Girls’ basketball: Pembroke withstands late surge from Laconia to punch its ticket to the Division II championship

Pembroke freshman Anne Phillips takes a jumper against Laconia in Wednesday’s Division II semifinal.

Pembroke freshman Anne Phillips takes a jumper against Laconia in Wednesday’s Division II semifinal. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Annelise Dexter drives to the basket for Pembroke in the Spartans' 44-35 D-II semifinal win over Laconia on Wednesday.

Annelise Dexter drives to the basket for Pembroke in the Spartans' 44-35 D-II semifinal win over Laconia on Wednesday. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Kaitlin Arenella takes a shot for Pembroke in Wednesday night’s 44-35 win over Laconia in the D-II semifinal at Salem High School.

Kaitlin Arenella takes a shot for Pembroke in Wednesday night’s 44-35 win over Laconia in the D-II semifinal at Salem High School. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 03-07-2024 1:01 AM

SALEM — Beating the No. 3 Pembroke Spartans (18-3) requires more than just slowing down their senior star Annelise Dexter. The Spartans have depth, they have versatility and most importantly, for this time of the season, they have poise. And in Wednesday’s Division II semifinal against No. 2 Laconia (17-4), all three guided Pembroke to a 44-35 win.

The Spartans will face No. 1 Concord Christian in the D-II championship game at the University of New Hampshire on Sunday.

In Pembroke’s quarterfinal round win over Bow, it was the defense that shined; on Wednesday, it was the defense and the offense that locked in from the opening tip. The Spartans led 11-2 through the first four minutes and 18-8 by the end of the first quarter. Laconia never came within single digits again, until a late surge with under a minute left narrowed the Spartans’ lead. At that point, though, the game was all but over.

“Our defense did everything we asked them to do,” head coach Steve Langevin said. “We really tried to help. Macy (Swormstedt’s) an outstanding player. We didn’t want her going off or getting to the hole a lot. We did an excellent job of helping all the time. We didn’t get that many steals, but we really made them work hard to get any shots for quite awhile. Then we got really good shots on offense. I don’t know if we took a bad shot all game. … Very excited about what we did.”

Swormstedt led the Sachems with a game-high 25 points. Dexter led the Spartans with 16 points, while freshman Anne Phillips added 11 and junior Kaitlin Arenella had eight.

Wednesday was just the latest instance of Dexter setting the tone for a Spartans’ win.

“She’s got such a well-rounded game now on offense. She’s got so many different ways to score,” Langevin said. “You see she’s not flustered out there; she’s working really, really hard trying to get open or to go screen for teammates so they get open.”

And with Laconia focusing so much attention on Dexter, that left open those other opportunities for her teammates. Phillips, who helped set the tone in the first quarter with a 3-pointer, wasn’t even expected to make the varsity team over the summer, but her performance played a massive role in Pembroke’s victory.

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“Anne was kind of a surprise this summer,” Langevin said. “Throughout the summer she just kept getting better and better. Confidence grew. She’s a huge player for us because she can penetrate pretty much whenever she wants, and she plays awesome defense, and those were two things that we were lacking a little bit, so infusing her in our lineup made a huge difference for us this year.”

As a team on offense, Langevin said, he was most impressed with their patience.

“We really try not to take bad shots,” he said. “A lot of teams just come up and chuck and take shots. We try to get a good shot every time we can. It might be right away; it might be after 20 passes. We don’t say, ‘You have to make five passes before you can shoot.’ We try to be patient and make easy plays and then get a good shot. I thought we did a really nice job with that. They’re taking Anna (Dexter) away, which everybody’s going to try to do, but we’ve seen it enough now that the other kids stepped up and did a great job.”

The Spartans final task of the 2023-24 season will be to take down the top-seeded Concord Christian Kingsmen, a team vying for its third straight championship in its third different division. CCA beat John Stark, 68-50, in the other semifinal.

When the Spartans and Kingsmen matched up on Jan. 30, Pembroke was within one possession entering the fourth quarter, but CCA pulled away for a 65-55 victory. This time around, though, Langevin said his group will be more familiar with what to expect.

“There’s stuff we didn’t use last time against Concord Christian in case we saw them again, so hopefully we can use some of that,” he said. “Once you’ve seen somebody, it makes it a little easier.”