In the Division I girls basketball preliminary round, the best game of the night was #10 seed Alvirne playing at #7 seed Winnacunnet. Not only were these 2 evenly matched teams, but you had 2 of the top players in the state on display, with 6-foot forward Melissa MacLeod for Winnacunnet and Alvirne point guard Sandi Purcell. They're both great players but they're also both seniors so unfortunately one of them would be playing her final high school game.
That player was Purcell. It has been a pleasure to cover Purcell for the past four years. Very few players I have seen (if any) have played the game harder and with more passion than her. Purcell will make some college coach very happy.
MacLeod however was the player of the game in this one, as Winnacunnet improved to 13-6 on the season, beating Alvirne for the 2nd time in the last 10 days to advance to the D-I quarterfinals where they will take on #2 seed Londonderry. MacLeod, who will continue her basketball career at SNHU, poured in a game-high 26 points to go with 13 rebounds.
Alvirne had a chance to win it at the end. They had the ball, trailing 48-47 with 56 seconds left. The Broncos used good ball movement and player movement to try and create a look but Winnacunnet was playing tough 'D'. Alvirne called timeout with 23.8 seconds left. Again, they moved the ball around but Winnacunnet wouldn't let them get inside. Alvirne again called timeout, but now there was under 10 seconds remaining. They got the ball in to Purcell, who dribbled in the back court and was being guarded by Warriors defensive specialist Shauna Morrison. Purcell threw the ball to teammate Kaycee Carbone in the high post. It was surprising to see the pass go to Carbone, since she is primarily used for her rebounding and defense. But it was a give-and-go play, as Purcell cut to the basket after making the pass and Carbone handed the ball back to her. Purcell then went in towards the bucket to put a shot up as time was running out. The shot was no good, Winnacunnet came up with the rebound and Morrison got fouled with 1.5 seconds left. She made the first free throw to make it 49-47 but missed the second. Alvirne senior Brittney Lambert grabbed the rebound but her last second desperation heave fell far short of the rim. The Warriors win 49-47.
Now what exactly happened on Purcell's last second shot attempt? Was she blocked or was she fouled? Well folks, that is up for debate. I didn't have a great angle to see it, but Winnacunnet senior Kelly Dolan definitely at least partially blocked the shot. Did she also foul Purcell? Again, tough to tell from my angle. Alvirne fans were saying it was a foul, Winnacunnet supporters claimed that the play was clean. What I do know is this - it was a tough way for a great player and a great kid (Purcell) to end her career.
"That play worked perfectly too" lamented Alvirne head coach Steve Tracy. "It's too bad. It was a great game between 2 evenly matched teams."
In addition to Purcell, Alvirne has 3 other seniors in their starting lineup with the others being Veronica Moceri, Lambert and Tori LaRoche. All 4 of them have been playing together for a long time.
"I'm going to miss them a lot" said Coach Tracy. "We've been through a lot together."
What is most impressive about the win for Winnacunnet is not only that they got the stop there at the end, but the fact that they had to play defense for 56 seconds and not let up a single point.
"We had a foul to give which helped" explained Winnacunnet head coach Cassie Turcotte. "Then after we used our last foul we focused on moving our feet and not fouling. We also switched to man-to-man defense, communicated well and also put Katie Valcich in for Meg Knollmeyer to get quicker."
The Warriors have been going with a bigger lineup lately, with MacLeod and Knollmeyer in the game together (both are 6-foot) plus Dolan who is 5-foot-9. With those 3 all in the game together Winnacunnet definitely had a size advantage up front on Alvirne.
"Kelly has a strong body and plays well down low" said MacLeod, who is a four-year varsity player. "I am a guard/forward mix, and depending on who is guarding me I can go inside or outside. Having all 3 of us in gives us lots of options in the high post and low post."
MacLeod (game-high 26 points), Knollmeyer (10 points) and Dolan (10 points) combined to score 46 of Winnacunnet's 49 points for the game.
"We were missing one of our bigs this game" said Tracy, referring to freshman forward Melissa Sweeney. "She is a tough defender and rebounder. It would have made a big difference for us inside if we had her tonight."
This was a close, back-and-forth battle all game long. Things got especially tense in the 4th quarter. Dolan made a nice high-low feed to MacLeod for a layup to put the Warriors up 42-40. Moceri answered right back for Alvirne, drilling a 3-pointer as the Broncos went back on top 43-42. Dolan countered with a quick layup on the other end, and Winnacunnet went back ahead 44-43. MacLeod then hit a jumper from the elbow to make it 46-43 Warriors.
Alvirne again buried a clutch 3-pointer though, and this time it was Purcell (team-high 12 points). Her 3 ball tied it up 46-46 with 4:15 remaining.
Moceri goes to the line for 2, with 1:34 left and her team trailing 48-46. She makes 1 out of 2, and it's 48-47 Winnacunnet. The Warriors got a couple of good looks inside but were unable to convert. Alvirne gets the ball back, still trailing 48-47 with 56 seconds left in the 4th quarter and you know how the rest went.
"The last 2 minutes of that game were the longest 2 minutes of my life" said a relieved Coach Turcotte. "Kudos to my team for staying poised. Credit goes to our 3 captains - Mimi, Kelly and Shauna. It is so nice to have them in the huddle during timeouts. I'll say my piece and then all 3 of them chip in as well. Mimi has a very mature view of the game. She not only portrays leadership, but she reads the floor well and is an intellectual player out there."
In the 1st quarter Alvirne jumped on top first on a 3 by LaRoche followed by a quick baseline drive and finish in traffic by Purcell. Winnacunnet countered with a put-back by Knollmeyer, followed by layup by Dolan. Dolan followed up her own missed shot for 2 more, then MacLeod hit a 15-footer on the break. It was now 12-7 Winnacunnet - the largest lead they'd have all game.
Alvirne answered back though with a 8-0 run. Lambert made a nice steal in the back court and dished it over to Purcell for a layup. Then Lambert drove inside, hitting a runner across the lane and then Purcell took a charge on 'D'. Then Purcell made a nice pass cross court over to freshman Amanda Wetmore for a layup to cap the run and put the Broncos up 15-12. MacLeod connected on a 3-pointer from the corner right before the buzzer, and it was all tied up 15-15 after 1.
The MacLeod 3 started an 9-2 run which continued into the 2nd quarter. Knollmeyer kept it going with a layup off another nice high-low feed, and then MacLeod capped the run with a put-back to make it 21-17 Warriors.
Lambert answered back with a strong and-1 finish to cut the Winnacunnet lead to 21-21 with 3:06 left in the 1st half. The Warriors were stepping up their pressure on defense, but Alvirne has solid guard play and handled the pressure well. Lambert zipped a pass over to a cutting LaRoche who drove inside and hit a floater to cut the WHS lead to 23-22.
Alvirne then re-takes the lead as Purcell pushes it hard on the break, blowing by a pair of defenders. She got in the lane, took the contact and made an and-1 finish to put the Broncos back in the lead 27-25. That was your halftime score.
More back-and-forth action in the 3rd. LaRoche started the 2nd half just like she started the 1st, with a 3-pointer. After her shot Moceri drove baseline and finished inside as Alvirne took their largest lead of the game, 32-25.
Winnacunnet then responded with an 8-0 run. Knollmeyer made a nice post move and lefty finish, followed by 2 more points for Dolan on a slash to the rim. Then MacLeod and junior guard Molly Britton made quick hoops and Winnacunnet went back on top 33-32.
Freshman Nicole Teague answered for Alvirne with a baseline jumper from 15-feet and it was 34-33 Broncos. Alvirne kept the momentum going, as Moceri made a steal and layup, followed quickly by another Alvirne steal and then this time it was Purcell with the layup. It was now 38-38 Broncos with 2:50 left in the 3rd quarter.
Again though, Winnacunnet answered back. MacLeod hit a long jumper (had foot on 3-point line), then just seconds later she drove to the rim and finished inside to tie it up 38-38. The Warriors get the ball back with 5.5 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. Again MacLeod delivered, as she drove with her left hand towards the rim for an and-1 finish. It was 40-38 Winnacunnet after 3.
Winnacunnet will travel to Londonderry on Saturday night in the D-I quarterfinals where they'll take on Aliza Simpson and the Lancers. During the regular season meeting between Londonderry and Winnacunnet the Lancers rolled to a 76-44 win.
"We're a different team now than we were back then" proclaimed Coach Turcotte. "That was only our first game, while all the other teams had already played some multiple games, as well as played in holiday tournaments but we did not so we were still getting used to playing together. Simpson is the best player in the state, but we'll be ready fr them."