By: Jeremy Leveille
"Size-wise we matched up well with them, and we knew we were a deeper team than them" said Milford High girls basketball coach Steve Signor following his team's 56-45 win over Portsmouth on Thursday night. "So we wanted to pound it inside, get to the FT and get some of their key girls in foul trouble."
That was Milford's game plan going in, and that's exactly what they did. The Spartans got the ball inside time and time again, they attempted a whopping 35 foul shots and they got Portsmouth's two best players (Abby Salvadore and Phoebe Collins) to foul out. And as a result they went on the road and got the win, which was a big one with regards to Division II playoff seeding since both teams were 9-1 coming in to this game.
Milford practically lived at the foul line in this game, going 21/35 from the charity stripe. It wasn't just them however, as Portsmouth was 16/22 from the line. That's right, these teams combined for 57 free throw attempts! The whistle was being blown on seemingly every play, and seemingly every time a kid went to the rim they were going to the line after. This really slowed the pace of the game down and caused it to have no real flow or rhythm to it. What do I attribute all of the fouls too? Well, it was a combination of the officials calling the game too tight with the fact that both teams were struggling to defend a player going up for a shot without fouling them.
It was just one of those games. Still, the fact is these are two of the top teams in D-II, and both have a shot at making it to the Final Four next month. So the fact that Milford went on the road and beat Portsmouth by double digits (the Spartans led by as many as 16) is very impressive.
Milford went on a 21-4 run in the 2nd quarter and that was the difference. They were trailing 12-9 after 1, then the Spartans opened the 2nd quarter with a 9-0 run. Just like in the 1st quarter, the parade to the foul line continued in the 2nd. Milford junior forward Rebecca Cleary (12 points and 9 rebounds) got to the line right away. She made the first shot but missed the second. The Spartans got the offensive rebound, and freshman guard Erin McGuire (7 points) went up with the put-back and she got to the line. Then senior wing Jennifer Dupuis (14 points) hit a 3-pointer to put Milford up 15-12, Cleary connected on a foul line jumper and after a FT for Milford it was 18-12 Spartans and the 9-0 run was complete.
Portsmouth finally ended the run as freshman guard Libby Underwood grabbed the ball from 3/4 court, pushed it hard up the floor before hitting a smooth pull-up jumper from 15 feet. Milford continued their run though, as Brianna Hoffman buried a 3-pointer to put the Spartans up 26-16 with 1:37 left in the half. Finally the pace was starting to pick up, as McGuire made a nice steal, Milford pushed it on the break but then Heather Durand (another freshman) hustled back to make a nice blocked shot. However Milford was crashing the offensive glass and using their size, as McGuire converted a put-back and Cleary hit a shot in the lane off a dish by Dupuis. hat completed the 21-4 run, and Milford now had a 30-16 lead. It was 30-17 Spartans at halftime.
Portsmouth came out firing in the 3rd quarter, trying to get back in it. Senior guard Tighe Loche and Salvador hit back to back jumpers, then Salvador hit a leaner while showing a soft shooting touch to cut the Milford lead to 32-23. Dupuis answered for the Spartans with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, nothing but net! Again, the pace started to pick back up, as Portsmouth senior Hannah Stevens hit a foul line jumper and-1 (a player was fouled while shooting a jump shot at least 3 times in this game).
Later Stevens made back-to-back hoops (she had 7 of her 9 points in the 3rd quarter), as the Clippers crept within 6 at 36-30 with 3:00 left in the 3rd. Milford didn't waver though, as Adelle Pitsas (14 points) and McGuire both made strong drives and finishes to give the Spartans a 40-30 lead after 3.
Again, Portsmouth came out strong to try and make a comeback. Salvador (11 points) drilled a 3 off a baseline out of bounds play then soon after that Durand (9 points) made a hard push on the break and athletic and-1 finish. Portsmouth was within 4 at 43-39.
Give Portsmouth credit for getting back in the game, but from that point on Milford made the plays necessary to hold on for the win. Pitsas was big the stretch, as the junior point guard had back-to-back clutch baskets, then made a a good pass for an assist on an and-1 finish by Cleary after breaking the Portsmouth full court press. The and-1 for Cleary was the dagger, as it put the Spartans up 51-39 with just 1:03 left in the game.
"During one of the free throws at the end when we were only up by 5 I pulled Adelle over here and said I need you to take over the game and she did. She hit some big shots when we needed them."
Soon after that Salvadore and Collins fouled out, and Portsmouth was forced to desperately foul to stop the clock. Underwood hit a 3 at the buzzer but it was too little too late, as Milford wins 56-45.
In the 1st quarter (besides the game having no flow since there were 17 attempted FTs), Collins had 6 points and Salvadore hit a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left. The Clippers led 12-9 after one.
Coach Signor deserves a lot of credit for how he has turned around the Milford High girls basketball team. They struggled for many years but last year Signor coached them to the Final Four. Yes, it definitely helped that he had Dina Pitsas. But she graduated last year and this is once again a team that is a legit Final Four contender.
"They have bought it in" said Signor. "They don't complain when they see a four hour practice on the schedule. They watch film and they practice hard. They are always prepared, so there's no surprises when they get out on the court."