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Conant girls beat rival Fall Mountain on senior night

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Fall Mountain on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Fall Mountain on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Conant’s Elizabeth Gonyea drives past Fall Mountain’s Zoey Luopa during Friday night’s game. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Fall Mountain on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Fall Mountain on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Conant’s Mariah Chamberlain pries a rebound away from Fall Mountain’s Allie Stottart. Staff photo by Ben Conant



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, February 19, 2018

Walk by Taylor Banish on the street, and your first thought probably isn’t “basketball star.” The Conant senior point guard may not be imposing at 5’2”, but what she may lack in size is more than made up for by her other qualities.

“She’s just impeccable,” said sophomore teammate Silas Bernier. “She’s got the heart, she may not have the height, but she’s there. She’s always rebounding, she’s always diving for balls, she  plays everything, and she’s great.”

Banish is Conant’s only senior, and the Orioles would need every ounce of her leadership on Friday night as they hosted bitter rival Fall Mountain in a packed Pratt Auditorium. The Wildcats got the best of Conant back in December on a last-second 50-49 victory; Friday was the Orioles’ chance to defend their little bandbox – now with an actual band up on the stage, playing during timeouts to heighten the intensity in the gym.

“The Pratt gym is always tough but I always love playing here because of all the heckling, all that stuff,” said Fall Mountain senior Zoey Luopa, who’s had a target on her back every time she’s made the trip to Jaffrey. “I think this gym makes me play harder.”

Nerves were evident early on, as both teams were called for an inordinate amount of traveling violations and struggled to get into an offensive rhythm. A pair of three-pointers from Elizabeth Gonyea (9 points) and Bernier (7 points), paired with a strong first half from center Mariah Chamberlain (game-high 16 points) put Conant in the driver’s seat with a 20-14 lead at the break.

The Wildcats surged after the half, putting together a 15-point third quarter on buckets from Luopa (9 points), Allie Stottart (4 points) and Zoe Utton (team-high 13 points). Fall Mountain worked to limit Chamberlain’s output down low, and they tied the game at 29 going into the fourth quarter.

“I was pleased with the way our girls competed,” said Fall Mountain head coach Brian Pickering. “The last two games, we didn’t compete well and we had all year. I said at the end of the night, win or lose, we want to feel better about going into the tournament next week, and I think we do.”

In the final frame, Conant took control. The defense clamped down, led by Gonyea, who made three blocks, including one on an Utton layup that sent the ball flying into the horn section on the stage and amplified the already-buzzing crowd. Conant had a 34-32 lead with three minutes left when Banish made her presence felt, jacking an open three from the top of the key and drilling it to extend the gap.

“I thought that was the big play of the game,” Pickering said. “I felt like if somebody broke loose by a couple of buckets it meant a lot, and it happened to be them. They deserved it, they’re a great shooting team.”

Banish’s big shot swung the momentum toward the Orioles, firing up her teammates.

“It was pedal to the metal,” Bernier said. “She definitely boosted our confidence.”

Fall Mountain would only score once for the remainder of the game, Luopa fouled out on a frustration shove with a minute left, and Conant snagged a 45-34 senior night win in their regular season finale.

“It’s always good to beat a rival, especially on your home court, and the fact that it was on senior night was all the more better,” Banish said. “It was really exciting.”

It was a final regular-season test for the Orioles, and they passed it with the postseason looming.

”I think our strength of schedule is really going to help us,” said Oriole head coach Brian Troy. “We’re definitely battle-tested and I think we’re ready to go.”

Conant (14-4) will host a home playoff game Thursday night at 7 p.m.The Orioles are the fifth seed and host Newport (10-8), a tough opening-round draw. Conant opened their season with the Tigers back in December, winning 46-45 on a last-second shot by Chamberlain.

”We’re both pretty similar - scrappy, good on defense, so it would be a good game,” Banish said.

As Conant’s only senior, Banish will look to lead the Orioles into the postseason, where she’s had plenty of experience, with a state championship her freshman year, a Final Four appearance her sophomore year and a title game appearance last season. The senior captain has got her girls ready to build on a strong regular season and make a run in the playoffs.

“It’s a similar mindset,” Banish said. “You just have to be more careful with what you do in games, because it can end your season.”