Coaches always talk about the importance of playing a full game - four quarters of quality basketball. On Friday night in the D-II quarterfinals the Windham Jaguars did just that. They played tough defense all game, and got timely scoring from Clairee Putnam (game-high 18 points), Bernadette Connors (11 points), Kelsey Schiebel (10 points) and Bri Angelini (6 points).
The Jaguars got off to a hot start, with an 11-0 run early in the game. During that stretch they were forcing turnovers and hitting shots on the other end. They jumped on the Pythons early, and although Pelham battled hard all game to try and come back they were never able to get the lead under 7.
"We knew our guards were stronger" said Windham senior Kelsey Schiebel. "So we knew we had to pressure them on defense, not let them get it into the post and get out on their shooters."
Holding any team to just 36 points is impressive, especially a team like Pelham who has weapons like Becca DeBaldo and Hannah Paitchel. DeBaldo was tough driving to the rim, and Paitchel lit it up from the outside in the 2nd half, with three 3-pointers.
But it wasn't enough. Just when Pelham cut the lead down to 23-15 in the 3rd quarter with a leaner in traffic by Lauren Anderson, Angelini went inside for a couple of quick buckets. Then the scoring really picked up on both sides, and the pace of the game also picked up which made it really fun to watch in that 3rd quarter. The two teams were matching each other shot for shot, as Connors and Putnam hit threes, and for Pelham Debaldo hit a shot inside and Paitchell drilled a three.
Unfortunately for Pelham, they were down by 10 and they needed to make a run rather than trading baskets. That run never happened though, and that is a credit to the play of Windham. They are a very good team and it should come as a surprise to nobody that they are back in the Final Four.
Paitchel was really heating up from the outside, to once again cut the Windham lead to 10 at 33-23. But then Connors cut to the basket and freshman wing Amanda Carey dished it over to her for a layup. DeBaldo made a tough drive and finish to cut it to 35-27.
Windham played tight, pressure defense all game. They forced Pelham to turn it over 10 times in the 1st quarter alone.
"Bernadette is the heart and soul of our defense" said Windham head coach Joe Mason. "This year we put her in the post and her scoring has gone down. But she has been rebounding, getting people to collapse on her and doing everything else."
Carey also played well off the bench. She didn't score but drew two charges in the 1st half. I don't know if I've ever seen a freshman take 2 charges in one half before, especially in a quarterfinal game!
Late 3rd and early 4th quarter Putnam once again asserted herself, driving it hard to the rim (she is very quick off the dribble and has a good handle). She got to the rim at will with some nifty dribble-drive moves, hit her free throws and Kelsey Schiebel also hit a big 3-pointer in the 4th.
The difference in the game though really was that 11-0 run Windham went on in the 4th quarter. They came out hitting on all cylinders and Pelham just took too long to get going. Kelsey Schiebel got the run started with a floater in the lane followed by a quick 3-pointer. Then her twin sister Amanda Schiebel hit a three ball of her own. Then Putnam made a steal and got it over to Kelsey Schiebel for a layup.
The Final Four for D-II girls is set. The top 4 seeds have all made it, so it will be #1 Lebanon vs. #4 Milford, and #2 Portsmouth vs. #3 Windham. The games will be on Monday night at SNHU.
"Our first year we came in we got to the quarterfinals and last year we got to the semis" explained Schiebel, who is being recruited to play next year by Endicott, Suffolk, Keene St. and Roger Williams. "But this year we have a fire in our belly, we need to finish it."
The Windham girls basketball program is a tremendous story. In their 3 years as a varsity program they have made the quarterfinals, the semi-finals and now they are back in the semis. Most pprograms take at least a few years to get going, but not them.
"It speaks volumes to the dedication of the players in this program" said Windham head coach Joe Mason. "Ever player knows their role and they do the little things. It was a tough loss last year in the semis, and over the summer we talked a lot about how to get better."