Friday, December 31, 2010

North Girls Win Their Own Holiday Tournament

It's time to give the Nashua North girls basketball team some respect. They are a VERY underrated team, and senior guard Tori Sousa is a VERY underrated player. Well, they get their respect today. The Lady Titans showed today that they are a top 10 team in D-I and legit contenders for a 1st round home playoff game.

Sousa tallied 14 points, 6 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 assists, as North defeated Bishop Guertin 45-38 to capture the 2010 Nashua North Girls Holiday Basketball Tournament championship on New Year's Eve at Rivier College.

Here's the game recap, plus video highlights and a post-game interview with the player of the Game Tori Sousa.

1st Half Dominated by Lady Titans
North came out of the gate the better team, jumping out to a quick 9-2 lead and forcing Guertin head coach Kevin Gibbs to call a quick timeout. From there the Lady Titan's lead only grew, and in the 2nd quarter they had a built up a 19-3 cushion. Jillian Barbaro made a couple baskets late in the half for Guertin, but at halftime they still trailed 21-7.

What happened you ask? Why was a team that last Tuesday BARELY lost to D-I favorite Londonderry now getting blown out by a North team that wasn't even a preseason top 10 team? Well for one, North is better than I had originally thought. For two, BG was missing starting forward Jenny Fallon. But mostly, it was the fact that North played tenacious defense, both in the full court and half court. They got in the passing lanes, trapped the ball all over the court, and forced the Cardinals into 19 turnovers in the 1st half. The Lady Titans turned many of those turnovers into easy baskets on the other end. They also did a very nice job of containing BG star forward Meghan Green. Green was limited to just 3 points in the 1st half, as North denied the entry passes to her in the post, stealing or tipping away nearly ever pass the BG guards tried to make to her. And when Green did get the ball close to the basket she was quickly double teamed. Great game-plan and execution by North coach Ricky Oliver and his girls.

Along with Sousa, Oliver also got strong play from point guard Katelyn Roeser, forward Emily Boots, and wings Lauren Wingate and Paige Parkinson.

BG 2nd Half Comeback
Give Guertin credit for making a solid comeback in the 2nd half. They went in the locker room at the break and Coach Gibbs got them re-focused and motivated tome out hard in the 2nd half. They picked up their intensity on defense, making it very difficult for the Lady Titans to get good looks at the basket. And Green became an absolute force in the 2nd half to lead the way. BG was able to cut the North lead (which was as 16 points at one point) to just 6. With 1:43 left in the 3rd quarter sophomore guard Nikki Hayner drilled a three pointer and it was North 28 BG 22, making it a 19-9 Cardinals run.

The keys to the BG run was limiting their turnovers on offense, picking up their intensity on defense. And most importantly, getting the ball to Green in the low post. The 6'1" sophomore had 12 points and 7 rebounds in the 3rd quarter alone!

Guards Jamie Sherburne and Lauren Stelmash were also key to the Cardinal's run.

North Holds on For Win
Unfortunately for Guertin, when they cut the North lead to 28-22 that was as close as they would get the rest of the way. Thanks in large part to the strong play of Sousa, the Lady Titans were able to hold on for the win.

Cardinals May Have Lost, but Green was Dominant
Green had a tough 1st half, but you have to give her a ton of credit for the way she came out and simply dominated the 2nd half. She showed why she is the #1 ranked player in the Class of 2013 and is a legit D-I college prospect. Green ended up with a game-high 26 points and 18 rebounds. She was all over the boards all game, and was able to get good position in the post consistently, even when being guarded by a formidable defender in Boots.

"She's a game-changer" said Coach Oliver.

Sousa Did it All For North
Sousa hustled after loose balls, pulled down some big rebounds, handled the basketball very well against the tough defensive pressure that Sherburne provided and also hit some big free throws. Out of her 14 points, 12 of them came at the free throw line. Sousa doesn't get a lot of recognition, but she deserves it. This afternoon she showed that she is one of the tougher guards in Division I.

Final Thoughts
Before this game I actually thought BG won would easily. I was thinking BG vs. Alvirne would have been a better final. I was wrong though. Yes, Fallon was out for Guertin which hurt them. But North was also missing a key backup guard in sophomore Summer Choate who was out with an injury. And yes, BG did go deeper into their bench than they likely would have if this was a regular season game. But So did North. The Lady Titans played 10 girls, and BG played 9. So all in all I would say that North is DEFINITELY better than I originally thought. And Guertin is likely not quite as good as I thought.

Bottom line, in girls Division I, you have Winnacunnet and Londonderry at the top. Then you have 8 or 9 teams that are all in that next tier of teams who are all pretty good, evenly matched teams who will all be battling it our for the other 2 spots in the final four. And both BG and North are in that group.

Alvirne Cruises Past Portsmouth in 3rd Place Game
As far as I'm concerned, the 3rd place game of this tournament was already played on the tourney's opening night. Alvirne beat Souhegan by 4 in that contest in arguably the best game of this tournament. Portsmouth however, did not pose much of a challenge to Alvirne today, as the Broncos won easily, 53-33.

Alvirne was about by about 20 points for virtually the entire game. Once again, they were led by guards DJ Purcell (15 points), Katie Donovan (13 points) and freshman Sandi Purcell (8 points and 6 assists). Also playing well for the Broncos was senior forward Taylor Carbone. Ironically, DJ Purcell is the #5 ranked player in the Class of 2011, while her little sister Sandi is the #5 ranked player in the Class of 2014. Sandi is only 5'2", but it doesn't matter as she is a tough kid who plays the game hard and is a very well rounded player.

For Portsmouth they are still without one of their top players in senior guard Ali Beauregard who has an injured leg. She is expected to return to the lineup in the next week or 2. The Clippers struggled to keep up with Alvirne's speed and skill. Senior wing Susie French did play well for Portsmouth though, pouring in 11 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. Clippers forward Alicia Brown is also a player with lots of upside. She is 6'2" and only a sophomore. Brown's game still needs to develop more, but she did show some flashes of brilliance in this game, including a nice pass to an open teammate out of a double team which led to a layup.

Campbell Blows Out Merrimack in 5th Place Game
Campbell (Division III) beat Merrimack (Division I) 60-45 in the 5th place game. Truth be told, the score doesn't tell the whole story. Merrimack made a run at the very end to make it closer. But that was after Campbell had taken out all of their starters. When the Cougars took their starters out they were actually up 59-36.

Campbell's "Big 3" of Kristen Hrubowchak, Becca Arnone and Liz Pettis was simply too much for Merrimack to handle (they'll be too much for virtually every team in D-III to handle too). The Cougars also have some solid role players who compliment their 3 stars effectively.

For Merrimack, I was once again impressed by the play of senior Rachael Carter. The 5'9" guard is a very athletic player who can score in bunches and does virtually everything well on the basketball court. She kept playing hard all the way until the final buzzer, even with her team down by 15+ points.

All-Tourney Team and Tournament MVP

All-Tourney Team...
Rachael Carter - Merrimack
Deanna "DJ" Purcell - Alvirne
Katelyn Roeser - Nashua North
Liz Pettis - Campbell
Jamie Sherburne - Bishop Guertin
Faith Jenkins - Portsmouth

The Tournament's Co-MVP's...
Meghan Green - Bishop Guertin
Tori Sousa - Nashua North

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