Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Memorial Girls Over Central in D-I Playoff Thriller

The following game recap comes from the man known simply as, 'Tuesday and Friday'

D-I Prelims: Manchester Memorial 47 Manchester Central 46
The great thing about a basketball game is some times it is one 32 minute game. Other times there can be 2 games within the one game or each quarter can be it's own game. Tonight there were 2 distinct basketball games at Memorial. The first game was the forst 3 quarters which Memorial controlled by leading 36-20 after 3. The second game was the 4th quarter. Central controlled this quarter by out-scoring Memorial 26-11, nearly pulling off a shocking upset at 1 Crusader Way.

In the 1st quarter Memorial looked like the #4 seed and Central looked like the #13 seed. Junior Amra Elezovic set the tone with some nice driving finishes to get Memorial's playoff season started on the right foot. Ashley Gendron joined in with some nice finishes in the paint also. Central seemed to be stuck in neutral, as many of their passes weren't sharp. Memorial forced quite a few turnovers in the 1st quarter. Cold shooting by Central didn't help. Memorial finished off the first frame by holding the ball for 40 seconds and finding Danielle Fletcher with a nice and-1 completion to give Memorial a 17-7 lead at the end of the opening stanza. The 1-2 combo of Elezovic and Gendron combined for 14 of Memorial's 1st period points.

Central continued their cold shooting in the 2nd quarter, but Memorial showed signs of the weather outside by going cold themselves. Both teams remained cold, and it was at the mid-way point of the 2nd quarter where Memorial really could've obtained a larger lead. But their sputtering offense denied them this chance.

The sputtering offense issue has reared its ugly head in previous games for Memorial this season. This was another time where it could've hurt them, but a Jack Quirk timeout and a nice set play with a give-and-go from Elezovic to Gendron for an and-1 gave Memorial its largest lead of the game at 23-13 with 1:55 to go in the 1st half. Neither team scored the rest of the 1st half as Memorial took the 10 point lead into halftime.

Ashley Gendron hit a quick 2 to start the 2nd half to increase Memorial's lead to 25-13. A Hartford basket with 5:00 to go in the 3rd made it 31-15. Central showed their first sign of life in a while in this game with a 5-0 run to cut the Crusader lead to 31 - 20. Gendron hit another And 1 to push the Memorial lead to 34-20 with 3 minutes to go in the 3rd. It looked like Coach Wenners would have to hire a private investigator to find some offense for the Little Green as the score was 36 - 20 at the end of the 3rd. Memorial was feeling good about themselves. There were a lot of Crusader smiles in and out of the huddle as the final buzzer was only 8 minutes away. At this point Lacroix was the only Central player scoring as she had 9.

Memorial started sputtering on offense again to start the 4th quarter.

"Sometimes, we forget what is successful on offense and it hurts us", Memorial head coach Jack Quirk said after the game. "We start taking questionable shots and make bad decisions offensively. Our margin for error is slim. When we make mental errors it really costs us."

As Memorial was making bad decisions on offense a funny thing happened to Central. They started finding some offense in Olivia Lacroix. 2 baskets by Lacroix with just under 4 minutes left in the game brought Central to within 10 at 41-31. Memorial started going ice cold from the free throw line and this gave Central more opportunities. A Katherine Johnson basket with 2:35 left made it 41-33.

A feeling of uneasiness was starting to envelop the Memorial faithful. Central hadn't been this close since mid way in the 2nd period. Elezovic missed the front end of a 1 and 1. A Giampetruzzi foul shot and a big three by Lauren Harvey with 47 seconds left made it 41-37. The Memorial uneasiness just went to very uncomfortable.

Gendron made 2 FTs with 38 seconds left to give Memorial breathing room at 43-37. Central comes down and with 30 seconds left Lacroix hits a near impossible 'Jerry West No Arc' 3 pointer at the top of the key to make it 43-40. A time out is called and the feeling on the Memorial sidelines is a palpable, near pain feeling. It is now a 1 possession game with A LOT OF TIME LEFT. Coach Wenners has to be feeling very good at this point for a possible stealing of a victory.

An Elezovic FT makes it 44-40 with 28 seconds left. The key play of the game then happened. With 18 seconds left Lacroix attempts a 3. She misses, but is fouled by Ashley Gendron. It is Gendron's 5th foul.

"At this point I really thought we had a chance to win the game or send it into OT" said Central head coach Mike Wenners. "With Gendron out and if it goes into OT I think we could win it."

Lacroix heartbreakingly misses all 3 freebies. 2 Elezovic FTs make it 46-40 with 15 seconds left. A Johnson and-1 cuts the lead to 46-43 with 4 seconds left. Memorial's Danielle Fletcher is fouled immediately. She hits one out of two double bonus FT's to give Memorial a 4 point lead at 47-43. Amazingly, senior Olivia Lacroix cans the last shot of her career with a 3 at the buzzer to give the game it's final score of 47-46.

There was a buzz among the Memorial faithful as in 'What the heck happened in the 4th quarter?' Jack Quirk maintained his team forgot what got them the lead in the 1st 3 quarters.

"We did not protect the ball in the 4th quarter" said Memorial assistant coach Mark Leonard. "The missed free throws killed us along with forced shots on offense. We gave Central too many second shots in the last 8 minutes. Our girls found out a playoff game is 32 minutes and not 24 minutes. This will serve as good motivation for our quarter final game with Dover on Saturday."

Memorial now moves on to play Dover in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Dover defeated Merrimack tonight 58-51.

"We didn't play our best game in losing to Dover in the regular season" said Coach Quirk. "We are looking forward to playing them."

Central meanwhile squad really had a good stretch where they put it all together.

"We were young this year and it showed" said Coach Wenners. "We return some good talent next year and we'll look forward to turning it around."

Junior Ari Dimou is out for the playoffs for Memorial. She suffered a concussion in the regular season game with Central 2 weeks ago.

"This is a big loss for us as it thins our already thin depth" said Quirk. "But I've been pleased with the way Danielle Fletcher has stepped in and produced with her additional playing time."

The Gendron-Elezovic combo combined for 33 of Memorial's 47 points. Central's Olivia Lacroix was the leading scorer of the game with 24 points, including 15 points in the furious 4th quarter comeback. I've always said there is nothing more dangerous in playoff basketball than a senior who doesn't want their career to end. Olivia Lacroix was living proof of that tonight. The Dover/Memorial quarterfinal game will take place on Saturday at 7 pm at Memorial. Dover won 50-44 at Memorial on February 1.

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