SWANZEY — The way these girls have been playing lately, it arguably should’ve come sooner.
The Keene High girls basketball team picked up its first win of the season, 40-33, over Monadnock in Swanzey on Thursday.
“It’s a relief,” said Keene head coach Stacey Massiah. “Not just for me, but for these girls. Everyone was clicking. I told them, ‘It’s fun when we’re winning, right?’ ”
Elyza Mitchell and Marin Shaffer both scored eight for Keene, leading the team.
Kaitlyn Lemnah and Kirsten Farhm weren’t far behind with seven each.
Division 3 Monadnock (1-4) held its own for the majority of the game, taking a 16-14 lead at halftime, but a scoreless third quarter for Monadnock put the Huskies in a 13-point hole that they could not dig themselves out of.
The Blackbirds (1-4) were clicking in that third quarter on both ends of the court, putting together their most effective quarter of the game offensively and, well, shutting out an opponent for an entire quarter speaks for itself defensively.
“It was kind of frustrating at the beginning because we weren’t playing our game,” Mitchell said. “But the second half came in. It just all came together.”
Mitchell added that shutting out the Huskies in the third quarter was a huge boost of confidence.
It came down to what Massiah had to say to his team in the locker room at halftime.
“We got a little pep talk from coach,” Mitchell said. “And we came out ready.”
Massiah admitted that it might’ve been a little more than just a pep talk.
“After that first half, I kind of laid into them a little bit,” Massiah said. “I gave them a little tongue-lashing.”
The halftime tongue-lashing, combined with a spark from some players filling in off the bench such as Autumn Benoit, who scored her first varsity points on Thursday, pushed Keene to one of its stronger quarters all season.
But the Huskies never gave in.
Monadnock outscored Keene by six in the final frame and switched to a full-court press to increase the pressure on the Blackbirds.
The press worked, and the Huskies created turnovers and crashed the boards aggressively to grab rebounds and a little bit of momentum.
Even with the pressure, a seven-point deficit was as close as the Huskies could get.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said Monadnock head coach Rob Skrocki. “Two fairly evenly-matched teams, physical, it was a good game.”
Monadnock’s Grace LeClair led all scorers with 11 points.
“She’s just a physical beast,” Skrocki said. “What an athlete. She was great in the press tonight, hard-fought on defense, always getting open looks in the middle; that’s what we were looking for.”
Grace Furze had eight and Mea Carroll-Clough scored seven.
All three girls were big factors in the fourth quarter rally. Furze and Carroll-Clough each had six points in the final frame, and LeClair had five.
“What a great learning experience for the kids,” Skrocki said of the fourth quarter. “This is still a young team, and the girls have fight. They know how to not quit, they know how to not give up.”
Regan Kidney, who finished with four points on the night, played most, if not all, of the minutes.
She showed grit and toughness the entire game, even when her team was down big, laying out in the final seconds to try and make a defensive stop.
Those kinds of plays don’t show up on the stat sheet but make an enormous impact on the game.
Even though it wasn’t her best shooting night, her gameplay caught her coach’s eye.
“Big shoutout to Regan Kidney,” Skrocki said. “She’s getting the shots up, she’s going to be a player to watch.”
It’s a matchup that’s tough to call a rivalry since the teams hardly ever get the chance to play, but there’s no doubt that both teams come into these games ready to give a little extra.
It’s a little more personal.
“Swanzey and Keene, they’re brother and sister,” Massiah said. “We know people over there, they know people over here. We’ve got that mutual respect. I love it.”
“I really enjoy playing with the girls,” Mitchell said. “It’s kind of frustrating though because I can’t get angry at them because they’re my friends.”
And, hey, maybe it’s something that can become a yearly tradition. Why not?
“I think this is great,” Skrocki said. “I hope that we can continue this matchup for years to come.”
But before anyone can think about that, the teams meet up again on Friday in Keene at 6:30 p.m.
“I am and the girls are looking forward to another matchup,” Skrocki said. “I think that we’re going to come out, we’re going to play hard, we’re going to play like we know we can.”
It’ll be the third game in as many days for the Blackbirds. But no worries.
“I live for games,” Mitchell said. “They’re so much fun.”