It's not always going to be pretty, but when you're undefeated you need to be able to win all types of games. That is the case for the Milford High girls basketball team. Milford is now 8-0 (11-0 counting holiday tournament wins), as they beat a wounded Portsmouth team 40-26 on Friday night. In a big D-II tilt between Final Four contenders Milford limited Portsmouth's best player Libby Underwood to just 2 points in the 1st half. Underwood left the game injured with 10 seconds left in the 2nd quarter, tried to give it a go in the 3rd but left the game 20 seconds in and did not return. The Clippers second best player Heather Durand left the game late in the 4th quarter with an injury, and starting forward Lily Hardy left the game injured late in the 3rd quarter and did not return.
"Libby sprained her ankle the other day in practice" said Portsmouth head coach Dan Parr. "She had it taped up and still sprained it twice in the same game tonight which is concerning. She's walking on it now though. Hardy injured her shoulder and went to the hospital. Durand face-planted. We learned what we need to fix, the question is if we'll have enough players to do it."
Milford came out in a suffocating man-to-man defense, with all 5 players right up in the faces of the players they were defending. Senior point guard Adelle Pitsas was pressuring the heck out of the Underwood and the rest of the Spartans were denying the ball. They held Portsmouth to just 4 points in the 1st quarter and 6 in the 2nd.
"Our defense was the key" said Milford first-year head coach Rich Parent, who inherited a team with 4 seniors who have Final Four experience. "We focused on Libby, she's one of the best players in the division. We started out with Adelle on her and then switched to Becca on her. e know she gets them 1/3 to 1/2 of their offense, so we tried to get the ball out of her hands and make other players beat us. It's unfortunate that she got hurt, because our girls want to play against the best competition possible."
The Clippers came out in an aggressive 2-3 zone. Underwood grabbed a steal at 3/4 court and took it all the way in for the layup. Milford answered right back, as Adelle Pitsas (8 points) made a strong drive to the rim and and-1 finish. Pitsas was playing tough defense on Underwood, forcing her to take contest jumpers which were not falling. Senior wing Jessica Ryan (14 points) hit a 3 from the left wing against the PHS zone and it was 8-2 Milford early. On the other end Durand countered, driving left and finishing through contact with her left hand.
The Spartans got a steal in the back court with their press, and Devany Pitsas (younger sister of Adelle and former 1,000 point scorer and rebounder Dina Pitsas) dished it to Cleary for an easy layup. Milford was finding the gaps in the Portsmouth zone, and they got the ball inside to Ryan who got fouled and made both shots for a 12-4 Spartans' lead with 1:17 left in the 1st quarter. Coach Parr called timeout to regroup. Out of the timeout the Clippers continued to settle for outside jumpers. They weren't hitting them, and Milford led 12-4 after 1 quarter.
The Clippers showed signs of life to start the 2nd quarter. Hardy made a good pass to a cutting freshman wing Sadie Shore (team-high 10 points) for a layup. Then Shore made a steal, went hard to the rim, made a good spin move into the lane, drew a foul and hit both FTs to cut the Milford lead to 12-8.
Both offenses sputtered for the rest of the 2nd quarter, with Portsmouth only scoring 2 more points until halftime and Milford scoring just 4 in the entire 2nd quarter. It was a combination of good defense and poor execution on offense by both teams.
"I was a little disappointed with our half court offense" said Coach Parent.
The Clippers cut the Milford lead to 14-10 with 1:30 left in the 1st half on a put-back by Shore. Meanwhile senior guard Isabelle Pafford was playing strong defense. On back-to-back possessions she grabbed a steal and then forced a jump ball. Underwood sprained her ankle late in the 2nd quarter, and it was 16-10 Spartans at halftime.
Underwood re-entered the game to begin the 2nd half but 20 seconds in she sprained her ankle again, had to be helped off the floor by the trainer and did not return. Pafford went in for her, and banked in a runner for an and-1. She missed the free throw, but Portsmouth got the offensive rebound and Durand connected on a 15-footer. That cut the Milford lead to 16-14.
Just when the Clippers got momentum on their side Shore picked up her fourth foul and had to leave the game. She sat for the remaining 6 minutes of the 3rd quarter.
With Portsmouth's best player out with a sprained ankle and their third best player on the bench with 4 fouls Milford took advantage. The Spartans went on a 10-2 run to end the 3rd quarter. Milford really started to attack the paint, getting to the FT line, taking advantage of their size with 3 players 5-foot-10 or taller out there. Durand was helping to keep Portsmouth in it, as she hit a running lefty hook shot across the lane to cut the Milford lead to 22-16. But then the Spartans got yet another offensive rebound and Kaitlyn Matthews went to the line. Hardy battled for the rebound but knocked it out of bounds and fell hard on her shoulder. She left the game and did not return.
So now Portsmouth had 2 starters out with injuries and another starter out with foul trouble. The Clippers continued to foul Milford and send them to the FT line. They fouled the Spartans 8 times in the 3rd quarter. After 2 free throws by Devany Pitsas it was 26-16 Milford, and that was the score after 3.
Portsmouth kept fighting in the 4th quarter to try and get back in it. Durand (8 points and 6 rebounds) grabbed a steal, went hard to the rim and finished over the 6-foot Cleary. Shore was back out there with 4 fouls to start the 4th quarter, and she converted a put-back. Ryan hit a big 3-pointer though, and Milford went up 31-21. Shore pulled down an offensive rebound, went back up strong with it, clearly got fouled but there was no call.
Milford went to a zone defense and Portsmouth was struggling to find looks against it. With 3:09 left in the 4th quarter the Spartans were still up 31-21. The Clippers then had another no-call go against them, as Milford should have been called for a 5 second closely guard violation (it was more like 6 or 7 seconds) but instead the officials gave Milford a timeout. Cleary scored inside and it was 33-22 Spartans. This one was all but over.
Durand fights for a rebound, may have gotten pushed from behind, falls hard on the floor and leaves the game. Milford cruises from there for the 40-26 win.
Milford has injury woes of their own, as starting 2-guard Erin McGuire was sidelined for this one.
"McGuire got injured in the Pembroke game" said Coach Parent. "She has a torn ACL and is done for the year."
The Spartans take on Coe-Brown next Friday night at home. Both Milford and Coe-Brown are undefeated in D-II play.