Conant girls win playoff opener over Newport

  • Conant’s Mariah Chamberlain goes up against Newport’s Alexis Hurd. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Newport in the opening round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Thursday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Newport in the opening round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Thursday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Conant’s Camri Aho grabs a rebound against Newport. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Conant girls' basketball team hosted Newport in the opening round of the NHIAA Division III playoffs on Thursday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, February 22, 2018 11:23PM

Newport started its season with a loss at perennial powerhouse Conant, and the Tigers ended it the same way, exiting the NHIAA Division III playoffs with a 45-40 defeat at the hands of the Orioles.

It had been 84 days since that season opener, a one-point Conant win on a shot by junior center Mariah Chamberlain in the final seconds, and Newport head coach Ross Dole hasn’t forgotten.

“84 days ago,” Dole said. “We talked about it in the locker room before the game. I was hoping it was going to be us tonight, coming back and getting that last-second shot.”

The game’s marquee matchup was down low, between Chamberlain and Tiger senior co-captain Alexis Hurd, and both sides knew it. The Oriole gameplan was to feed Chamberlain and attack Hurd.

It worked. Chamberlain scored nine points in the first half, posting Hurd up and hitting her with spin moves and up-and-unders that all found their mark.

“[Chamberlain’s] really good,” Hurd said. “I was playing my toughest defense ever, and everything was falling. She’s definitely grown as a player since that first game.”

Chamberlain has improved on both sides of the ball over the course of the year, and her defensive effort reflected that Thursday night. She’d block Hurd four times and hold her to just eight points.

“I’ve learned that I need to play with my hands up,” Chamberlain said, “because I’m tall, and if I play with my hands up it’s easy to block and I’m usually not going to get the foul called.”

Chamberlain finished with a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds.

A pair of threes from Conant senior captain Taylor Banish (seven points) and another two long-balls from freshman Elizabeth Gonyea (15 points) had Conant out ahead early, and Newport trailed 28-19 at the half.

“I thought there was a lid on the basket for us for a while,” Dole said. “We had a hard time getting anything to go in.”

The shooting woes continued into the second half. Conant stretched their lead to as much as 13; the Orioles were up 11 with 4:55 remaining when Dole called a timeout to rally his girls for one more push.

“I said ‘It’s time to go, girls. We worked all season for this. We can’t be tentative - it’s time to go,’” Dole said.

Newport came out in the press and immediately created turnovers. Freshman Greysan Beaulieu and senior captain Kennedy Pysz combined for three straight steals and the Tigers cut the lead from 11 down to three. Conant was up 41-38 with just over four minutes remaining.

“They’re a tough team,” said Conant head coach Brian Troy. “I knew they weren’t going to come out and quit, they weren’t going to lay down. They did a good job speeding us up a little bit, getting some turnovers, making some easy layups. That’s what good teams do, they’re a good team. We just had to compose ourselves.”

The battle-tested Orioles, winners of six NHIAA titles and last year’s runner-up, have been in these situations before, and while Newport made it close, it wasn’t close enough. Gonyea got the ball on a fast break and hit Pysz with a sharp Eurostep, drawing a blocking foul and knocking Newport’s co-captain out of the game with a bloodied lip.

The Alaskan freshman knocked down one of two from the line, and with a four-point lead, all Conant had to do was keep hitting free throws. Banish, Gonyea and Chamberlain did, and the Orioles held on for the 45-40 win.

“They’re a hell of a program,” Dole said. “That’s where we want to get someday. I’m proud of our girls for coming in here and giving them a game, they’re tough.”

No Tiger reached double figures in scoring. Anna Pysz led Newport with nine.

The 12th-seeded Tigers (10-9) finished their season on a three-game losing streak.

“It’s sad,” Hurd said, after her final high school game. “It’s really sad. It sucks that we lost, but we put all our heart into it and we fought ‘til the end. What are you going to do? Conant’s a really good team.”

The fifth-seeded Orioles traveled to No. 4 Sanborn on Saturday, where they came out on top in a 58-37 win led by Gonyea (17 points), Chamberlain (15 points) and Silas Bernier (10 points). It was Conant’s 10th win in a row.

Now, the Orioles (16-4) will travel to SNHU at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to face their biggest recent nemesis, No. 1 Monadnock (17-2). The Huskies knocked off Fall Mountain on a last-second three, 22-20, to advance to the Final Four. Monadnock beat Conant in last year’s title game and again in December; Conant won the rematch in January.

“We’ve been battle-tested this season, so I know that we can keep our composure and stay relaxed and come out on top,” Chamberlain said.