It was 2 weeks ago tonight when the Bishop Guertin girls basketball team made a statement by beating Winnacunnet to end the Warrior's 84 game winning streak. After that game it looked like a 2 team race in girls Division I (BG and Winnacunnet). Well, tonight it was Manchester Memorial who made the statement.
They may have lost to BG but they showed they are just as good as them and if a shot or a loose ball here or there went their way we would all be calling the Crusaders the best girls team in the state right now.
"We had a bunch of shots just go in and out down the stretch" said Manchester Memorial head coach Jack Quirk. "Amra (Elezovic) went to the basket a couple times and could have had and-1's, but instead she goes to the line and makes 1 out of 2. If those are and-1's they're fouling us at the end instead of the other way around. We just didn't get the bounces at the end there."
You have to give the BG girls a lot of credit, though. They trailed by 10 points in the 2nd half and were down by 7 heading to the 4th quarter. But Megahn Green and Jamie Sherburne combined for 24 2nd half points, Nikki Hayner hit 2 HUGE outside shots late, Megan Kerutis is only a freshman but is already one of the best defenders in the state. And Bishop Guertin improved to 10-0 with a 47-44 win at Memorial, while the Crusaders are now 8-1.
The first half was all Memorial - they were able to slow it down, make it a half court game and force BG to play at their pace. BG wants to run and press, but Memorial didn't let them. They also held Green to just 2 points in the entire 1st half.
"They're a really good team" said Bishop Guertin head coach Scott Hazelton. "They stuck to their game plan. They spread us out on defense with their 5 guards and on the other end they crowded Meghan and made it tough for her to get shots."
Elezovic got the Crusaders off to a quick start, scoring 8 of her 15 points in the 1st quarter as Memorial took a 16-10 lead and after 1 they led 16-12. Not many girls who are 5'11" can handle the basketball and shoot it like her. Sher was taking it strong to the basket and making some tough shots. Elezovic finished with 13 rebounds in addition to her 15 points on the game.
"I know she's going to Umass Lowell (a Division II program) but Amra's a Division I player" said Coach Hazelton. "She's the single most valuable player to her team in the entire state. She does it all for them and I have a lot of respect for her."
Still, no basket for Elezovic came easy. It Kerutis, a 5'5" freshman guard who was given the task of defending Elezovic who is a 5'11" senior and possibly the state's best player. Yet Kerutis did not back down one bit, she is tough, fearless, a hustler and a scrapper. Kerutis was physical on defense, dove on the floor for loose balls, came up with some BIG offensive rebounds and made Elezovic work for everything she got.
"It was a tough challenge for Megan to go up against Amra" explained Hazelton. "I wanted to see if she would answer the call and she did. She just kept going out and kept battling out there."
On the other side Memorial has a star freshman as well. 5'6" guard Peace Kabari is possibly the most athletically gifted player in NH. Not only that but she plays very hard, crashes the boards and can also shoot it. She had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in tonight's game. Kabari and Kerutis are likely the 2 best freshmen players in the state.
"Peace is going to be a very special player" said Coach Quirk. "She's still so young and still learning the game. But by the end of the year she'll be getting 16 points a game for us."
Junior point guard Allie Hartford (15 points and 5 assists on the game) kept the momentum going for Memorial in the 2nd quarter, hitting a couple of nice pull-up jumpers in the mid-range area, followed by a three-pointer in the corner off a nice drive and kick out by Elezovic. That shot put the Crusaders up 26-16 - their largest lead of the game and they went into halftime up 26-18.
A put-back by Kabari early in the 3rd quarter once again made it a 10 point lead for Memorial at 30-20. And with the way Memorial was dictating the pace of the game, and making it more a half court affair a 10 point lead actually seemed more like 20.
However that's when BG was able to start playing their game - running and pressing. They went on an 8-0 run, including a great move by Sherburne as she drove to the basket from the corner, was met by 2 defenders but still went up with the short and finished a nifty reverse layup in traffic. Sherburne (pictured above) and Hartford battled each other all game at the point guard position - 2 very good players who both gave it everything they had out there.
"Sherburne's out to prove something" said Hazelton. "She always plays hard. Her, Kerutis and Piercy all make things happen and bring lots of energy."
Memorial was able to withstand the Guertin run, answering right back with a couple BIG baskets of their own. Right after a baseline jumper by Green cut the Memorial lead to 30-28, Crusaders senior guard Ari Dimou hit a big three-pointer. On the next trip down the floor her teammate Danielle Fletcher grabbed a tough offensive rebound and made an and-1 finish to push the Memorial lead back up to 35-28.
"Our kids played tough" said Coach Quirk. "Everybody's saying BG is the #1 team. Well if they're #1 then we have to be #1A after tonight."
Then came a play which would have ended up being a HUGE difference maker had Memorial been able to hold on for the win. Hartford attempted a three-pointer at the buzzer at the end of the 3rd quarter, missed the shot but Sherburne was called for a foul. She made 2 of the 3 shots and Memorial went to the 4th quarter up 37-30. BG ended up pulling out the win in the end but if they had lost that foul would have proved to be a costly one.
The Cardinals didn't let that foul faze them though, as they came out firing to start the 4th. They went on a 6-0 run, capped by a 15 foot jumper by Green off an inbounds pass where she showed a very soft shooting touch. That made it a 1 point game with still a LONG way to go.
BG then took the lead 40-39 on an and-1 finish inside by Green off a nice entry pass to the post by Hayner. BG's defense continued to tighten up, as they forced both Elezovic and Hartford to take tough shots inside, get fouled and have to earn their points at the line. Instead of possibly getting and-1 finishes for a possible 3 points, they both made 1 out of 2 at the line, making it a 41-40 lead for Memorial.
That's when Hayner really stepped up big for Guertin. The junior wing player hit back-to-back outside shots, one was a three and was a long 2 where she had a foot on the line. And just in the matter of seconds it went from Memorial being up 1 to BG being up by 4 - that's a HUGE turnaround, especially when there's only 1:30 left in the game.
"Nikki's a great shooter, very reliable" said Green, who ended up with 16 points and 10 rebounds while Hayner had 10 points. "The shots just weren't falling in the 1st half, but we just kept on going. We passed the ball around better in the 2nd half and got more open shots."
After 2 free throws by Hartford, Memorial was now down 45-43. Then they forced a turnover and got the ball back with just over 1 minute left. Then came another one of those drives to the basket by Memorial where they got fouled and missed the shot, so instead of an and-1 they had to try and make 2 FT's. Elezovic had a chance to tie the game up at 45-45 if she made both FT's, but she only made 1 of 2.
So Memorial was down 45-44 with about 25 seconds left. They had to foul, but they only had 4 team fouls so they still had to foul BG 3 times before they would go to the line. They should have known this and fouled BG right away, but instead too much time went off the clock. By the time Memorial was able to foul enough times to send BG to the line there was only 4.8 seconds remaining.
Sherburne (12 points on the game) went to the line and made both of her free throws - clutch. So the Crusaders had one last chance to try and tie the game, but they would have to go the length of the floor, only had 4.8 seconds and had to try and hit a three to force overtime. Elezovic got the ball and drove up the floor looking for a shot. The Cardinals played good defense though, forcing her to take a shot that was not only difficult but it was inside the arc so even if she made her buzzer-beating attempt it would have only been worth 2 points so BG would have won either way. The shot was no good, and Guertin wins it 47-44 in a thrilling comeback victory.
BG remains perfect on the season in Hazelton's first year at the helm. They have now played all 3 of the other teams expected to be title contenders in D-I. They crushed Londonderry and they beat both Winnacunnet and Memorial in tough, hard fought games. They still have to go to Hampton and play Winnacunnet later in the year, but you would have to consider BG the favorites to win the title right now. That being said, Memorial and Winnacunnet are not far behind at all. It should be a fun race. And who knows, if Londonderry can figure some things out they could have a shot to make it a 4 team race instead of 3. The Lancers get a shot to prove themselves on Friday night when they play Winnacunnet. BG meanwhile has a chance to win back-to-back titles starting this year. Right now they're playing better than anybody in D-I, and next season they return their top 6 players plus they get Paige Parkinson joining the fold after having to sit this season out.