Saturday, January 18, 2014

Londonderry Outlasts BG

On Friday night it was a tough choice of which game to cover, with many appealing games on the schedule. But you simply cannot go wrong by picking a game where the 2 best girls basketball players in the state are going at it. That was the case in Londonderry, where Aliza Simpson led the home team Lancers against Jamie Sherburne and BG. These 2 future D-I college players have played against each other all growing up, and it is always a treat to see them compete against each other. And unless BG and Londonderry meet in the playoffs this will be the last time they go head to head (or if UNH and Niagara play in a non-conference game).

This was a hard fought game between 2 teams who could end up meeting again in the Final Four in March. The difference for Londonderry was their size advantage up front and the fact that overall on the game BG struggled shooting the basketball against the Lancers zone defense. Londonderry won this game 41-38, to improve to 6-0 on the season while BG falls to 6-2.

"We got good looks, but we just went cold on the shots we always hit" said Bishop Guertin head coach Jeremy Faulkner. "I think we'll make some noise come tournament time, I'd like to get another shot at them."

Simpson, who notched her 1,000th career point in a win over Merrimack last week, dropped a game-high 19 points. She missed a few shots that she normally makes, but came made some big plays down the stretch to lead her team to the win.

"It wasn't pretty at all, and me personally couldn't hit a shot" said Simpson. "Their defense was good, it made us take challenging shots. Our big players were able to get rebounds when we needed them, and BG couldn't score against our zone."

Londonderry played a 2-3 zone 'D' all game, rotating their bigs (Casey Evans, Brittany Roche, Tara Burke, Taylor Collins, Elisabeth Caron and Ashley Berube) in and out of the game, so at all times they had 3 kids in the game who were at least 5-foot-10. BG's bread and butter is having Sherburne slash to the rim and create for herself and others, as well as getting out in transition and making plays. But Londonderry's zone slowed the game down to prevent the BG transition game, and with their 3 bigs always in the game inside it prevented Sherburne's dribble penetration.

"I want to pressure, I want to man play man defense, I want to run, run, run" said Londonderry's legendary head coach John Fagulla, who is retiring from coaching at the end of this season. "But that plays right into what BG wants to do."

The Lancers jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, as Evans and Noelle Lambert scored inside, followed by Simpson hitting a wide open Evans in stride on the break for an easy layup. BG answered with a 6-0 run of their own though, as Sherburne hit a baseline jumper then after a quick steal Marie LaPlante hit Sherburne for a layup and then LaPlante picked up a loose ball inside and banked it in to tie up up 6-6.

From there the teams exchanged the lead, as Sherburne (team-high 16 points) hit a jumper from just inside the 3-point line to put BG up 10-8 and then Simpson answered right back with a 3-pointer as Londonderry re-takes the lead 11-10. After a Sherburne layup in traffic it was 12-11 G after 1 quarter as Sherburne came out strong with 8 points in the 1st quarter.

The teams kept going back-and-forth in the 2nd quarter. Evans (9 points and 8 rebounds) converts a strong put-back to tie it up 16-16. There did appear to be some nerves though, as both teams made quite a few unforced turnovers. 6-foot-1 freshman forward Abby Field made a strong move to the rim and finish to put BG back on top 19-18. Field had a tall order (pun intended) going up against all 6 of Londonderry's bigs but she definitely hung in there all game and battled, especially for a freshman. Then sophomore guard Jackie Luckhardt made a nice lob pass inside to Collins for a layup, and the Lancers took a 20-19 lead at halftime. The 1st half was dominated by tough defense, but at the same time both teams were also missing lots of easy shots and had many turnovers.

Londonderry's depth was also a factor, as the Lancers rotated 11 kids in and out of the lineup. That kind of depth is pretty impressive, especially considering junior sharpshooter Jenna Conroy is out with a knee injury and this team has also had 2 kids over the past 2 years transfer to Souhegan (Jaime King and Devon Hickey).

Neither team was able to hit shots in the 3rd quarter, especially BG. A pull-up 3-pointer by Simpson then an inside bucket by Berube it was 25-19 LHS and BG was forced to call timeout. Then Sherburne drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing against the Londonderry zone, BG really needed that! But just seconds later Evans scored inside, that was too easy! It was 28-22 Lancers headed to the 4th quarter.

Looking for an offensive spark, and searching for someone who could hit some shots, Coach Faulkner put sophomore guard Sara Sherburne in the lineup to start the 4th quarter. She immediately drilled a 3-pointer, but then Simpson answered back with a big time play, slicing through the whole Bg defense off the dribble and laying it in for 2. Then Paige Parkinson (playing just her 3rd game this season) hit a 3-pointer of her own followed quickly by a layup on the break by Jamie Sherburne. Just like that we were all tied up again, 30-30.

Again, Luckhardt game the Lancers a nice lift off the bench. She hustled hard after a loose ball, made a nice dish to Collins for a layup as Londonderry re-takes the lead 32-30. Then Simpson comes off a screen and hits an elbow jumper to make it 34-30. Simpson hit another pull-up, but then Jamie Sherburne answered with a 3-pointer and it was 36-35 Londonderry with just 3:26 remaining in regulation.

Burke converted a big put-back to put LHS up 38-35. The Londonderry gym had a playoff atmosphere, with the fans hanging on every play and every possession. BG had the ball down 38-35, but from that point on they went cold shooting the basketball. They got some good looks at threes but they weren't falling.

Now BG had to foul. Simpson however was the one player you don't want to put on the line. There was enough time left where BG didn't need to foul immediately. They had enough time where they could double team Simpson, force her to pass it and then foul somebody else. Instead Simpson gets fouled, goes to the line for a 1-and-1 and hits both free throws.

Again, BG needed a quick three but again they weren't falling. Again, Simpson gets fouled and this time she makes 1 of 2 FTs to make it 41-35 Lancers with only 10 seconds left. LaPlante banks in a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Londonderry wins 41-38.

As for Simpson and Sherburne, it was another great battle between these 2 star point guards. Which ones better? Well, let's just say they're both really good!

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