The Groveton High girls basketball team is an absolute powerhouse in Division IV. The defending champion Eagles have won 5 out of the last 6 state titles and they've won a whopping 16 championships dating back to 1988. Groveton had another strong team this year, going 17-1 during the regular season and once again making the Final Four under head coach Tim Haskins.
But this was not their year. Sunapee has a second-year coach and 2 of their best players are only freshmen, yet they jumped all over Groveton early, going up 18-5 in the 1st quarter. That run turned out to be the difference, as the rest of the game was pretty even. Senior guard Erika Waterman poured in a game-high 17 points, freshman guard Sydney Clark dropped 16, while freshman Katie Frederick and Anna Richardson blocked 8 shots apiece and Sunapee defeated Groveton 49-39 on Monday night at Plymouth State. With the win, the Lakers head to the D-IV finals where they will take on undefeated Hinsdale.
"We know that Groveton is very good at taking care of the ball" said Sunapee head coach Tim LaTorra. "So it was imperative that we got off to a good start. It's no secret that we want to get out and run, so the bigger court out here helps us.
Ironically, the score after 1 quarter in both semi-final games was 18-7. Hinsdale led Littleton 18-7 after 1 in the second game and Hinsdale won. In the first semi-final it was Sunapee who jumped out to the 18-7 lead after 1 quarter, and they too were victorious. Adding to the irony is the fact that in both semi-final games, not only was the score 18-7 after 1, but in both games the team that scored 18 in the 1st had one of their players hit three 3-pointers in the 1st quarter. For Hinsdale it was Skylar Bonnette and for Sunapee it was Erika Waterman. Both players are seniors and both are among the top players in D-IV girls basketball.
Sunapee and Hinsdale will meet in the championship game on Saturday. They played each other twice during the regular season, with Hinsdale winning both times. The Pacers won the first meeting 53-34 back in January, and less than 2 weeks ago Hinsdale again beat Sunapee, but time it was much closer (56-47). Hinsdale is 21-0, while Sunapee is 19-2 and their only 2 losses came to Hinsdale.
"We learned a lot from the last game vs. Hinsdale, it was a lot closer the second time" said Waterman. "I want another shot against Hinsdale so bad."
Unlike the Hinsdale vs. Littleton game, this one was much more competitive.
Both teams were cold offensively early on, as their appeared to be some nerves at the outset. 2 minutes went off the clock with neither team scoring. Then Sunapee changed that, as Maddy Fowler connected on a jumper from just inside the 3-point line. Groveton tied it up 2-2 on a fast break layup by senior guard Talia Bedell who then showed some nice hustle on defense by diving on the floor for a loose ball.
That's when Waterman started to heat up from the outside. The 5-foot-6 guard hit a 3-pointer to make it 5-2 Sunapee, and soon after that she hit another and it was 8-3 Lakers with 3:15 left in the 1st quarter. Right after that Waterman broke free and buried yet another 3-pointer - she was on fire! Waterman has a smooth, catch-and-shoot release, and Groveton was going to do a better job of closing out on her if they were going to have a chance in this game. It was now 11-3 Sunapee with 2:54 left in the 1st quarter, and Groveton called timeout.
"We got the ball inside first, and that opened up the outside" explained Waterman. "We knew what they were going to do with their 1-2-2 defense so we were ready for it. We also know they're more methodical with the ball and don't like to run, so we tried to push it when we got the rebound."
Soon the Lakers lead grew to 14-3, but then Bedell drilled a baseline jumper from 15 feet. Sunapee answered back, as Frederick and Fowler scored quick buckets and it was 18-5 Sunapee.
In the 2nd quarter the Lakers really started to push the ball in transition. They gt a defensive rebound and immediately made the outlet pass to start the break. Clark made an and-1 finish on the other end. Then Frederick made a nice block to prevent a layup. That started another Sunapee fast break. Waterman got the outlet pass and pushed it up the floor for a 2-on-1 opportunity. She dished it to Clark for another layup. Sunapee now led 23-9 with 5:15 left in the 1st quarter, it was their largest lead of the game.
Jenna Wheelock (7 points) helped get Groveton back in it, with a strong drive and and-1 finish. Sunapee answered right back though, as Richardson made a nice high-low feed to Frederick for a layup. Frederick nearly had a triple double with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 8 blocks - did I mention this 6-footer is only a freshman?
Then it was Richardson who made a pair of blocked shots. With Richardson at 5-foot-11 and Frederick at 6-foot, Sunapee has 2 very good shot blockers. That made it tough all game for Groveton to score inside. It was 27-17 Sunapee at halftime.
Groveton came out much sharper and with more energy in the 3rd quarter, storming back in the game. Wheelock amde another strong drive and and-1 finish. She missed the free throw, but Groveton got the offensive rebound, Becca Rogers lays it in to cap an 8-0 run by the Eagles and the Sunapee lead is now just 4, 27-23. Coach LaTorra called timeout to slow the momentum.
LaTorra must have said something right, as Sunapee went on a 8-0 run out of the timeout. Richardson scored, then Fowler made a nice pass to Frederick for a layup, and Clark made a layup off a nice cross-court pass by Waterman. The lead was back to double digits for Sunapee, 33-23 and now Groveton was forced to call timeout. Clark capped the 8-0 run by banking in a pull-up jumper from 15-feet. It was 35-23 Lakers after 3. Groveton was struggling to score, as they scored just 6 points in the 3rd quarter.
The Eagles again stormed back in the 4th. After another nice block by Richardson, Groveton went on a 7-0 run. Rogers hit a 15-footer, Sadie Conroy had an and-1 and then sophomore forward Abby Pelletier (team-high 13 points and 7 rebounds)scored inside to cap the 7-0 run and cut the Sunapee lead to 35-30 and force Coach LaTorra to call timeout.
Again, Sunapee answered the Groveton run to push the lead back up to double digits. Waterman drove inside and banked in a runner. Then Clark hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer off the catch from the left wing. That put Sunapee back up by double digits, 40-30 with 5:00 left. Hard to believe her and Frederick are only freshman!
"They both played in the Final Four for us last year as 8th graders" said Coach LaTorra. "That experience helped them tonight. Richardson has been blocking shots like that ever since I've been coaching her. Frederick has really come long this season."
Again though, Groveton refused to give up as they got back in it. Junior guard Alicia Lesperance hit a clutch 3-pointer from the right wing off the catch to cap a 7-0 Groveton run, and it was now 40-37 Sunapee with 3:25 left in regulation. It was now a 1 possession game for the first time since early in the 1st quarter.
However Sunapee closed the game on a 9-2 run. The Eagles went cold shooting over the last 3 minutes, and Sunapee made their free throws down the stretch to hold on for the 49-39 win.