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Pressure point: Hanover girls basketball falls victim to St. Mary's defense in Elite Eight

HANOVER -- In theory, we suppose, there are mental preparations you could make for your first skydiving adventure. The reality, though, is that there's nothing you can do on the ground to truly get you ready for being up in the air and waiting to take that first doozy of a step out of the plane's door.

That must have been what the Hanover High girls basketball team felt like Friday night.

Matched up against St. Mary's-Lynn in the Division 3 quarterfinals, the host Hawks knew the three-time defending state champs were going to come at them hard with a swarming, trapping defense. Hanover drilled it in practice leading up to the game, but once the Spartans applied pressure, the Hawks realized that all the prep work never could have prepared them fully.

At halftime, Hanover had committed 18 turnovers, St. Mary's had recorded 11 steals, and the tone was set in what became a 47-31 win that sends the fifth-seeded Spartans (19-6) on to a semifinal matchup against No. 1 Foxboro (22-2).

"I don't think we expected them to be so aggressive," said Hanover senior forward/center Mary Kate Flynn, "so props to them for that."

"Definitely tough to prepare" for that, senior guard Olivia Damon agreed. "When you're going over it in practice, you can't really mimic how well they do it. So, when we got on the court it was so much more aggressive than what we practiced against. They had a great game plan and it was tough to beat."

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St. Mary's led at every milepost -- up 10-6 after one quarter, 25-13 at halftime and 31-23 after three quarters. To their credit, the fourth-seeded Hawks (17-6) hung around as best they could until St. Mary's forward Jillian Roberts took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of her game-high 18 points. The Spartans outscored the hosts 16-8 in the final quarter to pull away.

Hanover captain Mary Kate Flynn positions herself for a rebound.
Hanover girls basketball falls to St. Mary's Lynn 47-31 at home on Friday, March. 8, 2024
Hanover captain Mary Kate Flynn positions herself for a rebound. Hanover girls basketball falls to St. Mary's Lynn 47-31 at home on Friday, March. 8, 2024

"She's progressively gotten better over the two years that she's been here," St. Mary's coach Jeff Newhall said of the sophomore from Stoneham. "She's played in a lot of big games, so I'm not surprised that she wanted the ball and that she was looking to take the shot."

Hanover's own defense kept the Hawks in it. The hosts held star freshman guard Bella Owumi without a basket (she had a pair of free throws for her only points) and generally did a fine job against a Spartans team that came in averaging 64 points per game and had hit 80-plus four times.

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"Not the prettiest thing," Newhall said of his team's 17th straight playoff victory. "But Hanover's a good team; they play physical. They're a good defensive team. Based off their scores, they play a lot of their games like this, so I'm not surprised it was a little bit mucky, for lack of a better word."

The Hawks came in allowing 33.7 points per game and had held nine straight opponents to 37 or fewer. St. Mary's beat that, but only by a little, and only after Roberts got hot late.

Hanover coach Brian Fisher talks with his team between quarters.
Hanover girls basketball falls to St. Mary's Lynn 47-31 at home on Friday, March. 8, 2024
Hanover coach Brian Fisher talks with his team between quarters. Hanover girls basketball falls to St. Mary's Lynn 47-31 at home on Friday, March. 8, 2024

"I gotta give my kids credit," Hanover coach Brian Fisher said. "They hung around and did everything possible to get [back in the game]. We shut down Number 11 [Owumi] pretty well. I thought McKenzie Foley did a heck of a job on her. I'm proud of the way the girls played. Our defense has been our thing all year."

"Our defense has killed it all year," Damon agreed. "That's kind of what we've been known for."

Graduation will hit Hanover hard as the Hawks will lose Foley (8 points in this one), plus co-captains Flynn, who averaged a double-double with 11.6 points and 11.6 rebounds, and Damon, a defensive stopper who chipped in 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Flynn scored 5 points vs. St. Mary's.

"Liv and Mary Kate, they're both the heart of the team," Fisher said. "We only go as far as [they take us]. Liv's defense is outstanding. And Mary Kate, she brings a whole other dimension to the team because she can handle, she can shoot, she can drive, she can rebound, she can block, she can play defense."

Hawks captain Olivia Damon breaks away after stealing the ball.
Hanover girls basketball falls to St. Mary's Lynn 47-31 at home on Friday, March. 8, 2024
Hawks captain Olivia Damon breaks away after stealing the ball. Hanover girls basketball falls to St. Mary's Lynn 47-31 at home on Friday, March. 8, 2024

Winning a pair of playoff games represented significant progress for Hanover, which was a DNQ in 2022 and won a preliminary-round game last season as a No. 21 seed before losing in the Round of 32. Junior forward Noey Giardina (team-high 9 points in this one) will be a focus next year, along with junior guard Cam Bradford and freshman forward Addie Monahan.

"This group was special," Damon said. "My last few years of girls basketball I didn't really feel that family [vibe] on the team, and this year we were so close. It clearly showed out on the court."

"They accomplished so much, more than I had imagined," Fisher said of his players. "I knew we would be good, but we were really good this year."

This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Hanover girls basketball falls to St. Mary's in D3 defensive battle