CONWAY — They took the long way, but the Eagles are heading to the Final Four.
The Kennett High girls’ basketball team ran its win streak to 14 games in a row with pair of impressive road playoff victories less than 48 hours apart over the weekend against two familiar foes. Meeting Plymouth and Laconia for the third time this season, the Eagles used scary defense, won the battle on the boards and made every shot count to beat two of their longtime rivals.
Kennett beat Plymouth 56-46 in Plymouth on Friday night in the opening round of the playoffs. The Eagles held a walk-through practice on Saturday and Sunday afternoon avenged their lone losses of the season with a 58-45 victory against the Sachems in Laconia.
“The girls earned it, credit to them,” Larry Meader, Eagles’ head coach, said Monday by phone. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group, it’s a true team. They all work so hard from the kids that played 30 minutes to the girls who may not have seen the floor in the two playoff games. That hard work in the gym when no one is watching is paying off now.”
The Eagles, coached by Meader and assistant Steve Cote, are senior tri-captains Ella Chandler, Sierra Parsons and Maddie Stewart along with fellow seniors Jaelin Cummings and Mariah Parker; junior Sam Habert; sophomores Catherine Chick, Sydnie Chin, Hope Elias and Kaylee McLellan; and freshmen Kaley Goodhart, Sydney Shaw and Sam Sidoti.
Laconia (11-2) beat Kennett twice in the opening week of the season, winning 39-33 at home on Jan. 11, and then 50-36 three nights later in Conway. The Eagles were without Cummings, Parsons and Stewart due to the need to COVID-19 cohort quarantine in school.
On Sunday, Kennett put together arguably its best first quarter of the season, jumping out to a 15-4 start. Stewart keyed the attack with eight points in the period. The Eagles limit Laconia to just one shot or forced a turnover on each possession in the opening 8 minutes.
“After playing Friday,” Meader said, “we had more a walk-through than a hard practice, but the girls were focused from the moment they got in the gym. You could tell they were ready for Sunday.”
After Renne Bergeron made a layup to cut the lead to 15-6, Shaw came down and drained the second three-pointer of the game to get the lead up to 12. Laconia freshman Mekhia Burton, who was dynamite in the law post for the hosts, responded with a basket off the glass, but each time, Kennett seemed to have an answer. Stewart grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, and on the next possession, Goodhart tickled the twine for the first of her two three-pointers in the period, putting the girls from Conway in front 23-8 with 3:01 left in the first half.
“They went to a 1-2-2 zone and we weren’t hitting inside so I put in four guards in and moved Maddie into the middle,” Meader explained. “When Laconia doubled or triple-teamed her, she kicked it outside. The two three-pointers by Sydney earlier and then by Kaylee were huge.”
Stewart and Goodhart hit back-to-back treys with the second coming with 1:28 left in the quarter to open the largest lead of the night at 29-10.
The Eagles led 31-14 at the break.
Trailing, the Sachems changed things up in the third period bringing Sierra Halligan and Norah Dunleavy off the bench, and they turned into the dynamic due, giving the hosts a much-needed jumpstart. Laconia behind 10 points in the quarter by Dunleavy trimmed the deficit to 42-33 heading into the final quarter.
When Dunleavy and Burton made back-to-back buckets with 5:44 to play, the Sachems pulled to within seven, 44-37, but Chin, who tweaked her ankle in practice Thursday and played sparingly at Plymouth, responded with a jump shot for her first points of the night with 4:50 left.
The Sachems three times pulled within six at 46-40 and 49-43 and 51-45, but each time the Eagles responded with key baskets.
KHS closed the game on a 7-0 run four free throws by Chin and to by Shaw and one by Stewart.
Stewart finished with a game-high 22 points; Shaw added 12; Chin, seven, Sidoti, six; Goodhart, six; and Parsons, five.
Sidoti had 12 rebounds, Stewart added 10 and Parsons, seven.
Burton had 16 points to lead the Sachems, while Dunleavy added 13; Halligan, had six; and DeLuca and Bergeron had two apiece.
At Plymouth, the Bobcats jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, but Kennett rallied to tie the game at 15-15 after the first quarter. The Eagles took the lead for good with a 13-3 run in the second quarter when they limited the hosts to just three foul shots.
KHS led 43-31 after three quarters.
Plymouth was able to close to within five, at 52-47 with 43 seconds to play on a basket by Aaralyn Scoggins, but the Eagles iced the game from the charity stripe.
Stewart had a game-high 22 points in the win, while Cummings and Shaw both added 11; Sidoti, seven; Parsons, three; and Chin, two.
Sidoti had 14 rebounds; while Parsons and Stewart had seven each.
The Eagles learned Feb. 19 they will be on the road for at least the first round of the Division II playoffs. Due to the coronavirus, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association had gone with an open-tournament format, just as it did for the fall sports season. All of the schools qualify for post-season play and are assigned a regional bracket to play in. The four groups were “determined based upon location in the state and proximity to each other,” according to the NHIAA website.
The NHIAA added: “Team records from the regular season will not be considered when placing teams in the bracket. Rather, proximity to one another within the cluster was the presiding factor utilized to set up the bracket.”
Seedings within each packet were determined by a random draw out of the hat unlike in hockey which was done based on winning percentage. The lowest number drawn gets the opportunity to host playoff games.
Kennett drew the No. 3 seed in Region 4. The Eagles had to travel to Plymouth (6-5) on Friday for the opening round of the playoffs. KHS beat the Bobcats twice during the season, winning 54-37 in Plymouth on Feb. 3, and 46-14 in Conway the next night.
Joining Kennett and Plymouth in Region 4 were No. 1 Laconia (11-3), No. 4 Merrimack Valley (8-8) and No. 5 Kingswood (0-2). MV beat Kingswood in a play-in game on Tuesday, March 2 then lost at Laconia on Friday.
Kennett will now play undefeated Hanover in the semifinals at Bedford High School on Thursday at 7 p.m.