HOLLIS – The Souhegan High School girls basketball team knows something about going undefeated.
The Sabers, last year’s unbeaten Division II champions, weren’t about to let someone else have a shot at another unblemished year, not at their expense.
Souhegan overcame an early deficit and held on for dear life Tuesday night to hand Hollis Brookline its first loss of the season, 42-40. The defeat dropped the Cavaliers to 17-1 in the division, but HB will still be the No. 1 seed when the tournament begins on Feb. 28.
Jane White scored 22 points, including six 3-pointers, for the Sabers (13-4), who can finish as high as fourth in the standings, and as low as eighth. Souhegan finishes the regular season Thursday at home against Kingswood.
While the Sabers were looking to improve their spot in the standings, they also wanted to prove that they are still a serious title contender.
“Everyone expected a lot from us at the beginning of the season and at the end, we needed to show them,” White said. “It’s definitely a statement and it’s definitely a pride thing for us. There’s a lot of people doubting us. We wanted to show them that we could do it.”
After seven games, Souhegan was just 4-3 and White missed a couple of games with an ankle injury. But since then, the Sabers have gone 9-1, with their two recent wins – Souhegan beat Bedford last Friday – coming against two of the best.
White has led the way, as usual, and she’s averaged almost 23 points per game in her last three.
“The whole pregame was about watching No. 5 (White) and apparently we didn’t do it,” HB coach Bob Murphy said. “To lose by two points, it’s sad because our defensive issue was trying to deal with her. We needed to slow Jane White down and we didn’t. I wish I could make it more complicated than that, but I can’t. She’s a pure shooter.”
White helped the Sabers build a 13-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the Cavs weren’t about to roll over.
HB went on a 6-0 run, on three free throws and a 3 by Katie Stopera, who also finished with 22 points, to make it a seven-point game. White made one of two free throws to put the Sabers ahead 38-30, but Souhegan would go scoreless until the senior’s game-winning 3.
While the Sabers were in their drought, the Cavs rallied. Stopera made two free throws and Ellie Flaum hit a 3 to make it 38-35. Jill Gillis added one of two free throws to make it a two-point game, and with 90 seconds left, Stopera drove the lane looking to tie it.
Instead, her shot was blocked and the ball went to Souhegan’s Cammie Formby-Lavertu. But before she could do anything with it, Kelsey Berry ripped the ball away and made a layup – her only points of the game – to tie it at 38.
Souhegan missed a layup at the other end and Stopera hit a fast-break bucket to put HB up 40-38 with 1:05 to play. It was the Cavs’ first lead since early in the second quarter, and it wouldn’t last long.
White wasted little time draining a 3 at the other end, and the Cavs missed a jumper that would have put them up one and were forced to foul.
“Our defensive intensity just dropped significantly,” Souhegan coach Jeremy Faulkner said. “But they took the lead and we got it back. We kept our composure. I think what happened last year had a lot to do with it, being in games like this. They know how to handle games like this.”
Tori Forrest made the first of two free throws, but Souhegan got the ball back, and this time, HB sent White to the line. But she missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Cavs got the rebound.
With eight seconds left, Stopera got the ball and drove to the basket, but White stepped in front of her to draw the blocking foul. HB wasn’t yet in the bonus, so with three seconds left, the Cavs were forced to inbound the ball from in front of their own bench.
Berry, who played the game with a broken nose suffered last Friday, found Stopera at the top of the key, but her 3 at the buzzer hit the front of the rim and bounced off the backboard.
“We’re not the undefeated team now,” Murphy said. “We can be beat. Someone that we already beat, came back and beat us. I think this will definitely help us out.”
HB will wait to find out who it will play when the postseason begins on Feb. 28. The Cavs know they’ll be the No. 1 seed, but there will be no undefeated champion this year.