Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Windham Girls Win Playoff Game in 1st Varsity Season

Gotta love those 8 vs. 9 games. You never know what to expect. You always get 2 evenly matched teams, and both teams know that it could go either way so they really go at it hard. That's exactly what happened on Tuesday night at the Stone Gymnasium in Portsmouth.

#8 seed Portsmouth went 12-6 in the regular season. Tonight they hosted #9 seed Windham (11-7). Portsmouth was at home and if they had senior guard Ali Beauregard all year they would have been a higher seed. So they had to be considered the definite favorite. Even though Windham did just beat Portsmouth last week 57-44, The Clippers rested their starters quite a bit in that game.

But one thing is for sure. The Windham Jaguars girls basketball team did NOT play like a team in its first varsity season. And they did NOT play like a team with ZERO seniors on its roster. They went on the road and beat a good Portsmouth team 60-56 in the preliminary round of the Division II tournament.

Windham Led Nearly Wire-to-Wire
"You have to give Windham all the credit in the world" said Portsmouth head coach Eric Chasse. "They're a good, young, scrappy team and they beat us twice in a row. We had a game plan and didn't execute it. They had a game plan and they did execute it."

Early on this game was a little sloppy. Seemed like there were some nerves on both sides, and the defenses were outplaying the offenses. Susie French then started to heat up from the outside. The 5'10" senior drilled not 1 but 4 three-pointers in the 1st half. She had a game-high 24 points, and 15 of them came in the 1st half.

"Susie was very good, we couldn't stop her" said Windham head coach Joe Mason. "If she hadn't fouled out if could have been a different game."

Despite the hot shooting (and tough defense) of French, Windham still led for virtually the whole 1st half. French hit a 3 early in the 2nd quarter which gave Portsmouth a 15-14 lead, but then the Jaguars went on a 9-0 run to take a 23-15 lead. Windham was getting strong team play, but the run was ignited by freshman guard Clairee Putnam who hit a pair of threes (8 of her 12 points came in 1st half).

Junior Kerry White also provided the Jaguars with strong inside play. The 5'11" forward tallied a team-high 21 points and 12 rebounds. She battled with French all game in the post and on the perimeter, in what was a very fun match-up to watch.

"Our team is not about 1 or 2 players" said Coach Mason. "We have 10 girls who all work hard everyday. They're a good group of kids, and they're hungry to win."

This wasn't an easy win by any means, however. Right after Windham extended their lead to 8 in the 2nd quarter, Portsmouth senior guard Lauren Nevin netted a three ball (Nevin hit 2 threes and they both came from the right corner). Then Beauregard went to the bench with 3 fouls, but French hit another three for the Clippers and just like that they only trailed 27-25.

Windham answered back with a nifty play. Junior forward Ashley Adamson made 1 of 2 free throws, and on the second shot where she missed it French grabbed the rebound. Adamson stuck with the play though and stole the ball right back from French. Adamson then dished the ball over to White, who laid it in off the glass. Portsmouth senior guard Cielle Collins made a turnaround jumper off the backboard, and at halftime Windham led 30-27.

In the 3rd quarter, the Jaguars once again built their lead back up. 5'1" sophomore guard Kelsey Schiebel made a terrific drive to the basket, finishing against the much taller French. Schiebel showed a nice burst of speed and was fearless going to the basket on the play and on others during the game.

White then did a nice job of getting good position near the basket on French en route to 2 more points. After another inside basket by White, it was 38-29 Windham about halfway through the 3rd quarter. The Jaguars had their largest lead of the game, and thy were playing with a lot of energy. Thy were also getting strong play from 5'9" sophomore wing Bernadette Connors (8 points), sophomore guard Amanda Schiebel (hit a big three from about 5 feet behind the line) and Brianna Angelini (freshman who gave solid minutes off bench).

Portsmouth Refused to Go Away Though
Although 2 of the Clippers top scorers, Beauregard and junior Markey Flewelling, got off to tough starts, French kept them in the game. Beauregard then started to heat up in the 2nd half. She was getting good looks in the 1st half, the just wasn't getting those shots inside to drop. In the 2nd half they started to fall for her. Junior forward Faith Jenkins was also playing well for the Clippers, who refused to give up despite going down 38-29 in the 3rd quarter.

Jenkins (8 points) converted a nice and-1 play inside. And Windham also started to have some problems with the Portsmouth full court press. Nevin then hit her second three of the game and the Windham lead was down to 3, 41-38 with 1:26 left in the 3rd.

Then came a tough break for the Jaguars. Connors made what looked like a fantastic drive and and-1 finish with her left hand, making a very difficult shot off the glass. It looked like a pretty obvious and-1 play, but instead the official called an offensive foul on Connors.

"That was a tough one, but it all evens out" said Mason. "The officials called it both ways. I actually think the officiating all season has been very good."

Kelsey Schiebel then answered the Portsmouth run with a three-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer, and after 3 it was Windham 46 Portsmouth 39.

Once again the Clippers came storming back in the 4th. They were playing in front of their home crowd, and French, Beauregard and Nevin are all seniors who were playing possibly their last game. They weren't going down without a fight.

Kelsey Schiebel and Beauregard both had nice drives and finishes inside for their respective teams to begin the 4th. Beauregard then made another nice drive and finish, as she started to find a rhythm after having tough luck in the 1st 3 quarters. After a layup on the break by Nevin, the Windham lead was cut to 49-47 with 5:20 left in regulation.

The young Jaguars kept fighting back as well. Putnam made a very nice play, grabbing a loose ball away from Beauregard and going coast-to-coast, finishing with the left hand with Beauregard right there guarding her (Putnam does NOT play like a freshman). That gave Windham a 52-47 lead. But then Portsmouth came right back, with French and Flewelling both getting themselves to the line. Flewelling missed her second shot, but French grabbed the offensive rebound and laid it in to tie the game up at 54-54.

With the game all tied up, Adamson and Kelsey Schiebel both missed good looks inside. Flewelling then injured her knee while going for the rebound. She had to leave the game, and a substitute had to come in and shoot the free throws (Windham as in the double bonus). Junior guard Kelly MacDonald made both foul shots to give the Clippers the 56-54 lead. You could really feel the intensity in the gym!

FT's Were Big for Jaguars
"We work on our free throws a lot in practice" said Coach Mason.

Well it showed. In the last minute of the game Windham went 6/6 from the charity stripe to seal the win. Even more impressive is that either a freshman (Putnam) or sophomore (Kelsey Schiebel) made 4 of those 6 shots. For the game, Windham shot 19/26 on their foul shots. That's 73%, not bad for rotation which is made up of 2 juniors, 3 sophomores and 2 freshmen!

After Portsmouth took a 56-54 lead with 1:32 left to play, Putnam then drained 2 straight free throws to tie it up at 56-56. Kelsey Schiebel then made 2 in a row to put Windham back on top 58-56. White made 2 more freebies for good measure at the end for the 60-56 final.

Statement Win for a Young Program
"We have a lot of talent in Windham" said White, who along with Putnam plays for the NE Crusaders AAU program which Joe Mason also coaches for. "This was a great win for us. We have a good team, and we really push each other. People definitely overlook us, and I love proving them wrong."

In just their first year as a varsity program, Windham is now 12-7 and is headed to the D-II quarterfinals where they will play at top seeded Souhegan. While all of the other top teams in the division will be graduating key seniors, Windham will return their entire roster next season. That's a scary thought for the rest of D-II girls basketball.

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