Man, what a game that was. Tuesday night in Hampton it was round 2 between Bishop Guertin and Winnacunnet. And guess what, it was just as good if not better than round 1.
The first meeting was back on January 10, with BG winning it 74-66 to end Winnacunnet's 84 game winning streak. But this time it was senior night for the Warriors, and they avenged that loss with a 58-49 victory. They were the 2 best games of the season so far, it's too bad BG and Winnacunnet can't just play each other 18 times!
You just knew it was going to be a special evening, when the JV game goes to double-overtime! In fact it was the second consecutive week that the Winnacunnet JV team wen to double-OT, as they played 2 extra periods last Tuesday night vs. Nashua North. It was a jam packed gym at Winnacunnet High - as many people as you are going to see for a regular season girls game.
"This is what it's supposed to be all about" said Winnacunnet head coach Ed Beattie, who has coached the Warriors to 5 consecutive state titles. "It was a tournament atmosphere, and our seniors played like they should in the tournament."
The senior who really had an outstanding game was point guard Kirsten O'Neil - the best 2-sport athlete in NH. O'Neil (who will be playing soccer in college at Division I San Diego State) wreaked havoc on both ends of the floor. She had a game-high 23 points to go with 5 steals. O'Neil is so quick off the dribble and fearless when driving to the basket. She routinely got to the free throw line, where she scored 9 of her 23 points. O'Neil also hit a couple of BIG three-pointers. The first one capped off a 12-0 run by Winnacunnet as they Warriors took a commanding 23-10 lead with 2:00 left in the 1st quarter. Then she hit another big three early in the 2nd quarter, just seconds after teammate Aviana Morrison (8 points) hit a three of her own. That gave the Warriors their largest lead of the game.
"We watched the tape from the first time we played them and it really got us motivated" said O'Neil, who is one of the state's top players in both soccer and basketball. "Also we really didn't want to lose on senior night. Both teams really fought hard, but we just had it set in our minds that we didn't want to lose it. Also the fact that the JV game went into double-overtime made the atmosphere even better, it felt like a championship game."
Over the last 6 years the trademark of Winnacunnet girls basketball has been their press. They force turnovers with it, and then get quick, easy baskets off of them. With this formula they typically are able to go on at least one big run every game, whether it's a 12-2 run, a 7-0 run, etc. Well in this game they went on 2 runs in the 1st quarter alone! They went on a 7-0 run early in the period, with all 3 baskets coming off steals they got with their press. They took an 11-5 lead with 5:39 left in the opening stanza, forcing BG head coach Scott Hazelton to call a timeout.
BG was able to cut the lead back to 11-10 though as Guertin sophomore point guard Jamie Sherburne (team-high 21 points) made a nice and-1 finish followed by a drive and dish to junior forward Meghan Green (17 points and 12 rebounds).
Then came the 12-0 run by Winnacunnet. Again, BG was turning the ball over a lot (something they did NOT do very often in the first meeting between these teams) and the Warriors were also getting lots of second chance points due to offensive rebounds and being quicker to the loose balls.
O'Neil was on fire, scoring 12 of her 23 points in the 1st quarter alone. But she also got lots of help from her teammates, as all 5 starters for Winnacunnet played great in this game (especially in the 1st quarter). All 5 starters scored at least 8 points. They got strong play inside from forwards Carly Gould (11 points) and Jacqui Lewis (8 points), Morrison is a scrappy 2 guard who scored all 8 of her points in the 1st half. And Sullivan (8 points) did a little bit of everything to help the team - she ran some point, posted up smaller guards on offense, grabbed crucial offensive rebounds and came up with 4 steals defensively.
The player that Sullivan was mainly trying to post up was BG's freshman guard Megan Kerutis. Kerutis (who is one of the top freshmen in the state) is a tough, fearless competitor who doesn't back down from anyone. Still, even she has a limit for how much physical play she can take and how many times she can get knocked to the floor. Kerutis fouled out with about 1:30 left in the 4th quarter, and on the play where she got called for her 5th foul she got knocked down pretty good. As she came towards the Cardinal's bench she looked bewildered, and possibly showing symptoms of a concussion. After the game Kerutis had to be looked at by a trainer.
"She took a hard fall" said Coach Hazelton. "I'm not sure what her status is, I'll have to see what the doctor says."
So Winnacunent had those 2 big runs, then 6-0 run early in the 2nd quarter. They really came out of the gate strong, but you have to give BG credit because they jsut kept on fighting back and answering those runs.
After the initial 7-0 run early by Winnacunnet, BG answered with 5 straight points. After the 12-0 run in the 1st quarter by the Warriors, Guertin again answered back, and ended the quarter on a 6-0 run. They made it an 8-0 run after Green made a layup to start the 2nd quarter and cut the Winnacunnet lead to 23-18. That's when Morrison and O'Neil hit their back-to-back threes to push the lead back up to 29-18 with 5:45 left in the 1st half.
"We try to go on those runs" said Coach Beattie. "We like them to be longer runs, and in this game we were able to do that. It helped that we already played them so we were able to make some adjustments and get in the right spots defensively."
The scoring once again picked up late in the 2nd quarter and the action was up and down the floor, fast-break basketball. Morrison got inside for a bucket, then BG raced back down the court and before Winnacunnet was able to set up their defense sophomore guard Gigi Piercy already scored inside for BG. Then after another layup by Green the Warriors lead was down to 32-28. Then Morrison answered right back with another three-pointer with under a minute left in the half, as the 'Beattie Bunch' went into halftime up 35-28.
Sherburne played well in the 1st half, but she really got it going in the 3rd quarter. She had 3 very nice drives and finishes early in the 3rd, slashing her her through the Winnacunnet defense on her ay to the basket where she was able to finish over the Warrior's bigs Gould and Lewis. It was a great match up with Sherburne and O'Neil. They are the 2 point guards for these teams and they were both really on their game tonight.
"I feel like we're a lot a like" said O'Neil. "We have similar skills, so it was a challenge."
BG continued to fight hard to try and make a comeback. After another layup by Green it was 40-37 Winnacunnet. Then senior forward Cassie Dauer made a couple big plays, drawing a charge on defense and then grabbing an offensive rebound and hitting a pair of free throws on offense to once again cut the Warrior's lead to 3 at 44-41.
The last minute of the 3rd quarter was fast and furious. There was back and forth action, with both squads really getting after it on defense, deflecting passes and diving for loose balls. O'Neil was able to break free for an open jumper in close with 2 seconds left in the quarter, and Winnacunnet led 46-41 heading to the 4th. Both Sherburne and O'Neil had 17 points through 3 quarters.
Green really came out strong to start the 4th, hitting back-to-back foul line jumpers. She was not only hitting shots, but grabbing boards and if the outlet man wasn't open she showed her versatility by leading the break herself. Sherburne made a nice blocked shot from behind on O'Neil to prevent a layup, leading to the second jumper on the other end by Green. That cut the Winnacunnet lead to 46-45, the smallest lead they had since the opening minutes of the game.
Green was having a strong game, but in the game earlier in the year between these teams when Guertin won, Green posted a monster game with 37 points and 27 rebounds.
"Meghan Green is a good player" said Beattie. "We tried to take away her looks as much as we could, though. Still, what hurt us was we missed too many layups."
After having their lead cut to just 1 point, Winnacunnet answered back with a 6-0 run and now led 52-45 with 3:56 left to play. Lewis and Gould both hit big jump shots, followed by a pair of foul shots by Sullivan as part of the run.
BG then cut the lead down to 52-47, so they were still right there and there was plenty of time left. However that is when a technical foul on Guertin swung the momentum COMPLETELY over the Warriors. What happened was BG was doing some offense/defense substitutions late in the game, so on every trip down the floor they were subbing kids in and out. Nicole Hayner fouled out though with 5:02 left to play, and so their rotation got a little messed up. They ended up with 2 girls coming towards the bench and only 1 player going in - leaving just 4 players on the court. There was mass confusion on the BG sideline. Dauer realized they were short players so she ran back out onto the court but play had already resumed. Since they were playing with an extra player out there Winnacunnet was able to get a steal, O'Neil went to the basket and got fouled on the shot. The officials then called a technical foul on BG for substituting a player in after the ball had been inbounded. So O'Neil was able to shoot 4 straight free throws (she made 3 of them) and plays Winnacunnet got the ball back.
"I thought I was only going to shoot 2 free throws" said O'Neil. I wasn't sure what happened."
So Winnacunent got the ball back after O'Neil made 3 FT's, then she went to the basket and again got fouled (Kerutis fouls out on the play). This time she made both shots, and just like that the lead was 57-47 for the Warriors. So before all of the confusion with he substitutions, BG had the ball and was down by 5. They had a chance to cut the lead to 3 or even 2 with a basket. Instead they had just 4 players out there so they turned it over, O'Neil got to the line, add in a technical and it's a 10 point game - that's a 7 point turnaround, folks. Talk about a HUGE turn of events.
Winnacunnet was able to hold on from there for the 58-49 final. Both teams are now 16-1 on the season.
"It was a great game, like 2 heavyweights going at it" said Hazelton. "Our kids competed, but they were giving us the outside shot and they weren't falling. They had some threes during their runs which hurt. It was a great night for NH basketball, with this atmosphere. Someone had to lose and that was us."
So now both Winnacunnet and BG have both beat the while playing at home. Unless there is a HUGE upset in the tournament it will be these same 2 teams in the D-I title game in a few weeks. It will be the rubber match, and on a neutral court at SNHU. Then we'll know who is REALLY the better team. It could be the most anticipated girls basketball final in a LONG time.