On Thursday night in Londonderry it was a highly anticipated showdown between 10-3 Alvirne and 9-4 Londonderry. But unfortunately this game did not live up to its billing. The Lancers started the game on a 15-0 run, increased their lead to 26-4 with 2:00 left in the 1st quarter and cruised to the win from there with the outcome of the game never in doubt.
Simply put, Londonderry was hitting on all cylinders in that 1st quarter. Senior wing Katherine Dzenis hit a 3-pointer about 10 seconds after the opening tip. About 8 seconds after that Alvirne turned the ball over and junior point guard Aliza Simpson (game-high 22 points and 9 assists) scored on a layup. That's how the run got started, and Alvirne wasn't able to stop the run until they were down by 20.
"We lost to Pinkerton and Salem, games which we should have won" said Simpson, who holds scholarship offers from both New Hampshire and Holy Cross. "So during pregame we just said that we had to settle down and get off to a good start. We need to hit our shots early in games to get the momentum, and we did that tonight."
Simpson was pushing the ball quickly up the floor and either hitting pull-up jumpers or finding open teammates for shots. Dzenis hit another 3-pointer, then made a good block on Alvirne junior guard Tori LaRoche. Casey Evans-Driscoll and Taylor Collins were dominating in the paint, Jaime King was playing a strong all-around game (making the extra pass and playing tough 'D') and Jordan Marrett and Elisabeth Caron were playing well in supporting roles. It was a well oiled machine.
"We started playing with more energy and more confidence" said Londonderry head coach John Fagula. "What is amazing about Aliza is that she can play at that speed all the time, make those plays, have 9 assists and only 1 turnover and she never seems to even get tired."
Simpson had 12 of her 22 points in the 1st quarter. Junior guard Veronica Moceri finally got the Broncos on the board with a strong drive to the rim and finish. That made it 15-2 Lancers with 3:35 left in the opening quarter. Sandi Purcell scored a couple of buckets late in the quarter, but the damage was done and Alvirne still trailed 28-8 after 1.
In Alvirne's defense, they were playing shorthanded. Junior wing Brittney Lambert (averaging 10 points per game and leading the team in rebounds) has been out for the past 5 weeks with an ankle injury.
"That's a big loss" said Alvirne head coach Steve Tracy. "We're hoping to have her back next week vs. Concord. In the 1st quarter we forced a lot, and tried to do things individually. They killed us in the 1st quarter, but after that we played them about even."
It was 68-43 Londonderry when the Lancers pulled their starters out with 3:19 remaining in the game. So Coach Tracy is right, after the 1st quarter it was pretty much an even game. Purcell hit back-to-back threes at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, and late in the 2nd quarter she went coast-to-coast for a great drive and finish in transition. Moceri and sophomore Kaycee Carbone also played well. Alvirne actually outscored Londonderry 13-10 in the 2nd quarter.
"I have to give Kaycee some credit" said Coach Tracy. "Since Brittney has been out she has been our leading rebounder. She doesn't have as much size but she has done a great job on the boards for us."
Still, this game was dominated by Londonderry, who returns just about everybody from a team that went to the finals last year. The Lancers were bigger and a step quicker than Alvirne. Also, with all of the Broncos' injuries they were forced to bring up a number of JV players to play for them.
Londonderry also showed good ball movement in this game. Simpson made a great dish to Evans-Driscoll early in the 2nd quarter. Then Marrett made the extra pass, which again led to a layup by Evans-Driscoll (13 points and 10 rebounds). Then King drilled a 3-pointer, and seconds later came up with a steal which led to a quick layup by Marrett and a 43-18 lead for Coach Fagula's squad.
As the game went on, Evans-Driscoll and Collins (11 points and 7 rebounds) dominated inside more and more. Simpson made another great pass over to Evans-Driscoll for a layup in the 3rd quarter, and in the 4th quarter Collins made a pair of layups as well as King. The pace of the game picked up, and both teams were moving the ball well. Leanne Winans (Alvirne's only senior) converted a couple of layups and Moceri also scored inside, as both teams traded buckets. Like I said, other than that 1st quarter it was a pretty even game.
Londonderry will now look to build off this momentum to hopefully make another run deep into the tournament. And once again, Aliza Simpson showed that she is as good as any player in the state. It is always fun watching her and Purcell go at it. Both are exceptional players. Purcell is only 5-foot-2 but is lightning quick, she plays as hard and with as much heart as anybody. I doubt neither coach would trade their point guard for anybody.