By MICHAEL PEZONE
PLYMOUTH, N.H. — Things couldn’t have started much worse for the Sunapee girls basketball team in the championship game of the Division IV tournament March 8 at Plymouth State University.
The third-seeded Lakers (19-3) had planned on putting top-ranked Hinsdale (22-0) in any early hole with a productive first quarter, but instead netted just three points over the game’s first eight minutes on their way to a 14-point deficit.
And while Tim LaTorra’s squad eventually came out on the short end of a 48-35 decision, the second-year coach still had plenty to smile about after the program’s first title-game appearance since 2007. Because rather than throw in the towel with its back to the wall so early in the contest, Sunapee battled back and utilized a 12-0 third-quarter run to cut its deficit to just three late in the frame.
Hinsdale responded in the fourth, however, outscoring the Lakers 13-6 over the game’s final eight minutes to clinch the program’s first-ever title.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” said LaTorra, whose team fell in the semifinals of last year’s tournament in his first season as head coach. “I’m not easy on them by any stretch of the imagination, and they know that. We had to battle a ton of adversity this year with injuries, illness and a lot of different things. And never once did they complain or look for an easy way out. They just kept battling and got to this point. So I’m very proud of them.”
Sunapee headed into halftime trailing by nine with help from a pair of second-quarter 3-pointers from Rachel Malanga, but found itself down 15 early in the third after three straight Pacers buckets. But that’s when things began to turn around.
LaTorra’s squad answered with its first run of the game of more than five-straight points, scoring 12 in a row to pull within 32-29 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. Meg Clarenbach started things off with a quick layup, before six straight points from Erika Waterman — including a rare four-point play — and back-to-back buckets from Katie Frederick sent Sunapee’s fans into a frenzy.
The Lakers couldn’t get any closer from there, though, netting just on field goal in the fourth on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Meghan Frederick. Waterman led the Lakers with 12 points, followed by Clarenbach (eight points), Malanga (six points) and Katie Frederick (five points, 13 rebounds).
Bridget Bourne led Hinsdale with a game-high 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Breanna Benjamin (13 points, five rebounds), Skylar LeClair (six points), Skylar Bonnette (five points, seven rebounds) and Kira Rideout (five points) also played well for the top-ranked team.
“We got in some foul trouble late which hurt, and I think we stopped attacking,” said LaTorra — both Katie Frederick and Anna Richardson fouled out within two seconds of each other midway through the fourth. “Hinsdale’s a good team. At some point you’ve just got to say, ‘They’re a good team.’ They made the plays down the stretch they needed to make.”
It was the third time the Lakers faced Hinsdale this season, and the third time they’ve come up short on the scoreboard. Sunapee fell by 19 points Jan. 7, and by nine points in its regular-season finale Feb. 21.
LaTorra said he was obviously disappointed the team’s three seniors didn’t get the chance to celebrate a championship, but added they have plenty to be proud of after overcoming the hurdle of three straight losses in the semifinals.
“It’s tough because kids like Maddy, Erika and Meg who have been to the final four three times, they won’t get another chance to make this run with us again,” he said. “But I’m happy for those three to get past the hurdle of getting past the final four. I’m happy they got to experience a championship game.”