Girls’ basketball: No. 1 Concord Christian one win away from third straight state championship after defeating No. 4 John Stark

John Stark’s Abby Duclos stares up at the basket as she attempts a reverse layup during Wednesday night’s D-II semifinal at Salem High School.

John Stark’s Abby Duclos stares up at the basket as she attempts a reverse layup during Wednesday night’s D-II semifinal at Salem High School. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

CCA’s Lilli Carlile (33) backs her way down on John Stark’s Hayleigh Dennis in Wednesday’s D-II semifinal win for the Kingsmen.

CCA’s Lilli Carlile (33) backs her way down on John Stark’s Hayleigh Dennis in Wednesday’s D-II semifinal win for the Kingsmen. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Emma Smith (center) rises for a jumper as Abby Duclos (30) contests the shot during Wednesday’s D-II semifinal.

Emma Smith (center) rises for a jumper as Abby Duclos (30) contests the shot during Wednesday’s D-II semifinal. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Eleanor Girardet lines up a 3-pointer as Concord Christian’s Emma Smith leaps in front of her during the Division II semifinal on Wednesday at Salem High School.

Eleanor Girardet lines up a 3-pointer as Concord Christian’s Emma Smith leaps in front of her during the Division II semifinal on Wednesday at Salem High School. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 03-07-2024 1:04 AM

SALEM – After falling behind 13-2 less than three minutes into Wednesday night’s Division II semifinal, No. 4 John Stark (16-5) looked to be in deep trouble against No. 1 Concord Christian (19-1).

The Kingsmen came out asserting their game, forcing turnovers and knocking down shots, and the Generals didn’t seem to have an answer. The deficit was 22-11 after the first quarter, and while an Eleanor Girardet 3-pointer for John Stark cut the score to 26-24 just three-and-half minutes later, that was as close as it would come. CCA subsequently took a timeout, outscored the Generals by 13 heading into halftime and walked away with a 68-50 victory.

John Stark kept things interesting in the second quarter, but the Kingsmen’s fast start coupled with their response after the Generals’ push allowed them to walk away victorious.

“We like to push the ball,” CCA head coach Rebecca Carlile said. “I told the girls before the game: ‘We can win this game if we control the boards, control the tempo and just play defense as a team.’ ... We did push the ball really well, better than we have been doing for the majority of the season.”

CCA’s Emma Smith led the way with 27 points, followed by Lilli Carlile’s 19. For the Generals, Girardet scored 20, while Abby Duclos and Avery Geaumont each had 11.

Smith, only a sophomore, reached the 1,000-point milestone earlier this season. Wednesday was just her latest high-level performance.

“She’s just an awesome player,” Carlile said. “She’s fast, she hits the 3 at such a high percentage. It’s incredible. Whenever she’s hitting from outside, that’s always great, and usually she does. When she can get a shot off, she’s pretty consistent. She’s by far our highest 3-point shooter.”

On the other side, John Stark’s run — guided by its senior-laden roster — came up just short of reaching the championship game. After finishing last season 9-10, this year was a giant step forward for the program, led by the trio of Girardet, Duclos and Geaumont.

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“They were a great group,” Generals head coach Tiffany Lewis said. “It’s a group that works hard. They want to be here; they want to play. They come to practice every day to make each other better, and they’ve just been a super fun group to coach. I’m sad I won’t get to coach them anymore, but it’s been a nice ride.”

In addition to Girardet, Duclos and Geaumont, John Stark also graduates Hayleigh Dennis and Izabel Korbet off its roster. The team thought it had the talent entering the season to reach the final four; it can walk away satisfied to have accomplished that goal.

“We had a great year, and I’m super proud of the group,” Lewis said. “They worked super hard and made it to the final four which was a goal from the beginning, so that was really nice to accomplish that.”

Meanwhile, CCA will be back in action on Sunday at the University of New Hampshire where it will take on No. 3 Pembroke for the Division II title. The Kingsmen won the earlier meeting 65-55, but Carlile knows it will be a battle for her program that won the D-IV championship in 2022 and the D-III title last year.

“Everybody brings their best game to us. It’s fun, though,” Carlile said. “That’s basketball. That’s what you want. We didn’t get that as much in Division IV or in Division III, so we want more competition for our girls, and it’s fun for them.”