Peabody girls basketball defeats Haverhill, advances to sectional semis

Catherine Manning scored 22 points with eight rebounds in Friday's win. (ITEM FILE PHOTO)

PEABODY — If you were one of the hundreds to pack the Peabody High gymnasium Friday night, you saw something special.

In a total team effort, the Peabody girls basketball team defeated a high-powered Haverhill team, 62-56, to punch its ticket into the semifinal round of the Division 1 North tournament for the first time since 2010.

Freshman guard Oluchi Okananwa put on a clinic and logged with a triple double, finishing with 26 points, 16 rebounds and 16 steals – coming off the bench.

Senior captain Catherine Manning wasn’t too shabby either. She, along with sophomore Amber Kiricoples were tough as nails in the paint. Manning finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, while Kiricoples finished with six points and eight rebounds.

“What a win,” said Peabody coach Stan McKeen. “Amber and Oluchi were game-changers tonight, and Catherine Manning had ice in her veins. She was perfect from the free throw line and had a phenomenal fourth quarter. We knew they foul a lot in that league, but we maintained our composure, which we have done all year long. They hit a couple of threes to get close but we just don’t blow our cool at the end of games and we just don’t quit.”

Peabody took a 2-0 lead on a Manning baseline drive 40 seconds into the game, but Haverhill responded with a 7-0 run to lead 7-2.

McKeen called a timeout to restore order. Mission accomplished as the Tanners closed out the quarter with a 10-3, capped by an Okananwa steal and coast-to-coast layup,  to lead 12-0 after the opening frame.

Peabody took its largest lead of the first half, 19-13, after a 3-pointer by Brooke Hodas and a steal and layup by Kristina Rossignoll.

But the Hillies rattled off six straight points to level the score at 19-all with about four and a half minutes left in the half. A 7-1 Tanner run, bumped the lead back to six, 26-20 with 2:26 to go. Ten seconds later, Haverhill’s Kyalee Burdier drained a three to pull the Hillies to within three, 26-23. Neither team scored the rest of the half.

Manning and Okananwa heated up in the third, combining for 14 of the Tanners 17 points as Peabody built a 46-33 lead.

The duo kept their feet on the gas in the fourth with both making a bunch of key free throws down the stretch to hold off the HIllies, which at one point cut the Tanner lead to four, 54-50 with 1:29 to go. Colleen Crotty sprung  Okananwa loose on a breakaway with a long inbounds baseball pass to make it 56-50, then Manning and Okananwa swished two free throws each to give the Tanners some breathing room at 60-53 with 9.9 seconds left. After Hillies’ freshman guard Kendall Eddy drained a monster three, Okananwa sealed the win with a pair of free throws after being intentionally fouled.

Haverhill came into the game riding a four-game win streak, putting up an average of 70 points during the stretch. Couple that with the fact that the Hillies scored 60 or more points in 14 of their regular season games, and McKeen knew the Tanners’ defense would be tested.

“We knew they play against mostly man-to-man defenses so we just had to shore up our three-two zone and work hard,” McKeen said. “They were very fast and some of our players just don’t match up to that, so we switched things up a little. The result was their press didn’t really affect us, so our defense tonight was phenomenal. Just a great effort by everyone on the team. They all stepped up”

With the win, the Tanners will face No. 3 Central Catholic, the defending North Division 1 champion (TBA).  The game will be the third straight tournament against a Merrimack Valley Conference opponent.

“We’ve already beaten two Merrimack Valley teams, and now it’s on to another one,” McKeen said. “I can tell you that beating the first two is just an incredible accomplishment for this team, certainly the best for everyone of them, including me.”

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