×

Basketball: Conant’s quest for back-to-back titles cut short

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Wednesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, February 28, 2019 11:29AM

Conant’s quest for a second straight state championship was cut cruelly short by Fall Mountain Wednesday night as the No. 1 Orioles lost a one-point heartbreaker to the No. 4 Wildcats in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU.

“To be the best you have to beat the best,” said Fall Mountain’s first-year head coach Matthew Baird-Torney after the Wildcats’ 45-44 win. “[Conant] is a good team, really well coached and for my money the two best players in the division.”

Those two players, senior center Mariah Chamberlain and sophomore guard Elizabeth Gonyea, helped stake Conant to an early lead, combining for 10 first-quarter points as the Orioles jumped ahead 14-8 after one. 

The game plan for Fall Mountain was clear: don’t fall victim to Conant’s press, limit turnovers and keep Gonyea away from open looks. 

“We really wanted to make things difficult for Gonyea,” Baird-Torney said.

The Wildcats put a body on Gonyea at all times and played a 1-3 zone behind her defender to attempt to limit Chamberlain’s productivity in the paint. It worked, to an extent; Chamberlain finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, and Gonyea put up 15 of her own, but the two combined for 7-22 shooting from the floor with the Wildcats defensive focus on them.

Fall Mountain’s perimeter game kept them afloat in the first half. Sophie Bardis, Avery Stewart and Makenna Grillone were lights out, shooting 6-9 from outside and evening the score with the Orioles before a last-second layup from Stewart gave the Wildcats a 23-21 lead at the half. 

“We were ready, we were mentally and physically ready to win the game,” said Fall Mountain senior forward Zoe Utton. “We were staying composed.”

Utton came alive in the second half, as Conant’s defense limited the three-point shot and forced the Wildcats inside. Utton (13 points, 13 rebounds, six steals) hit three jumpers in the paint with Orioles in her face in a three-minute span that pushed the Fall Mountain lead to seven.

“I was determined,” Utton said. “I knew if I visualized my shot and just watched it go in, it would go in, and that’s what happened.”

Conant trailed 35-28 in the fourth quarter and desperately needed a comeback. The Orioles fought tooth and nail for every rebound and loose ball; with the ball loose on the floor after a long rebound, Gonyea went to the ground, and had her hand crushed in the scrum. She left the floor in pain, forced to sub out of the game, and it momentarily appeared that her return was in doubt. But the sophomore took a deep breath, assured her team she was fine, and checked back into the game 20 seconds later.

Invigorated, the Orioles made their move. 

“We’ve known all season that no matter how far down we get we can always come back,” Chamberlain said. 

As so many tournament games do, Wednesday night’s came down to foul shooting. The Wildcats and Orioles paraded back and forth to the foul line, and Conant had the edge; Fall Mountain shot 6-14 from the line in the fourth quarter, and Conant went 12-17, and with 14 seconds left, Fall Mountain’s lead had been cut to 45-43.

“I really was proud of the way they fought back,” said Conant head coach Brian Troy. “Things were going Fall Mountain’s way, things weren’t going our way – they could have easily folded and given up but they refused to give up. I really am proud. They fought to the last whistle.”

Gonyea flew upcourt with the ball, drove into traffic, and fired up a wild shot. It missed, but she grabbed the offensive board and flung up another reverse scoop layup as she was fouled, and the sophomore star had a chance to tie it at the line.

“The last thing we wanted to do was foul her, but that’s how it ended up,” Baird-Torney said.

With the season on the line, Gonyea’s first free throw was long off the back rim.

“I don’t want Elizabeth to think it came down to that,” Troy said. “We missed nine [free throws] in the game. A couple of those, a couple layups that we could have finished and it might have been a different game.”

Gonyea hit the second to cut it to one; Fall Mountain inbounded immediately and apparently avoided Conant’s every effort to foul intentionally, running out the remaining six seconds and rushing to celebrate as a team.

The Orioles were shocked, crestfallen and in tears.

“Every team every year gets to a feeling like this,” Troy said. “I told the girls they should be proud of what they accomplished, getting the No. 1 seed and making it to another Final Four. The seniors have made the Final Four all four years, that’s something not many players can say.”

“It’s disappointing, obviously, but four Final Fours, I can’t really complain,” said senior captain Chamberlain. “We would have liked to get to the championship, but this group of girls was great, and I think a lot of people doubted us when we were young, to get to the Final Four proves we’re contenders.”

The Orioles showed heart up and down the roster in their final game; Silas Bernier (seven points, eight rebounds) and Teagan Kirby (five points, seven rebounds) both played themselves ragged until fouling out; with Camri Aho out due to injury, Regan Despres and Bella Hayes stepped in for some key moments down the stretch, and senior Delaney Beaven left everything on the floor, as she always has.

“We went down swinging and we didn’t let them get that win easily,” Chamberlain said. “We had them on their heels for a little bit, we just came up short.”

Conant finishes at 17-3. Fall Mountain (17-4) will play Monadnock (17-3) for the championship Saturday at 4 p.m. The Wildcats split the regular-season series with both Conant and Monadnock.

“They’re a tough team, but I definitely think if we pulled it off once, we can pull it off again, just like we did with Conant,” Utton said.