Thursday, January 20, 2011

Alvirne Girls Avoid Upset, Come Back to Beat Timberlane

The Alvirne girls basketball team just keeps on winning. Timberlane, who has struggled mightily of late, gave them quite a scare. But Katie Donovan (game-high 22 points) and Deanna "DJ" Purcell (18 points, 16 in the 2nd half) were just too much for the Owls to handle.

They trailed 33-28 early in the 4th quarter, but in the end Alvirne pulled out a 48-43 win over a scrappy Timberlane team.

Here's the game's complete recap, plus video highlights and a post-game interview with Co-Players of the Game DJ Purcell and Katie Donovan.

Game Was Surprisingly Close
This wasn't supposed to be a close game. Alvirne was supposed to win this one easily. The Broncos were at home, and riding a 3 game winning streak (7 in a row counting the holiday tournament). In that span they beat Souhegan, they beat Trinity and they beat Bishop Guertin by 20. And they were playing a struggling Timberlane team which had lost 4 in a row and 5 of their last 6 going into this game, including a loss to Manchester Central (2-6) and a 53-29 loss to Merrimack.

So you have to give Timberlane credit for battling in there and nearly defeating a heavily favored Alvirne team. They nearly pulled off the upset, as the Owls had a lead in the 4th quarter, and with 2 minutes were only down by 1.

"Timberlane always plays us tough" said Alvirne coach Steve Tracy. "They have a good starting 5, and plus they're the only team to beat Memorial so far. On any given night anyone can be beaten this season. So we weren't taking them lightly."

Helping the Owls to stay in the game was the effort on the glass. They out-rebounded Alvirne, with junior forward Emily Rose coming up with 10 boards on the game. Also, Alvirne was pressing Timberlane full court quite a bit, but to the Owl's credit they did a nice job against the press, only turning it over about twice all game against the press. However the press was effective in wearing down a Timberlane team that is not very deep and plays its 5 starters big minutes. Senior wing Katie Matatall kept the Owls in it in the 1st half offensively, scoring of her team-high 11 points.

Thrilling Finish
This was a slow, half court game with both teams missing a lot of open shots and turning the ball over.

"It was ugly, but we found a way to win even on a night when we didn't play our best" said Coach Tracy."

But the action really picked up with about 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, which ended with a real flourish. The intensity continued into the 4th quarter, with both teams really getting after it and the lead changing hands at least 6 or 7 times.

Timberlane was up 23-17 in the 3rd quarter (their largest lead of the game), when Alvirne started to push the tempo and create some momentum. Broncos freshman point guard Sandi Purcell made a nice drive and finish, tying the game up at 24-24. Soon thereafter Timberlane junior guard Rebecca MacDougall hit a clutch three-pointer to put Timberlane back up 30-26. Just seconds later Donovan hit a mid-range jump shot with 2 seconds left in the quarter, and it was Timberlane on top 30-28 after 3.

Then at the beginning of the 4th, Owls point guard Page Travaglini hit a three from the top of the key to give Timberlane a 33-28 lead. It was a BIG shot by Travaglini, just like MacDougall hit a big one at the end of the 3rd. It looked like the Owls had a real chance at pulling off the upset.

But unfortunately for Timberlane, they didn't have DJ Purcell on their team. Purcell was the best player on the floor, and in the 2nd half she played like it. After only playing about 5 minutes in the 1st half due to foul trouble, the 5'10" senior guard scored 16 of her 18 points in the 2nd half to lead Alvirne to the win. Donovan was the more consistent player tonight, and kept the Broncos in it in the 1st half. But in the 2nd half (especially the 4th quarter) Purcell took over.

In the span of only about a minute, Purcell drilled a three, then made a nice pass down court to Donovan on the break for a lay-up. Then after a nice drive and finish on the baseline by MacDougall (11 points) for Timberlane, Purcell answered right back with a lay-up in transition of her own, and just like that the Timberlane 5 point lead had disappeared. It was all tied up 35-35 with 4:46 left in regulation.

Purcell just continued to impress from there, however. She hit another three-pointer, then right after that she made a nice drive and finish inside to give Alvirne the lead.

"I thought we made good decisions down the stretch" said Tracy. "Donovan and Purcell were big for us late as well."

Late in the game it was DJ making the big plays for Alvirne, and for Timberlane it was senior Meghan Short who was stepping up. Short (8 points, 6 of them in 2nd half) made a nice move inside and laid it in to cut the Alvirne lead to 40-39. Short had a couple of clutch baskets late in the game for the Owls, and also did a nice job defensively all game. She took some charges, and also made a big blocked shot on Sandi Purcell after Purcell made a nice steal around half court.

Sandi played excellent defense all game long. She's only a freshman, and Travaglini is s senior. But the 2 point guards were matched up all game, and Purcell made Travaglini's life very uncomfortable with her intense pressure defense. Both players have plenty of toughness and went at each other hard all game.

Broncos senior guard/forward Taylor Carbone then stepped outside and drilled a long 2 out of a timeout. It looked like a three-pointer but only 2 points went up on the scoreboard and it was 42-39 Alvirne. In a close, back-and-forth game like this, something like that could have ended up making a BIG difference. Fortunately for the Broncos it didn't end up costing them the game.

Alvirne freshman guard Veronica Moceri (who gave them some valuable minutes off the bench) hit 3 clutch foul shots down the stretch to seal the win.

The Bottom Line
In the latest NH Notebook Girls Basketball Power Rankings, Alvirne is the 5th best team in Division I. For the first 18 minutes of tonight's game they definitely did not play like it. But in the last 10 minutes they did indeed play like a top 5 team. Fortunately for them, that was enough to earn the win against a Timberlane squad who was struggling heading into this game but battled hard for all 32 minutes nonetheless. Alvirne is still a top 5 team in D-I, DJ Purcell is still a top 5 player in the Class of 2011, Sandi Purcell is still a top 5 freshman in the state, and the Purcell/Donovan duo is still one of the most dangerous scoring duos in NH. hat being said we learned tonight that they are definitely beatable if you are able to slow down the pace of the game (it doesn't hurt if you're able to get Purcell in foul trouble either!).

As for Timberlane, this is really a tough loss for them. They were so close to winning this thing, and getting a "W" would have been huge for their team confidence coming off their recent struggles. A win tonight would have given them wins against Memorial, Dover and Alvirne - all top 8 teams in D-I. It really would have put them in a better position in the standings and given them some momentum for the rest of their season. This is a group of girls that has been playing together for a long time, and all of their key players are juniors or seniors. Still, they haven't experienced a lot of winning so their psyche could be fragile. A win here would have given them hope. Now they have 6 losses already and a tough road ahead.

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