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Girls’ basketball: No. 1 Conant survives playoff scare from No. 8 Belmont

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Belmont in the second round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Belmont in the second round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Belmont in the second round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Belmont in the second round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Belmont in the second round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Belmont in the second round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Belmont in the second round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Belmont in the second round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Sunday, February 24, 2019 8:58AM

No. 8 Belmont put a serious scare into the top-seeded Orioles on Saturday night as the Red Raiders came to the Pratt looking for a second-round playoff upset.

“These playoff games, if you expect an easy win, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” said Conant head coach Brian Troy. “Teams are on their last straw, they know it’s one-and-done, and they’re going to come out fighting and you’ve got to make sure you match their energy or bring it even higher.”

The Red Raiders came out with intensity, a far cry from their season-opening 36-point loss at Conant, and quickly jumped out in front, despite scoring struggles from 1,000-point senior star guard Julianna Estremera. Estremera just had one first-half hoop, so it was up to the rest of the Raiders to pick her up.

“We thought they were going to take her away this game, and we thought someone had to step up,” said Belmont’s Mackenzie Donovan. “As a senior, this being my last year, I thought it kind of had to be me. I’ve always had her back so it was time to have her back in this game.”

Sanderson started hoisting threes early, scoring eight of her team-high 11 in the first half. Meanwhile, Conant’s explosive scorer, sophomore Elizabeth Gonyea, was having scoring problems of her own as she tried to force her way into the paint, where the Red Raiders were waiting to take absorb the contact and take a pair of charges. Gonyea was scoreless in the first and Belmont was up 15-9 after one.

“We brought a lot of energy at the beginning of the game,” Estremera said. “I’ve never seen my team have so much energy before. We really wanted that. We came in without a worry, we didn’t have anything to lose…We knew everyone was against us, we knew no one thought we had a chance at all, so we just told ourselves to try and prove them wrong.”

The Orioles came out with a balanced attack in the second quarter, where six different Conant players scored a bucket apiece, and after Belmont missed a bunny as time expired, the Raider lead was down to 22-21.

“I actually felt pretty good at the half,” Troy said. “As bad as we were playing, it was only a one-point game –  hopefully we can make a run in the second half.”

Things started going the Orioles’ way in the third. Gonyea finally hit her first hoop of the night, a three-pointer, to knot the game at 26-26. With about a minute left in the third, Conant’s press came on with ferocity, junior guard and defensive sparkplug Silas Bernier leading the way.

“I thought, this is the seniors’ last home game, might as well make it good, and I think that sparked the energy for everyone else,” Bernier said. Bernier finished the game with a team-high 15 steals/deflections; her biggest was a strip of Donovan that led to a Delaney Beaven fast-break layup to give Conant their first lead at 29-28.

“The end of the third quarter, that last minute where we went into our press, that really sparked some momentum going into the fourth quarter,” Troy said. “That was the biggest run we had all game.”

In the fourth, Gonyea kept her stroke alive; she’d finish with 10 points, eight in the second half. Mariah Chamberlain had a game-high 12 with six rebounds. But it was Bernier, Beaven and Mylie Aho who came on strong in the second half, creating turnovers and getting big buckets.

“I think it tells you that you can take away our shooters, our shooters can not be hot and the other girls will step up and play a bigger role,” Bernier said. 

Conant extended their lead, forcing Belmont to foul – not a bad strategy, as the Orioles were just 8-16 at the line. But they made enough of them and ultimately won it 46-37, surviving a scare from the scrappy Red Raiders.

“This team had heart, will and determination,” said Belmont head coach Mark Dawalga. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The Orioles (17-2) now head to Southern New Hampshire University for the Final Four for the fourth straight season, where they’ll face No. 4 Fall Mountain Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Fall Mountain beat Conant in their first matchup of the year, but the Orioles won with ease in the senior night rematch. 

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 Monadnock hosts No. 3 Newfound.