Sunday, March 8, 2015

Goffstown Girls Hoops Headed to Final Four

The Goffstown High girls basketball team is headed to the Final Four. They're not a flashy team. They don't get a lot of press. They're a group of hard working kids who played well together as a team. And on Saturday night they went on the road to Concord and beat a Bishop Brady team that was 17-2 coming in (20-2 overall). Goffstown heading to the Final Four is a great story, it's been a long time coming.

"This has been a mission of ours" said Goffstown head coach Deanna Goodwin. "To get some respect."

It was an intense, hard fought, back-and-forth battle. Goffstown took the lead in the 3rd quarter on a 3-pointer by freshman point guard Sarah Doherty (12 points, 6 assists and 3 steals). They were only up by 1 headed to the 4th (39-38), but held on to the lead for the remainder of the game, en route a to an exciting 51-46 win in the Division II quarterfinals.

"This has been our goal from day 1" said junior wing Kathryn Howe, who connected on five 3-pointers for a team-high 15 points. "It's an amazing feeling."

The Grizzlies hit nine 3-pointers, and Howe had five of them. Doherty hit two 3's, while Molly McQueeney and Hannah Larochelle each hit one from the outside. This team has a lot of kids who can shoot the basketball, plus the inside presence of 6-foot-2 senior center Rene Roggenbuck.

"Our bench and fan support helped us" said Roggenbuck, who tallied 8 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks. We don't count on just one person, we're a TEAM."

The Bishop Brady gym was jam packed for this one, with a line to the admission table that went all the way out the door. Inside the gym it was an electric atmosphere. Fans anticipated a great battle, with a spot in the Final Four on the line and a pair of teams which split their 2 head-to-head meetings in the regular season. Both student sections were rocking.

As the starting lineups were announced, there was a player who was noticeably absent. Brady was playing without senior forward Melissa Mallahan, who has played in two Final Fours and has started for the Giants for the past two years.

"Mallahan strained her achilles last Saturday" said Bishop Brady head coach Aaron Brochu. "It was tough because they went with 1 big and 4 guards, and we lost her size and rebounding. We were hoping to have her back for Thursday if we won tonight."

Once the game tipped off the teams immediately started battling each other tooth and nail on every possession. Doherty dove on the floor for a loose ball to get the ball back for her team, and on the other end she drilled a 3-pointer off the catch. With Doherty and Bishop Brady 6-foot-1 forward Sam Will this game featured two of the top freshmen players in the state. Will tallied 6 points, 8 rebounds and 7 blocks.

Will blocked a shot attempt inside by Roggenbuck (a freshman blocking a senior), but then soon after that Roggenbuck scored inside off a nice dish by Doherty. Roggenbuck then came over from the weak side for a nice block on Bishop Brady sophomore guard Riley Bennett (13 points).

Brady was pressing full court and playing a half court zone defense, while Goffstown played tough half court man-to-man. Bishop Brady senior guard Sarah Thomas (game-high 21 points) hit a long 2-pointer (had foot on the line), and then teammate Kenzi Moulton made a nice move by driving baseline and knifing her way to the rim through 2 defenders for the bucket (should have been and-1 but no foul call was made).

Goffstown answered back, as Roggenbuck scored again inside, but on the other end Thomas nailed a 3-pointer right in front of the Brady student section. After she hit that shot, Brady got a quick steal with their press and Thomas took it in for a layup, and-1. The teams kept going back-and-forth exchanging the lead, as McQueeney hit a 3 and then flipped it in for 2 on the break and Roggenbuck converted a put-back. Will made a strong take and finish, cutting the Grizzlies' lead to 14-13 after 1 quarter.

Thomas tallied 9 points in the 1st quarter, while Will blocked 4 shots in the 1st frame. The opening quarter had a good pace and flow to it, with both teams pushing the ball up the court, moving the ball well, hitting shots and pressuring people on 'D'. The pace slowed to a crawl in the 2nd quarter though, as one of the officials was literally calling a foul every darn time down the floor. He called lots of ticky tack fouls, sometime you need to let them play.

Larochelle hit a 3 off the catch from the left wing to put Goffstown up 17-13 early in the 2nd quarter. Then it happened. Thomas countered by draining a 3 from the top of the key, nothing but net. It was Thomas' 1,000th career point. Play was stopped so that Thomas could be honored for this tremendous achievement. It was certainly a bittersweet game for Thomas. She played outstanding, with a game-high 21 points and scored her 1,000th career point. But at the same time her team lost, meaning it was the last game of her high school career.

"I'm trying to stay positive" said an emotional Thomas after the game. "I'm proud that we stepped up from D-III to D-II and only lost 2 games in the regular season. It was our first home game loss in 3 years. The 4th quarter pressure got to us tonight. We knew they had their big girl and their shooters, and we didn't stop the things we knew we had to. Still, it was awesome getting to 1,000 points. I didn't think I would get it coming into the season. At least I'll still be playing in college."

Thomas will be playing her college ball at St. Lawrence University.

"I couldn't ask for a better player or leader" said Coach Brochu. "We have 3 great seniors."

Thomas, Mallahan and guard Meghan Kissinger are the Giants' 3 seniors - each were starters on this year's team.

Thomas' 3-pointer started a 10-0 run for Brady, which was capped by a pull-up jumper by Bennett to make it 23-17 Giants with 2:30 left in the 2nd quarter. Howe stopped the run, as she hit a 3 from the right wing against the Brady zone defense. Will made a good post move and finish inside, and then Shannon Drouin banked in a jumper from the elbow. Bishop Brady led 27-22 at halftime.

In the 3rd quarter Brady stayed in their zone defense. Goffstown made them pay, hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer. Howe hit a 3 from the top of the key to cut the Brady lead to 27-25. Kissinger hustled for a put-back, but then Goffstown got a steal which led to a transition layup as McQueeney zipped a pass ahead to Larochelle for 2. Howe hit another 3, this one from the left wing off the catch against the Brady zone, as the Grizzlies re-take the lead, 33-31. Just seconds later Bennett tied the game up 33-33 with a jumper from just inside the arc.

Goffstown went back on top as Doherty hit another 3 to make it 36-35 Grizzlies with 1:44 left in the 3rd quarter. Goffstown led for the rest of the contest. Howe drilled yet another 3-pointer, her fourth of the game and third of the quarter. That made it 39-35 Goffstown. Brady was struggling to get out on the Grizzlies' shooters. They should have extended their defense and made Goffstown put the ball on the floor.

"I was a little surprised they played zone" said Coach Goodwin. "The last time we played them they played man."

"Typically we run that zone pretty well" lamented Coach Brochu. "We just didn't have the rotations down."

Thomas hit a 3 from the right corner (her third 3 of the game) and it was 39-38 Goffstown after 3 quarters. Doherty continued her strong all-around play in the 4th quarter. She made a pair of nice steals as well as a drive and dish to Roggenbuck for a layup. Then Howe drained another 3 (her fifth of the game) to make it 44-38 Grizzlies with 4:45 left in regulation and forcing Brady to call timeout.

"I go to the gym and work really hard on my shots" said Howe. "I couldn't do it without my teammates, they did a great job of finding me."

Doherty showed more hustle, following up her own missed shot by grabbing the rebound and putting it back in for 2. That gave Goffstown a 46-38 lead, their largest lead of the game as the Grizzlies opened the 4th quarter with a 7-0 run.

Finally the Giants' scoring drought ended, as Bennett connected on a 3 from the right corner. Brady cut the Goffstown lead to 3 with just over 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter, but then Doherty hit the biggest shot of the game, an 18-footer with ice water in her veins to make it a 2 possession game with 2 minutes left.

"We believe our strength is that different people step up each night" said Coach Goodwin. "A true team."

Doherty then hit a pair of clutch free throws to extend the Goffstown lead to 60-53 with just 59 seconds remaining. Brady struggled to score in the 4th quarter, as Roggenbuck was a difference maker for the Grizzlies in the paint defensively. Goffstown holds on for the 51-46 win to punch their ticket to the Final Four on Thursday night at SNHU.

It will be Goffstown vs. Milford in one semi-final, and Coe-Brown vs. Pembroke in the other.

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