ANNA HINGSTON fights her way through traffic in play-in action against Monadnock on Sunday. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
February 20, 2012ALTON — Under the old tournament format, the Prospect Mountain girls' basketball team would've earned the 16th and final seed in the Division III tournament, thus earning a date with top-seeded Campbell in the first round.
As it turned out, the new format yielded the same result, but the Timber Wolves had an extra game to prepare.
The Prospect girls welcomed Monadnock to town on Sunday afternoon for a play-in game, with the winner moving on to the Division III tournament and the aforementioned date with Campbell.
And in the early going, it looked like Prospect had no desire to make the trip to Litchfield, as only Sahara Brown was in the flow of things offensively.
The senior poured in her team's first six points, including a three-pointer, but an Ella Montminy free throw was the only other scratch on the scoresheet for the Timber Wolves in the frame and they trailed 11-7 after one quarter of play.
The Huskies opened that lead to 14-7 to start the second period, but the Timber Wolves didn't fold. Instead, they hung around.
An Emily Barrett hoop got them started, but Monadnock answered with a bucket. Brown hit another hoop but the Huskies came back with a hoop and two foul shots, opening the lead to 21-11.
Brown drilled another hoop and Barrett got a rebound and hoop to cut the lead to 21-15, but again the visitors answered, hitting a pair from the line for a 23-15 lead.
A Chelsea Tierney hoop and a pair of free throws from Montminy cut the lead to 23-19, but the Huskies came back with five points from the foul line, stretching the lead to 28-19.
Montminy hit the final hoop of the half to cut the lead to 28-21 at the break.
The Timber Wolf team that emerged from the lockerroom in the second half seemed to be much different.
A Brown three right out of the gate cut the lead to four and a Hope Carazzo bucket made it a two-point game. Montminy followed with yet another foul shot and Prospect was within one 3:10 into the second half.
Brown then took two charges at the other end of the floor, allowing the Timber Wolves to get the ball back and Shannon Meyer buried a hoop with three minutes to go in the quarter to give Prospect its first lead of the game, 29-28.
The Huskies came back with a pair of hoops to retake the lead, but Tierney made a great block of an inbounds pass under her own hoop and Montminy followed that up by drilling a three-pointer with a minute on the clock to tie the game at 32.
Brown then ran in for a layup with 30 seconds on the clock to send the Timber Wolves to the fourth quarter with a 34-32 lead.
Monadnock tied the game early in the fourth, but a Meyer rebound and hoop put Prospect back on top. The visitors then drilled a three-pointer to take a one-point lead, but Brown hit for two more and Barrett sunk a free throw to give the Timber Wolves a 39-37 lead.
The Huskies hit two free throws to tie the game, but a Montminy rebound and putback with 1:45 on the clock gave Prospect a 41-39 lead. Brown calmly sunk two free throws with 11 seconds on the clock to close out the 43-39 win and send the Timber Wolves into the playoffs.
Coach Gordon Bilodeau noted that the battle to the end in a playoff-like atmosphere was something he was excited for his younger players to get to experience, as they look to build the varsity program going forward.
After a tough start, he noted that the third quarter was key, as it has been all year.
"The third quarter was the key," he said. "That's what we've been trying to get them to focus on all year. They don't know how important that third quarter is."
Bilodeau noted that Brown getting in foul trouble in the first half hurt a bit, as the team missed her intensity on the floor, but he was pleased with the senior's play.
"In the second half, she made some very good decisions," Bilodeau said. "She showed that she didn't want this to be her last game."
The first-year coach said her play made it hard for him to even take her out of the game for a break.
Montminy did play the entire game, only coming to the bench during breaks in the action.
"All in all, I am pleased with the effort," Bilodeau said. "I know they have it in them."
He noted that the matchup with Campbell (after deadline Wednesday) was sure to be a tough one, but his goal was to go there and play well.
"If they just go out and play hard, I don't care if we go down and lose by 40," Bilodeau said. He added that he hopes the girls continue to learn from playing teams like Campbell.
"Our goal is to be like that team plays," he said.
Brown finished with 19 points on the afternoon, while Montminy chipped in with 11.
Should the Timber Wolves pull the upset of the year, they will play in the quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. The semis are set for Tuesday, Feb. 28, at Southern New Hampshire University.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126