This game was initially scheduled for 7 pm on Wednesday night. But with the pending snow storm tip off was moved up to 5. But Central's bus didn't arrive in Dover until after 5:00, and the game ended up starting until 5:30. With all of the confusion both teams were out of sync and took awhile to get going offensively, as Dover led 16-11 at halftime.
"We would have liked to have hit more of our shots in the 1st half" said Dover head coach Dan Casey. "We were ready to play at 5:00, but then had to wait around for awhile, and Central got right off the bus and didn't have much time to warm up."
In the 2nd half both teams finally started to find their rhythm, but Dover emerged as the dominant team. Senior point guard Allie Mahan hit a three-pointer, then grabbed a steal in the back court and made an easy layup on the other end as the Green wave opened up a 42-23 lead with 3:51 left in the 4th quarter. At that point the game was all but over, and the #7 seed Dover girls basketball team went on to defeat #10 seed Manchester Central 48-35 in the preliminary round of the Division I girls basketball playoffs.
Here's an interesting stat - Dover won this game going away despite the fact that 2 of their starters were playing in their first ever playoff game. Katie Boyatsis and Christine Zubkus have been 2 of the team's top players all year. But Boyatsis is only a freshman. And while Zubkus is a senior, this is the first year she came out for basketball since 8th grade.
"I don't think Christine picked up a basketball for 3 years" said Coach Casey. She'll be playing field hockey at Merrimack College and so she has been focused on that during high school and not on basketball. Tonight she played well on defense and that created offense."
Boyatsis is one of the top freshman players in the state, no question about it. The 5'8" wing player scored a game-high 14 points in this one. She made some strong drives to the rim and is a tough player to cover out on the perimeter and can also finish inside. One of the Green Wave's key players off the bench is also a freshman in 5'5" guard Abby Tilton.
Dover really only has 2 girls back this year who got regular minutes for them last season (Mahan and fellow senior Julia Wise) which again makes the success of this team even more impressive.
"They're just a group of really competitive kids" said Coach Casey. "A lot of them play 2 or 3 sports and I think that has helped us because whether it's in basketball or another sport these girls are always competing."
The Green wave really played well in the 2nd half of this game. They're a half court team but they actually had quite a bit of success when they pushed the tempo. Central was only down by 5 points early in the 3rd quarter and to try and make a run at it they started pressing Dover full court. Not only did the Green Wave break the press easily, but they scored off it as well. Wise (9 points) hit a foul line jumper, followed by a layup by Boyatsis in traffic (both baskets coming off the Central press) to put Dover on top 26-15 with 2:04 left in the 3rd quarter.
"They're very physical" said Manchester Central head coach Michael Wenners. "They have a lot of girls who can play, and they were tough on the boards. We allowed them to have too many second and third opportunities."
Central then got a three-pointer from senior guard Kathryn Barry to cut the lead back down to 8 at 26-18. But it was too late, as Dover already had the momentum and they weren't going to let go of it for the rest of the game. Zubkus continued to make plays on both ends of the floor, jumping the passing lanes, grabbing loose balls and slashing to the basket. Towards the end of the 3rd quarter the game really started to get physical, with bodies hitting the floor all over the place. The Green Wave led 30-21 heading to the final quarter, as Central continued to hang around behind solid play from players like Ashley Giampetruzzi, Katherine Johnson and Shannon O'Neil. Johnson however was held to just 2 points on the game.
"Julia Wise shut her down" said Mahan. "We know Katherine Johnson was their best scorer, and Julia played great defense on her."
Central was still hanging around in the beginning of the 4th quarter, but then Dover went on a 12-2 run to begin the 4th quarter to put the game out of reach. Zubkus continued to play well and hit a pull-up jumper on the break followed by a pair of free throws by Boyatsis.
Central had to make a run here or else they were done. They called a timeout and out of the timeout they really picked up their defensive intensity, pressuring the basketball and trying to force a turnover. Dover however was strong with the ball, had some good ball movement and then Wotton drilled a jumper off the catch from 18 feet away. That shot gave Dover a 36-21 lead.
Still just barely clinging to life O'Neil answered right back with her second long jumper with a foot on the three-point line. That's when Mahan took over, hitting the clutch three from the top of the key, then stealing the ball in the back court and making the easy layup on the other end. Just like that the lead was up to 19 for Dover at 42-23 with 3:51 left. The game was all but over at that point, as the Green Wave started to take their starters out and rest them for the next round.
Dover will make the short drive over to Hampton on Saturday night and take on #2 seed Winnacunnet in the quarterfinals. Winnacunnet is 18-1 on the season and is going for their 6th consecutive state title. However Dover played the Warriors very tough just a couple weeks ago in the regular season, falling 53-47.
"I think we surprised them in the first game with how hard we came out playing" said Mahan. "We want to beat Winnacunnet so bad, we've been waiting for this all year."
Winnacunnet and Bishop Guertin are hands down the top 2 girls teas in D-I, but Dover is the only other team to come within single digits of both teams. Not only that but they also beat #4 seed Manchester Memorial. If you ask me, Dover is better than any team in D-I right now except for BG and Winnacunnet. In other words Saturday night's quarterfinal game between the Green Wave and Warriors is really more like a semi-final game.
As for Central, most of their top players from this season were seniors, so they will likely be in rebuilding mode again next year. Johnson will be a senior and one of the state's better post players next winter, but with Giampetruzzi, O'Neil, Barry, Zoe Stamoulis and Jill Graff all graduating the Little Green will be losing 5 of their top 6 players.
Dover vs. Winnacunnet, Pinkerton vs. Memorial and Nashua North vs. Londonderry - should be 3 GREAT quarterfinal games on Saturday night in D-I girls hoops!