, that felt more like 27.

“The game was about can we get four or five stops in a row,” Alosa said. “We got that, we capitalized, and that was it.”

Even with the game out of reach, Williams was still diving on the floor for loose balls in the final seconds and riling up the packed crowd at Pembroke.

“You have to be ready to go the whole game if you want to get to that big court in Durham,” Williams said. “And that’s what we want to do. We want to go there and get that championship.”

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

No. 13 Coe-Brown 54,
No. 12 Windham 39

Coe-Brown (10-10) is becoming familiar with upsets. After knocking off No. 4 Hollis-Brookline, 66-63, in the first round, the Bears advanced to the semifinals for the second year in a row with a victory over No. 12 Windham (10-10), a team that upset No. 5 Oyster River, 54-39, in the first round. The Bears didn’t need to come from behind this time, but there was one consistent factor: defense.

“Every game is a little different and every team is a little different this time of year,” Bears Coach Dave Smith said. “But you need to play great defense. Every possession is valuable.”

The Bears defense certainly got the start it wanted, taking a 12-3 lead after the first quarter thanks to solid rebounding.

“Rebounding was very solid in the whole game (except for parts of the second quarter). It set a very positive tone for us,” Smith said.

Coe-Brown got into foul trouble in the second quarter with senior starters Beau Pingree (12 points) and Damon Doyle (four points, eight assists, two steals) forced to leave the floor, but Eric Rolser and Alec Zollman “played extremely well off the bench” logging a lot of minutes on the court and Nick Rolser hit a big 3 to keep the Jaguars in check. Despite being outscored 13-7 in the second quarter, the Bears still had a three-point advantage (19-16) at halftime.

Windham stayed within two or three possessions of the lead, but with six minutes remaining in the game the Bears pulled away, with Pingree scoring eight of his 12 points and Andrew Langdon (three assists) scoring four of his six in the final frame.

Langdon also had a big steal down the stretch and Josh Jackman (21 points, six rebounds, four assists) and Chris Laurion (12 rebounds, eight points, four assists) also had strong fourth-quarter performances.

The victory booked Coe-Brown’s second straight trip to the semifinals (they did it last year as the No. 11 seed) and set up a rematch with the team the Bears upset in last year’s quarterfinals to get there: No. 1 undefeated Pembroke (the third seed last year).

“(The players) have a lot of respect for Pembroke and are excited to have an opportunity to play them,” Smith said.

No. 3 Lebanon 61,
No. 6 Bishop Brady 34

Bishop Brady (12-8) fell to a strong Lebanon squad that took a big lead early and didn’t relent. The Raiders had a 27-13 lead at halftime and held the Green Giants to single digits for all but one quarter.

Joe Bell (14 points) and Jourdain Bell (12 points) led scoring for the Green Giants.

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