It was a potential Final Four preview, a match-up of 2 of the top girls basketball teams in NH. Bedford executed better, and was imply the better team on Friday night, defeating Bishop Guertin 42-29. The Bulldogs are tied for the #1 seed in D-I.
"This was a huge win" said Bedford head coach Sue Thomas. "We finished the regular season 16-2, but some of our wins were very close. This was a complete game for us. Everyone contributed."
After a frantic start to the game where both teams showed nerves, Bedford settled down but BG did not. The Bulldogs led 17-10 after 1, 26-17 at halftime and 38-22 after 3 quarters. They led by as many as 16.
"Turnovers killed us, they absolutely killed us" lamented Bishop Guertin head coach Jeremy Faulkner. "The energy and emotion from the girls was there. The decision making wasn't. It was a simple man-to-man press. All we had to do was clear out, get it up the floor and run our offense. Instead we rushed and dribbled through 3 people. They're mistakes, but they're fixable. I still think this team can win a championship."
BG's turnovers were in part due to a lack of execution, but also in part due to good defense by Bedford. The Bulldogs' junior back court duo of point guard Bri Purcelli and shooting guard Nikki Tucci wreaked havoc on both ends of the court all game. Tucci dropped a game-high 12 points (that's right, the game's high scorer had just 12 - it was a low scoring game with 2 balanced offensive teams) and Purcell chipped in with 6. But what these 2 bring to the court goes far beyond the scoring column. Both players played tough defense throughout - Tucci hustled back on defense in transition to make a nice blocked shot, if I had a nickel for every deflection, steal, loose ball or offensive rebound Purcell had I would be rich.
"I know that something we lack as a team is energy and talking, so right from the beginning of the game I talked on defense and brought energy" said Purcell. "We focused on bringing an intense press. With our press we bring energy, fluster teams and it leads to turnovers."
There was a frantic start to the game, as BG sophomore wing Meghan Cramb stole the ball, raced up the court but then had the ball knocked away. Purcell stole it, but then BG stole it right back. Purcell stole the ball back, and drove to the rim but her shot got stuck between the backboard and rim. The teams slowly settled down, as Guertin junior point guard Marie Laplante converted a layup in transition. Then Tucci made a nice move, backing into the paint with the dribble and then hitting a quick turnaround jumper.
The traveling violations and steals continued, and then BG sophomore Molly Dee buried an 18-footer. Bedford sophomore forward Jenoyce Laniyan countered a 15-footer. This game had a good match-up, with arguably the 2 best point guards in the state going head to head in Purcell and Laplante. Bulldogs sophomore wing Maddie Blake (10 points) drilled a 3-pointer from the left conrner, as Bedford went ahead 9-7 with 3:15 left in the 1st quarter.
Tucci then made the same move, another spin move into a turnaround jumper from the elbow. Tucci then hit an outside shot followed by a layup by teammate Courtney O'Connell (8 points) to cap a 9-1 run by the Bulldogs as their lead was now 15-8 with 1:48 left in the 1st quarter. Coach Faulkner called timeout.
Out of the timeout Bedford continued to execute well, as Purcell dished it to O'Connell on a pick-and-roll for a layup right before the buzzer. The Bulldogs led 17-10 after 1 quarter.
"We've been lacking ball movement, so we've been working on it" said Purcell. "We know when we make 5 or 6 passes before a shot we get better shots."
Early in the 2nd quarter Tucci hustled back on 'D' for a nice blocked shot in transition. Then Purcell slashed through the BG zone defense for a layup, as the 5-foot-5 Purcell scored over 6-foot-1 forward Abbi Field. Blake drilled another 3 from that same left corner and it was 24-12 Bulldogs with 3:13 left in the 1st half, forcing BG to take another timeout.
Out of the timeout Cramb (team-high 9 points) hit a 3 off the catch from the left corner, followed by a jumper from the elbow by teammate Caroline Hoffer as the Cardinals closed within 26-17 at halftime.
"Bri, between her steals and deflections was outstanding" said Coach Thomas. "We ran our jump and press, and that helped stopping them on defense."
Field converted a strong put-back early in the 3rd quarter. Then O'Connell had a put-back of her own, jumping out of the gym to get up for the offensive rebound. O'Connell then finished another put-back, this time with no BG defense anywhere near her.
"We had no effort on the defensive rebounds" said Coach Faulkner.
Tucci grabbed a defensive rebound, immediately looked up the floor and zipped a pass ahead to Laniyan on the break for a layup. Purcell connected on a 15-footer, and it was 34-20 Bedford with just over 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. That lead increased to 36-20 as Tucci hit a jumper off the catch from the elbow.
BG kept on battling, as sophomore forward Bri Nordengren made a strong baseline drive and reverse layup finish in traffic. A great move, but Bedford simply made more of those type of plays on this night. The Bulldogs ran the clock down at the end of the 3rd quarter, and then Tucci drove right, used a screen by O'Connell and buried a jumper from the baseline with 1 second left. It was 38-22 Bedford after 3.
In the 4th quarter Laplante pushed it hard up the floor and made a good take and finish on the break. Purcell answered back with a hard push, dished it to Blake who made a good take and finish of her own. On the ensuing BG inbounded the ball, but Purcell stole it right back - at times it seemed like there were 2 of her running around out there instead of 1.
Cramb made a good pass ahead on the break to Laplante for another strong finish. Purcell just kept on hustling, though. She actually got stripped on a drive, but had the determination to steal it right back. Then on that same possession, after a missed shot by O'Connell and rebound by BG, Purcell was right there fighting for it and forced a jump ball. It's fun to watch a player who is that tenacious.
Bedford then really started to run the clock. They were running their stall offense, while at the same time doing a nice nob of moving the ball and not turning it over. The clock went from from 4:30 to 2:00 with BG only putting up 2 shots. Bedford had a long possession, and then shooting guard Alexis Meservey drained a pull-up jumper from the foul line. That made it 42-27 Bulldogs with just 2:00 left. That shot sealed the Cardinals' fate.
BG kept fighting till the end, as Laplante showed good effort by stealing it from Purcell and taking it in for another layup. Bedford cruised from there for the 42-29 win.
"I'm proud of how we fought" said Coach Faulkner. "Marie stole it from Bri with 10 seconds left."