Monday, March 31, 2014

Granite Games Recap - D-I vs. D-II Girls All-Star Game

After all the years growing up that Bishop Guertin's Jamie Sherburne (D-I Niagara recruit) and Londonderry High's Aliza Simpson (D-I UNH recruit) have gone head-to-head on the basketball court, now fans would get the chance to see them play on the same team. Not only that, but playing with them on the Division I All-Stars at the Granite Games was Sandi Purcell (Alvirne), Brenna Blakslee (Salem) and Kayla Stacy (Pinkerton). Five outstanding point guards right there, it was possibly the best collection of NH back court talent on one team in a VERY long time. The biggest decision for head coach John Fagula was who to have run the point? Well, all five of them got their chance during the course of the game.

Plus you had star players in the front court, like Bedford's McKenzie Brown and Haley Driscoll and Melissa McLeod (Winnacunnet) who turned out to be the MVP with a game-high 19 points. Simply put, it was a stacked team for D-I.

With that being said, you have to give D-II head coach Steve Signor (Milford) and his players credit, because even going up against a heavily favored D-I squad they still kept it close all game. With 9:00 left in the 2nd half they only trailed 78-70, and only lost by 15, 98-83. Lebanon's dynamic duo of Heather King and Samantha MacDonald and Clairee Putnam (Windham) lead the way for the D-II All-Stars.

To start the game, Fagula went with Simpson and Sherburne both out there together, along with Purcell, Brown and McLeod. That's a scary starting 5! Brown made a strong move to the rim for 2, and then Sherburne made a nice dish to Purcell for a 3-pointer. Then McLeod started to heat up, with an and-1 finish inside then on the next trip down faced up from the perimeter before using an up-fake, drive and lefty finish.

Then the Putnam and MacDonald back court duo caught fire. Putnam hit a jumper, and then after an and-1 put-back by Blakslee it was MacDonald with a strong drive and finish. Cassidy Lalumiere (Goffstown) hit a 3 as D-II was definitely hang right in there, but then Driscoll converted back-to-back scores (one for an and-1) to answer back for D-I.

D-II kept hanging tough, as Cammie Formby-Lavertu (Souhegan) banked in a runner off an offensive rebound, Aleanna Clermont (Pembroke) finished a put-back and Jennifer Dupuis (Milford) hit a 3. D-I was still up, 32-23 though. Sherburne answered back with a smooth crossover dribble into a step-back jumper from the elbow.

King caught an inbounds pass and made a good move to the rim before hitting a floater, and on the next trip down the floor it was King again, this time showing the ability to run the floor well for a forward and finish on the break.

Then the shots really started to fall on both sides as Putnam hit a 3 but then McLeod answered right back with a 3 of her own. King then hit a 15-footer but again it was McLeod answering back with a 15-footer of her own. Emily Hickey (Salem) then hit a layup on the break, Driscoll made a good move to the rim for 2, and at halftime it was 55-38 D-I A--Stars.

At halftime Simpson was awarded the D-I Player of the Year as well as Miss NH Basketball, King was honored as D-II Player of the Year, Fagula Won D-I Coach of the Year and Signor received D-II Coach of the Year. Winning a state title, becoming NH's all-time coaching leader in wins and winning Coach of the Year - not a bad way for Fagula to go out! Winning the Jack Ford award for basketball academic and citizenship performance was Amanda Bickford (Salem) and Kaylin Samia (Kennett).

In the 2nd half the D-II All-Stars actually outscored D-I 45-43. Simpson hit Brown with a nice pass for 2, but then D-II went on a run. MacDonald swished a jumper from just inside the arc, then Putnam hit an 18-footer of her own before stealing the ball and making a quick layup. Then MacDonald led the break before dishing it to King for a strong finish. Then it was MacDonald again, with a steal and layup on the other end.

MacDonald dropped 16 points, more than any other guard in this game. I know it was an all-star game, but it was a statement game for MacDonald. Clearly she was on a mission. She hears all about players like Simpson, Sherburne, Purcell, Putnam and in this game she was saying to the state - what about me? Well, MacDonald showed she is definitely one of the top guards in the state.

Simpson continued to make great passes, with one assist going to Allison Yeaw (Keene) and another going to Brown. Then MacDonald continued to shine, leading the break, pushing it hard up the floor and taking it all the way to the rim for an and-1.

McLeod then answered with another jumper, this one with a foot on the 3-point line. McLeod was also making a statement. She made 2nd team all-state, but a case could definitely be made for her being on the first team. She was also on a mission in this game, and played as well as anyone in the gym. She is a match up nightmare. You simply don't see many 6-footers who are as quick and skilled as McLeod. She made a statement in this game and she was the MVP.

Tighe Loch (Portsmouth) answered with a jumper of her own with a foot on the line, but then Purcell came right back with a 3. Then it was Loch again, this time slashing to the rim for 2 before MacDonald again again made a highlight reel play. MacDonald drove past Purcell off the bounce (Purcell is lightning quick so that's saying a lot) for a strong finish.

You have to applaud these kids out there hustling for loose balls in an all-star game, and that's exactly what McLeod did, playing in front of her future college coach Karen Pinkos of SNHU. McLeod hustled for a loose ball, saving it before it went out of bounds. That directly led to a basket, as Sherburne got it and made a nice dish to a cutting Driscoll for 2.

Stacy and Purcell both hit 3-pointers to increase the D-I lead. But D-II kept battling, and after a 3-pointer by Dupuis the D-I lead was down to 8, 78-70. King made a strong put-back, Hickey answered with a 3. Then late in the game there was even less defense being played and the shots really started to fall. Yeaw hit a 3, then Brianna Hackett (Hollis-Brookline) connected from long range. Yeaw made an and-1 on the fast break, and D-I cruised to the win from there.

A few years ago I ran a preseason basketball showcase. Most of the kids were from the southern part of NH, but in one of the games all people around the gym were saying was, "wow, those girls from Lebanon can play!" They were talking about Moriah Morton and Trina Scheie. At the time it was just before their sophomore season at Lebanon, right before both players would take the state by storm. Fast forward to the 2014 Granite Games, and again the buzz around the gym was, "wow, those girls from Lebanon can play!" Only this time they were talking about King and MacDonald.

"We hung with them" said Coach Signor. "But they were just quicker so they beat us too many times on the break. Then every time we got close they hit a 3 to push the lead back up."

Final score, 98-83 with D-I coming out on top. Here are the rosters for both teams...

Division I All-Stars
Aliza Simpson (Londonderry)
Jamie Sherburne (Bishop Guertin)
McKenzie Brown (Bedford)
Haley Driscoll (Bedford)
Melissa McLeod (Winnacunnet)
Kayla Stacy (Pinkerton)
Brenna Blakslee (Salem)
Allison Yeaw (Keene)
Sandi Purcell (Alvirne
Emily Hickey (Salem)
Lizzy Meehan (Trinity)
Brittney Lambert (Alvirne)

Division II All-Stars
Clairee Putnam (Windham)
Heather King (Lebanon)
Samantha MacDonald (Lebanon)
Cassidy Lalumiere (Goffstown)
Cammie Formby-Lavertu (Souhegan)
Jennifer Dupuis (Milford)
Aleanna Clermont (Pembroke)
Brianna Hackett (Hollis-Brookline)
Tighe Loch (Portsmouth)
Mary Mullen (Merrimack Valley)
Jaime King (Souhegan)
Jess Nerz (Con-Val)

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