By: Jeremy Leveille
The Nashua North girls basketball team returns their 3 best players from a team that made the Final Four last year (Taylor Choate, Dezi Okorie and Sara Cordova). However the team the Titans beat last year in the quarterfinals also has a lot of talent coming back (Dover returns 6 of their top 7 players). Tuesday night in Nashua was the rematch, with Dover looking for revenge and North looking to prove that they're one of the teams to beat this season in Division I.
Early on Dover was the sharper team, as they took a 9-5 lead and after 1 quarter the Green Wave were on top 9-6. But then North went on a 14-0 run, forcing turnovers with their full court press and converting them into points. Dover was turning it over and when they did get looks they had a lot of shots in close barely rim out. North started running more, and the faster tempo was in their favor. Cordova (13 points) started hitting 3's, and Choate had a tremendous all-around game with a team-high 18 points to go with 7 rebounds, 6 steals and 5 assists. North led by double digits for much of the 2nd half, and went on to win 46-38.
"We started off a little slow" said Choate, who scored her 1,000th career point last season as a junior and is North's all-time leading scorer. "Coach stressed not having single digit scoring quarters, and then we started off tonight with only 6. We need to go hard from the beginning."
3 of North's top 7 players are only freshmen and 3 of their top 6 players are from the Choate family. In addition to Taylor (a senior), the others are 6th man Alana Choate (younger sister of Taylor and former Titan's guard Summer) and starting forward Micheala Choate (Taylor, Summer and Alana's cousin).
"I've been able to play with my older sister, my younger sister and my cousin" said Taylor Choate. "It's been a lot of fun playing with them."
Dover senior guard Katie Boyatsis started things off by banking in a runner followed by a put-back by Abby Cooke. Sophomore Isabel Dunning (10 points) got North on the board with a put-back of her own but Dover answered, as Mercedes McDermott hit a 15-footer off a kick-out by Boyatsis. Taylor Choate hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut Dover's lead to 6-5 but then Abby Tilton hit a pull-up 3-pointer to make it 9-5 Green Wave. Boyatsis had an impressive all-around game, dropping a game high 21 points while also collecting 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Tilton meanwhile chipped in with 11 points. Boyatsis and Tilton combined to score 32 of Dover's 38 points on the game.
"We have other girls who can score" said Dover head coach Dan Casey. "The shots just weren't falling tonight. Katie kept us in it, she hit some outside shots and took it inside as well."
Dunning made a nice blocked shot on 'D' and it was 9-6 Dover after 1 quarter. North came out with more energy in the 2nd quarter and also started to execute better.
"We need to be more patient than we were early on" said Nashua North head coach Ricky Oliver.
The Titans got 2 quick buckets right after the 2nd quarter began. Dunning made a good post move, spinning into the lane for the turnaround jumper. North set up their press, and Alana Choate immediately stole the ball. She passed it ahead to her sister Taylor for a layup. The pace of the game was much faster now, which favored North as opposed to a slower, methodical 1st quarter which favored Dover.
Alana Choate then buried an 18-footer off the catch, and then North got another steal with their press. Taylor Choate went hard to the rim before drawing a foul. Cordova then hit a high-arcing 3-pointer from the corner off the catch which barely even touched the net. Just seconds later North got yet another steal with their press, quickly getting the ball ahead to Taylor Choate who took it to the rim for a strong finish. That capped the 14-0 run for the Titans, making it 19-9 North and forcing Dover to call timeout.
"Once we started moving the ball we did better" said Taylor Choate. "Then Sara started hitting outside shots and that opened up the middle for us to drive."
Out of the timeout Dover finally ended their scoring drought, as Tilton dished it to Boyatsis and Dover successfully broke the North press for a layup. It was 19-11 North at halftime.
North pushed their lad back into double digits early in the 3rd quarter, as Cordova connected on another corner 3 off the catch. Dunning made another good move inside for 2, and it was 24-11 Titans. Taylor Choate converted a tough bucket inside, followed by a strong and-1 finish by Cordova.
Dover was battling to stay in it, as Boyatsis drilled a 3-pointer off the catch, and then finished strong for an and-1. Then it was Taylor Choate's turn, as the 5-foot-7 guard knifed her way to the rim for 2. Boyatsis answered right back with another strong move to the rim for 2 more. It was 32-23 North after 3 quarters.
There was no quit in the Green Wave, who had an uphill battle to climb but kept fighting. Boyatsis (a 4-year varsity starter) made another strong drive and finish. But then Dover wasn't able to get back on defense, and Taylor Choate got an uncontest transition layup to push the North lead back into double digits at 36-25 with 5:23 left in the 4th quarter.
Then Boyatsis drilled a 3-pointer, and then Dover got a quick steal which resulted in an and-1 finish by Tilton. 6 quick points for the Green Wave, who now only trailed 36-31 with 4:41 left in regulation. But unfortunately for Dover that is as close as they would get the rest of the way. Tilton missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and then on the other end Cordova connected on another 3-pointer which turned out to be a dagger.
"That was a 5 point swing" lamented Coach Casey. "We needed to do a better job of getting out on their shooters."
Taylor Choate and Dunning both had nice blocks late, and Micheala Choate was strong on the boards. Boyatsis hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer but North still came away with the 46-38 win.
North definitely looks like a top 5 team in D-I. The main concern for them is experience. Yes their 3 best players are back. Okorie and Cordova have been starting for 3 years now and Taylor Choate is a 4-year starter. But outside of those none of the other players have much varsity experience before this year and they have 5 freshmen on the roster. They relied mostly on a 6 player rotation so depth could be an issue, especially when playing against a team like BG or Londonderry. But there's no question this team has the speed and talent to make it back to the Final Four.
Dover meanwhile will be fun, they just need to do better against the press, getting back on defense and keeping up with teams when the pace of the game picks up. You have to like their senior leadership and experience, though. 4 seniors and 1 junior in the starting 5. They could definitely be one of the better teams in D-I this year.