Sunday, February 1, 2015

Londonderry Builds 17 Point Lead, Holds on to Beat Winnacunnet

Winnacunnet played much better basketball in the final 18 minutes compared to the first 14 minutes of their game on Saturday afternoon vs. Londonderry. Unfortunately they dug themselves into a 15 point hole in the 2nd quarter and a 17 point deficit in the 3rd quarter, which was just too much to come back from. The Warriors had the game's two high scorers on their side (senior guard Molly Britton with 18 (points on six 3's and junior forward Meg Knollmeyer with 17 points and 11 rebounds) and cut the Lancers' lead to just 7 in the 4th quarter (52-45 with 1:57 left). But Londonderry held on for the 58-47 win, behind a team-high 15 points to go with 10 rebounds and 3 blocks from junior forward Ashley Berube and 14 points and 8 steals from junior guard Jackie Luckhardt. Winnacunnet falls to 5-6 on the season in Division I.

Despite the graduation of Gatorade Player of the Year (Aliza Simpson), the retirement of legendary head coach (John Fagula) and their best returning player going prep (Casey Evans), the Lancers (11-1) are the best team in the NHIAA right now. Berube has developed into the most dominant big in the state and a scholarship prospect. Luckhardt had 8 steals vs. Winnacunnet and even more deflections - she's arguably the best defensive guard in NH. The Lancers only loss came early in the season to Bedford (the team LHS upset for the title last year), but Londonderry avenged that loss a couple weeks ago, winning by double digits.

Londonderry is a team with good size (3 girls 5'11" or taller in starting 5) and quickness. With Luckhardt guarding the perimeter and Berube blocking shots inside their zone is very tough to score on. For the first 14 minutes of the game Winnacunnet struggled to find shots against it, and even just moving the ball against it was an issue as they made 3 unforced turnovers in the first 3 minutes. Britton managed to hit a pull-up 3 off a baseline out of bounds play, but Brittany Roche hit a step-back jumper from 18 feet, Berube made a strong move to the rim, finishing with a sweeping hook shot and Luckhardt drilled a 15-footer as the Lancers jumped out to an 8-3 lead.

Both teams were playing zone on defense and neither team was pushing the ball much in the 1st half, which made for a slow paced, half court game. Londonderry started pressing full court, but Winnacunnet broke the press for a layup on the other end, as Knollmeyer fired a good pass over to sophomore wing Kaya Cadagan for a layup to cut the LHS lead to 12-8. The Lancers answered back, as Luckhardt leaped up for one of her 8 steals, racing from 3/4 court to the rim, taking a bump and finishing for 2 (should have been an and-1 but no call was made). Londonderry leads 16-8 after 1 quarter.

The Lancers quickly increased their lead to double digits in the 2nd quarter, throwing a lob pass up for Berube who scored inside to made it 18-8. Winnacunnet meanwhile was struggling at the FT line, as they shot just 1/6 from the charity stripe so far. The turnovers continued for the Warriors, and then Luckhardt hit a jumper from just inside the 3-point line. After another Lancers steal Luckhardt threaded the needle with a nice pass to Roche for a transition layup. LHS got yet another steal, and this time Luckhardt dished it to sophomore guard Kelsey Coffey who flipped the ball up over her head and in. That put Londonderry up 25-10 (their largest lead of the 1st half) with 1:51 left in the 2nd quarter. LHS was on a 13-2 run.

That's when Winnacunnet regrouped, started limiting their turnovers, hitting some shots and played better basketball. The Warriors outscored the Lancers by 4 for the remaining 18 minutes of the game. Knollmeyer pulled down an offensive board and then Britton hit a 3 from the left wing off the catch. Britton connected on another 3, this one off the dribble. It came just seconds before the buzzer, as Winnacunnet closed to within 27-18 at halftime. WHS ended the 1st half on an 8-2 run.

The Warriors continued to play better in the 3rd quarter. They picked up their intensity on defense and were more in sync on offense than earlier. Knollmeyer made a nice block on a shot attempt inside by Coffey (8 points). Cadagan was active defensively, as she made a deflection on one possession and a steal on the next. After a foul line jumper by Knollmeyer the Lancers' lead was cut to just 7, 27-20.

Londonderry then went on an 11-1 run, as Luckhardt got the run started by racing up the court with the ball and banking in a runner. Then Luckhardt hustled for an offensive rebound which led to a 3-pointer from the right wing by Roche (9 points). Londonderry got a steal and quickly pushed it up the floor, getting it over to Tara Burke for a layup to cap the 11-1 run and make it 38-21 LHS with 3:15 left in the 3rd quarter. It was the Lancers' largest lead of the game. Winnacunnet battled hard the rest of the way, but it was too big of a hole to climb out of for the Warriors.

Winnacunnet ended the 3rd quarter on a 13-6 run. Britton hit her fourth 3 of the game and this one was from 4 feet behind the line. Then the scoring and the pace of the game really picked up and we finally had some fast break basketball. Winnacunnet was hitting 3's and Londonderry as getting uncontested layups on the other end. Britton hit another 3, sophomore guard Emily Britton also hit a 3 and Knollmeyer had a layup. Meanwhile Roche, Berube and Kate Balcom all converted easy layups for LHS. It was 44-34 Londonderry after 3.

The Warriors cut the deficit to single digits as Knollmeyer scored inside, but Berube finished strong for a put-back on the other end. Luckhardt then made yet another great steal, taking it all the way to the rim before pulling up and hitting a short jumper in the eye of defender Katie Valcich. An 18-footer by Knollmeyer got the lead back under double digits at 50-42, but Londonderry again answered back as Luckhardt buried a 15-footer off a kick out by Jenna Conroy.

Britton hit her sixth 3 of the game, off a baseline out of bounds play to to cut the Londonderry lead to 52-47. Luckhardt sealed the win with yet another steal, taking it in for the layup to make it 56-45 LHS with 55 seconds left to play. The Lancers win it 58-47.

Winnacunnet falls to 5-6 on the season. They should keep the heads held high, because Londonderry is the best team in the state right now and the Warriors gave them one of their toughest games they've had so far this season.

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