The Winnacunnet High girls basketball team had won 5 straight Division I (Class L) basketball championships and 77 consecutive games going into this season. This year's team was the preseason favorite to win a 6th straight title, as they returned for 4 of their top 6 players including preseason D-I Player of the Year Kirsten O'Neil and they also had 8 seniors on the team who all grew up playing together. During the season they went 17-1, splitting games with BG who also went 17-1.
In the first semi-final game on Wednesday night they took on #3 seed Londonderry. The Lancers were decided underdogs, due to the fact that they start 2 sophomores and a freshman, they only have 1 senior on the roster, they graduated their entire starting lineup from last season and they lost to Winnacunnet 60-43 back on January 27. The Warriors won that game over Londonderry and they hadn't lost to anyone since then. So in their semi-final match up it would be another easy win for Winnacunnet, right? Wrong.
This Londonderry team might be young, but they're hungry. And there's no question they have gotten A LOT better since losing to both Winnacunnet and Bishop Guertin by 17+ points early in the season. The Lancers shot 15/20 (75%) from the free throw line while Winnacunnet shot just 8/21 (38%) from the charity stripe. Londonderry also forced 20 turnovers, which is very uncharacteristic of the Warriors. The result was a BIG upset victory for Londonderry, who defeated Winnacunnet 51-42 in a rematch of last year's title game.
Oh yeah, and here's another key stat. Londonderry's bench saw 28 combined minutes of playing time in this game. How much did Winnacunnet play their bench? Just 5 minutes, and that would have been even less but O'Neil fouled out with 3:30 left in the 4th quarter. Did that mean the Lancer starters had fresher legs in the 2nd half? Possibly. It definitely could have been a factor, especially on a bigger court.
"Our depth has gotten better over the course of the season" said Londonderry's legendary head coach John Fagula. "During the first 1/3 of the season we had to figure out what everyone's role would be. Once we figured that out we started playing better."
Londonderry played hard, they played fast and they were very aggressive on defense. They didn't allow Winnacunnet to get many good looks and when they got them they were missing them. O'Neil is the catalyst for the Warriors, she's the one who makes them go. But she never got going offensively, as she went just 3/11 from the floor, only scored 7 points for the game and had 11 turnovers. Anna Sullivan shot just 4/14 from the foul line and Aviana Morrison scored a game-high 17 points but shot just 3/18 from 3-point range. In the 2nd half they were playing hard and trying to make a comeback but just kept missing layups and free throws. It just was not their night.
"We weren't really in sync on offense" said Winnacunnet's legendary head coach Ed Beattie. "And that's a credit to Londonderry's aggressiveness. They were a half step quicker than us and a little more intense."
Londonderry had a balanced offensive attack, with sophomore point guard Aliza Simpson, Lindsey Bolduc and Jaime King all scoring 11 points each. Simpson also had 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals. She frustrated O'Neil on defense and did a great job of controlling the tempo and making good decisions with the basketball on offense. Bolduc also had 16 rebounds, which is extremely impressive considering she's only 5'6"! Bolduc is the only senior on the Lancer's roster.
Also playing well for Londonderry was Katherine Dzenis, Elisabeth Caron and freshman forward Casey Evans-Driscoll.
One bright spot for Winnacunnet was junior forward Carly Gould, who was very active on both ends of the floor. Gould finished with 10 points, 14 rebounds and 4 steals.