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Blue Hawks push past Mountaineers in finals

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by Joshua Spaulding
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Sports Editor - Salmon Press Newspapers

Senior Julie Downs holds the runner-up plaque aloft for the Berlin fans after Saturday's championship game. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 20, 2017
DURHAM — For the second year in a row, the Berlin unified basketball team brought home some hardware from the championship game.

And for the second year in a row, it was the runner-up plaque, as the Mountaineers dropped a 45-31 decision to undefeated and top-ranked Exeter in the finals on Saturday, March 18, at the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gymnasium.

"Winning or losing, they really have enjoyed the whole thing," said Berlin coach Karen Turgeon. "The support from the fans has been unbelievable.

"I can't say enough about the support the kids have gotten," Turgeon added, looking around at the large number of fans who made the early-morning trek to the Seacoast for the game.

Like their title game opponents the Exeter Blue Hawks, the Mountaineers also finished the regular season undefeated and with their six wins, earned the third seed in the playoffs. After a first round bye, the Mountaineers beat Gilford, Keene and Con-Val to advance to the title game, which was held at the start of a day of hoops at UNH, with the Division I and II boys' finals set to follow the unified game.

Exeter got out to a quick 4-0 lead with two hoops to start the game but Randy Belanger got Berlin's first hoop to cut the lead to two. After the Blue Hawks hit two more baskets to go up 8-2, Roger Belanger put back a rebound to cut into the lead again and the first quarter came to a close with the Mountaineers down by an 8-4 score.

Exeter came out in the second quarter and again hit the first two hoops, upping the lead to 12-4. Roger Belanger got Berlin's first hoop of the quarter to make it 12-6 but Exeter answered with another basket to push the lead back to eight.

After Roger Belanger put back another rebound to cut the lead to 14-8, the Blue Hawks hit the final two baskets of the first half and took the lead heading to the halftime break, 18-8.

Berlin came out of the gate energized in the second half and scored eight of the first 10 points in the third quarter.

Roger Belanger got the scoring started with a hoop and after an Exeter basket, he hit two more hoops to cut the lead to 20-14. A Julia Gray basket cut Exeter's lead to just four before the Blue Hawks got another hoop to push the lead back to six.

Randy Belanger hit a free throw to make it a five-point game but an Exeter hoop made it 24-17 in favor of the Blue Hawks. Randy Belanger put back a rebound for another Berlin hoop, again cutting the lead to five, but Exeter hit the final three hoops of the third quarter, including a three-pointer and they took a 31-19 lead to the final eight minutes.

Exeter kicked off the scoring in the fourth quarter with another three-pointer but Berlin hit the next two baskets, as Jerry Healey worked inside for a hoop and Roger Belanger drained another basket, cutting the lead to 34-23. The Blue Hawks responded with a hoop, a free throw and then two more hoops, opening up the 41-23 lead.

Roger Belanger put back another rebound and after two more hoops from the Blue Hawks, Austin White hit a jumper and Healey got another basket for the Mountaineers.

White scored the final hoop of the game, making it a 45-31 final, with Berlin bringing home the runner-up plaque for the second year in a row.

"We came this far, we were in the finals," Turgeon said. "There are 42 teams that didn't make it this far and we're here.

"That says something for them," she said of her squad. "Exeter is a great team, they have some very good players."

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or sportsgsn@salmonpress.com.

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