Portsmouth and Oyster River. One of the biggest rivalries in the state. They already played once during the regular season, with Oyster River coming out on top. The Bobcats came into this game 5-0 (including holiday tourney wins) and with another win over the Clippers they could cement their place as a legit contender in D-II girls this season. Portsmouth meanwhile was looking to avenge their early season loss to the Bobcats and take home the tournament championship.
What was the difference on Monday night? Portsmouth went on a 12-2 run in the 2nd quarter (8 of those 12 points were scored by Libby Underwood) and the Clippers ended the game on a 12-0 run. As a result Portsmouth defeated Oyster River 53-38 in Durham. Underwood scored 15 points (all in 1st half) to go with 5 steals, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Underwood was named the tournaments's Most Valuable Player.
"It was all about the team" said Underwood, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard. "We had good intensity and all worked together to get shots. Everyone stepped up, especially players off the bench. We came out hard and got better every game."
The Clippers get the win despite a huge game by Oyster River junior forward Sara Messler, who poured in a game-high 27 points plus 11 rebounds.
"Sara has been a workhorse for us" said Oyster River head coach Dave Burrows. "She rebounded and has improved on defense."
Freshman wing Sadie Shore (10 points) was left wide open for a 3-pointer from the right wing. Then Izzy Pafford hit a runner to make it 41-29 with 3:42 left in the 3rd quarter.
Just when it looked like Portsmouth was about to run away with it, the Bobcats went on a 9-0 run over the next few minutes, with all 9 points being scored by Messler. First she converted a strong put-back. Then Portsmouth lost one of their better players, Heather Durand, to fouls trouble as she picked up her 4th foul with 1:29 left in the 3rd quarter.
With Durand out of the game Messler took the ball to the rim. She finished inside through contact, and then early in the 4th quarter Oyster River put on a full court press which forced Portsmouth to turn it over a couple times. The Bobcats converted those turnovers into quick points, as Messler hit a pair of free throws, then off another steal Messler banked in a shot inside. That cut the Clippers lead to 41-38 with still a long way to go - 6:26 left in the 4th quarter.
One key during the run for the Bobcats was keeping Underwood off the scoreboard. She poured in 15 points in the 1st half but had 0 in the 2nd half.
"In the 1st half Libby was lights out" said Coach Burrows. "Our goal was to limit her and Durand and make their other players beat us. In the 2nd half Caitlyn Miller did a great job on defense to lock down Libby."
Still, even with Underwood being held scoreless in the 2nd half the Clippers were still able to close the game out on a 12-0 run after Oyster River had pulled to within 3. Shore made a good dribble-drive move spinning into the lane before hitting a 15-footer off the bounce. Then Shore hustled for a loose ball near mid-court, knocking it over to Durand who went in for an easy layup. That put the Clippers on top 47-38 with 2:15 left in regulation. The Bobcats offense continued to go cold, and Durand (14 points) made a layup at the buzzer to account for the 53-38 final.
"We had too many turnovers and need to make more shots" lamented Burrows.
Miller and Messler both hit 3's early on as Oyster River took a 6-2 lead in the 1st quarter. Underwood answered with a 3-pointer of her own, showing nice form and balance on her shot. Durand then hit a long 2-pointer (had a foot on the line) as Portsmouth took their first lead, 7-6 with 3:30 left in the 1st quarter.
Messler banked in a runner to put the Bobcats back on top 8-7, but then Ally Swanson hit a layup as Portsmouth continued to look to push the ball and fast-break after a made basket. Durand hit a 15-footer and the Clippers took a 11-8 lead. The scoring continued to come at a feverish rate, with Messler quickly answering back with an inside bucket. Then Messler hit a 3 off a baseline out of bounds play, and the Bobcats led 15-12 after 1 quarter.
It continued to be an even match up in the 2nd quarter. Shore drove baseline, hitting a shot in traffic and then senior point guard Eliza Provost drew a charge on Messler. Oyster River was pressing full court, but it wasn't as effective as it would be in the 4th quarter. Miller banked in a 3 to put the Bobcats up 18-14.
That's when Portsmouth went on a 12-2 run, with Underwood scoring 8 of those 12 points. Underwood was slicing right through the Oyster River press. She drove hard to towards the rim, stopped on a dime and hit a pull-up jumper. Gabby Spang came off the bench for the Bobcats and immediately took it hard to the rim for a nifty scoop shot inside. Then the Underwood show continued, as she made back-to-back nice dribble-drive moves and finishes in the lane. Shore converted a lefty and-1 finish, and then Underwood hit a pair of quick floaters. Pafford capped the 12-2 run by drilling a long 2-pointer (had a foot on the line) and it was 30-22 Clippers with 2:12 left in the 1st half.
Messler was doing all she could to keep her team in it, finishing inside for back-to-back buckets. Underwood countered with a long 2-pointer of her own (had a foot on the line) although it did look like she got hit as she shot it (should have been an and-1 opportunity). Portsmouth went into halftime on top 33-26.
D-II girls is going to be very interesting. Both of these teams will be in the mix. Coe-Brown looks like the favorite, but the biggest competition for the Bears could come from Milford and Bishop Brady. Milford won the Nashua North Holiday Classic and Brady won the Capital Area Holiday Tournament.
One thing is for sure, the future looks bright for both of these teams. Oyster River only starters 1 senior, and Messler is only a junior so she should dominate even more next year. The Bobcats had 8 underclassmen in the rotation tonight. The future is also bright for Portsmouth. The Clippers had 3 girls score in double figures tonight (Durand, Underwood and Shore). Durand and Underwood are only sophomores and Shore is only a freshman.