By: Jeremy Leveille
In a hard fought game that never really got into too much of a flow or rhythm due to a ton of fouls being called, free throws turned out to be the difference. Pinkerton shot 16/20 (80%) from the charity stripe, compared to 10/25 (40%) for the visiting Alvirne Broncos. So one team missed 15 FTs and the other team only missed 4. That's a difference of 11 in a game decided by 9 points. Yes, free throws were a huge factor in the outcome of this one.
"We usually shoot 70% on free throws" lamented Alvirne head coach Steve Tracy, whose team has just 2 seniors and 7 sophomores.
Senior wing Val Martin scored 18 of her game-high 23 points in the 2nd half to go with 9 rebounds and was a perfect 7/7 from the free throw line, leading the Astros to a 57-48 win.
"My mantra this year is to play hard all the time" said Coach Tracy. "We showed continuous improvement. I'm proud that we hung with them all game."
Alvirne definitely hung around. It was tied up 25-25 at halftime, and late in the 3rd quarter the Broncos cut the Astros' lead to 41-40. Broncos were building momentum, but just seconds later Martin drilled a clutch 3-pointer to push the Pinkerton lead back up to 44-40. That was the score as we headed to the 4th quarter. Martin is a Player of the Year candidate in D-I and she showed why tonight.
The Astros needed Martin's production even more in this game, since they were playing without injured starting 2-guard Marissa Stacy.
"Losing Marissa is hard, she is a spark plus for us" said Pinkerton head coach Lani Buskey, who guided the Astros to the Final Four in her first season at the helm last year. "It gave other girls a chance to step up. Marissa suffered a sprained AC joint. The doctor said she should be back for our game on Friday."
With one of Pinkerton's better ball handlers out, Alvirne was able to force a lot of turnovers with their full court press and half court trap. The Broncos would get steals and immediately look to attack on offense, getting some easy baskets from players like Amanda Wetmore (team-high 13 points), Nicole Teague (12 points), Kaycee Carbone, Jessica Baker and Emily Barry to stay in the game. "
"Trapping was good, it caused some turnovers" mentioned Coach Tracy. "Our defense was better than our offense tonight."
The 3-pointer that Martin hit at the end of the 3rd quarter started a 12-3 run for the Astros which turned out to be a key stretch in this one. Martin started the 4th quarter with a strong drive down the lane and finish inside. That was followed by a 3 by Emilie Laliberte and an uncontested layup in transition by Martin.
Alvirne ball, trailing 53-43 but were unable to to find any open looks on a tough man-to-man defense of the Astros.
"I preached to them to buckle down on defense" said Coach Buskey.
The Broncos refused to give up, as Teague jumped the passing lane for a great steal up top and raced towards the bucket for the layup. Wetmore then made a terrific blocked shot on Laliberte. Alvirne ball down 53-47 with a couple minutes left. But again, the Pinkerton defense stepped up to get a stop. Melissa Martel and Martin added a pair of free throws late, and the Astros hold on for the 57-48 win.
Both of these teams came into this game on hot streaks. Pinkerton was 4-1 and on a 4 game winning streak. Alvirne meanwhile was 3-1 coming in and was on a 3 game win streak (which included a 20 point win over previously unbeaten Memorial plus wins over North and Central). For Pinkerton to win this game, especially while playing without one of their best players definitely shows they are a Final Four contender.
Alvirne came out in a zone, but Pinkerton moved the ball well against it, with Jaime Caron (10 points) converting a layup early on. Baker jumped the passing lane for a nice steal, went hard to the rim, got fouled but missed both FTs. Martel hit a 3-pointer from the right wing followed by a put-back by Caron and it was 7-0 Astros with 5:00 left in the 1st quarter.
Then momentum swung in Alvirne's favor, as Martel got whistled for her 2nd foul. Martel left the game and didn't return until a couple minutes into the 2nd quarter. So now both of their starting guards (Martel and Stacy) were on the bench. Alvirne took advantage, as they turned up their pressure on defense to force turnovers. Broncos sophomore forward Marissa Sweeney drove to the bucket for 2 and then Wetmore connected on a 3. Then the 3-pointers really started to rain, as Victoria Overko answered with a 3 for Pinkerton, Teague buried a triple for Alvirne to cut the Astros' lead to 16-13 but then Martin buried a shot from downtown to mak it 19-13 Pinkerton after 1 quarter.
In the 2nd quarter it was the high school basketball debut for Pinkerton guard Nicolette Arnold, one of the top freshman players in the state. Arnold was recovering from mono and just started practicing a couple weeks ago, but she is definitely a player to watch over the next 4 years.
Martin made another good dribble-drive move into the lane for a strong finish ad it was 21-15 PA. Martel went back in the lineup and then made a gutsy play, taking a charge with 2 fouls. That's when Alvirne really started to force some turnovers with their press and get out and run the break. Carbone got a steal in the back court, dished it to Wetmore for a layup to cut the Pinkerton lead to 23-21 with 2:49 left in the 2nd quarter and force a timeout by the Astros. Out of the timeout the Broncos got another steal with their press and Wetmore hit a 15-footer to tie it up 23-23. Alvirne then got yet another steal, got it to Carbone who drove to the bucket for 2 and a 25-23 Broncos lead (their only lead of the game). It was tied up 25-25 at halftime.
"They're a fundamentally sound team" commented Coach Buskey. "Those teams are hard to beat."
Pinkerton came out strong to start the 2nd half, as Caron converted a quick layup followed by an Astros' steal and and-1 finish by Overko. Baker countered for Alvirne with a drive down the lane and floater. The Broncos kept pushing the tempo, resulting in a pair of shots in close by Barry who sat for most of the 2nd half with a foot injury.
That's when Martin got her strong 2nd half performance started by facing up from 18 feet, using a shot fake and then driving the rim for a tough and-1 finish. That made it 38-31 Pinkerton with 4:18 left in the 3rd quarter. Alvirne's offense started stagnating in the half court, and then Martel made a good take to the bucket for 2 and a 40-31 Astros' lead.
The Broncos were hanging tough though, as Wetmore and Baker hit shots inside, followed by a layup by Wetmore off a dish by Teague. Alvirne cut the PA lead to 41-40 and you know how the rest went by reading above.