Saturday, February 7, 2015

Londonderry Remains Unbeaten, Tops Rivals Pinkerton

In one of the best games of the year in NHIAA basketball, Londonderry defeated Pinkerton 67-61 on Friday night in Derry to improve to 9-0 on the season. This is one of the biggest rivalries in the state, and both teams are contenders this year in D-I. Both teams are loaded with talent, including Londonderry senior guard Cody Ball (scholarship recruit for St. A's) and Pinkerton sophomore guard Geo Baker (scholarship prospect).

Ball only scored 2 points in the 1st half and the Lancers' second leading scorer Marc Corey sat the entire 1st half (both Ball and Corey are averaging over 20 points per game). Sophomore guard Jake Coleman kept them in it in the 1st half, scoring 15 of his game-high 25 points. Then Corey returned to the lineup in the 2nd half and Ball dropped 20 of his 22 points in the final 2 quarters. It was a high intensity, high pressure game at a jam-packed Hackler Gymnasium. Both teams really got out and pressured on 'D' and attacked on offense. Both squads hit big shots, and Pinkerton 6-foot-6 senior forward David Faulks had 5 slam dunks (4 on alley-oops) en route to a team-high 20 points.

"It was all in the flow of the game" said Coleman, a 5-foot-11 combo-guard who also dished out 6 assists and had 4 steals. "Me and coach talked about that, how I had to step up with guys sitting out or not making shots. I love this atmosphere. You hear them cheer when you make a shot and it makes you want to make the next one."

In such an intense game, it was impressive the amount of poise Coleman played with out there. He was calm, cool and collected under pressure, hitting clutch free throws late in the game to ice the win as well as hitting big 3's and floaters to keep them in it in the 1st half. Coleman didn't force any shots, made some great passes to set teammates up for scores and hustled for loose balls.

"I knew Jake was going to have a big game" said Coach Stanton. "He's capable of being one of the best guards in the state, and definitely be the best sophomore. He's a great defensive player - that's why I started him as a freshman last year."

Sometimes when a team gets a slam dunk it gets them pumped up, they get momentum on their side and the opposing team gets rattled. While the dunks that Faulks had definitely got the Astros pumped up, the Lancers never got rattled. That's a credit to their head coach Nate Stanton and the toughness of his players.

"We know they like to celebrate after the dunks" said Coleman, who was now playing against Baker after they were AAU teammates growing up with Coleman's father Mark as coach. "We tried to get fast breaks going the other way while they were celebrating their dunks."

It was a back-and-forth 1st half that ended with both teams tied up 25-25 at the break. Corey is a 6-foot-4 wing who can shoot it from long range or slash to the rim. He sat the whole first half but started the 2nd half and immediately hit a 3-pointer for the Lancers to put them ahead 28-25 (following a nice block by senior Joey Kwiatkowski). Londonderry kept that lead for the remainder of the game.

"It was a practice issue with him" was all Coach Stanton had to say about why Corey sat the 1st half. "I'm glad we were able to fight through the adversity. We had lots of guys step up."

Londonderry sophomore forward Brandon Radford picked up a loose ball at 3/4 court, pushed it hard up the floor before making a strong move to the rim for 2. The fast paced action continued, as Pinkerton senior guard Drew Green made a good dish to Faulks for a layup. The Lancers answered right back seconds later, as Corey buried another 3. On the other end junior guard Matt Rizzo threw up an alley-oop for Faulks, who slammed it down. Londonderry didn't get rattle though, as Ball hit a 3 off the catch and then after a pair of free throws by Coleman it was 40-31 Lancers (their largest lead of the game). It was Ball's first 3 of the game, and his first field goal of the 2nd half after a 1st half where he struggled shooting, going 1/9 from the field.

The Astros responded with an 11-3 run that happened in the blink of an eye, as both teams continued to play an up-tempo brand of basketball that was fun to watch. Baker stole the ball from Londonderry freshman guard Cole Britting and took it hard to the rim before sailing in for the 2-handed slam (the 6-foot-2 baker can jump out of the gym). Rizzo hit a 3 from the right wing off the catch, followed quickly by a strong second effort by junior wing Thomas Romick who grabbed his own missed shot and put it back in for 2.

Rizzo kept the momentum rolling for the Astros, making a tough slash the rim for a lefty scoop shot in traffic. That cut the Lancers' lead to 43-42. Just seconds later Ball made a great move, with a crossover dribble into pull-up jumper from beyond the 3-point arc. The shot was good and it was 46-42 Londonderry after 3.

The hot shooting on both sides continued, as Baker drilled a 3 on one end and Ball hit a 3 on the other. Faulks went hard for an offensive rebound converted a strong put-back. Then Ball really started to take over, as he made another outstanding move, taking one hard dribble towards the rim, crossing over with the dribble and connecting on a step-back jumper from 18-feet.

"Jake Coleman stepped up in the 1st half for us, and in the 2nd half Cody Ball showed he's one of the best players in the state" said Coach Stanton, who is in his second year at the helm.

Baker leaped high up, with his whole hand above the rim and while still in mid-air tipped in a teammate's missed shot for 2. That cut the Londonderry lead to 53-51 with 5:28 left in the 4th quarter. Ball used that killer crossover again to create space for another 3, and it was 56-53 Lancers.

Baker threw up another one for Faulks, who slammed down his 5th dunk of the game and fourth alley-oop. Ball drilled yet another 3, his fifth 3 of the 2nd half which gave him 20 points in the 2nd half. Baker leaped high up for a defensive rebound, again showing his tremendous athletic ability. Coleman drove to the rim, pulled up with Baker defending, used a nice up-fake to get his former AAU teammate up in the air before leaning in and hitting the floater in the lane. That gave LHS a 61-55 lead with 2:00 remaining. Pinkerton kept fighting though, as junior wing Brennan Morris (known more as a spot up shooter) drove to the rim, took the contact and finished inside for an and-1 to keep the Astros in it.

Coleman hit a pair of clutch FTs to make it 63-58 Londonderry with 1:38 left in regulation, and on the other end Ball blocked Baker on a shot attempt inside. Coleman sunk 2 more FTs and it was 65-60 Lancers with 1:17 left. Romich went to the line for 2 with a chance to make it a 1 possession game, but he missed both shots. Rizzo then had a 1-and-1, but only made 1 of 2 FTs. Pinkerton missed three 3-pointers in the final minute, and 2 of them were tipped on the release (one tip by Ball and one by Coleman). Londonderry holds on for the 67-61 win.

Pinkerton falls to 8-2 on the season. I wouldn't be surprised at all if both teams make the Final Four.

It was a back-and-forth 1st half, with many ties and lead changes. Pinkerton struck first, as Baker leaped up in the air for a loose ball and all in one motion tipped the ball ahead to Green for a transition layup. The Astros again looked to run the break, with baker dishing it to senior forward Caleb Godin. Godin missed the layup, but Faulks was there to catch the rebound off the rim, and while still in mid-air threw down a thunderous dunk. Pinkerton went ahead 6-0, as Godin made a good take, going hard to the rim and the lefty finished this time with his right hand.

Londonderry got on the board on a long 3-pointer by Coleman against the Astros' zone defense. Coleman then made a nice move, using a behind the back dribble to get by his defender, drawing the help side defender and then then dishing it inside to Kwiatkowski for the layup. On the other end Morris (who had just entered the game for the first time) hit a 3 off the catch from the right wing. Just seconds later Ball made a great play, converting a reverse layup in traffic over the 6-foot-9 Thomas Olson defending. It was Ball's only 2 points of the 1st half.

Junior guard Nathen Gaw came off the bench and drew a charge on Olson. Coleman then made another nice pass, this time finding Radford for a layup with 1 second left in the 1st quarter. It was tied 11-11 headed to the 2nd frame. The Lancers weren't quite the same offensive team with Corey on the bench.

The pace picked up even more in the 2nd quarter. Coleman continued his strong 1st half, scoring a pair of buckets. Faulks made a nice weak side block, and Coleman hit a 3 from the left wing. On the other end it was Baker-to-Faulks for an alley-oop dunk and a 19-18 Pinkerton lead with 5:00 left in the 1st half.

Londonderry got a steal and quickly looked to get it up the floor in transition. Ball pushed it, creating a 2-on-1 break. He dished it to Radford for the layup. Coleman then hit another 3, his third of the 1st half. On the next trip down Coleman had another look from beyond the arc, but this time he faked the shot, getting his defender in the air and then hitting a tear-drop from 15-feet. He was outstanding in the 1st half in all facets of the game.

Godin then threw it up for Faulks for another alley-oop dunk and it was tied up 25-25 at halftime.

"It's a big rivalry" said Coach Stanton. "I love playing in this atmosphere and so do my kids."

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