By: Jeremy Leveille
It was a defensive battle on Friday night in Londonderry, as the two best girls basketball teams in NH went at it. And that shouldn't come as a surprise, since often times over the past few years when top teams match up the points are hard to come by. Case in point is the 2013 D-I title game between BG and Bedford - an extremely well played basketball game, albeit a low scoring one.
This season it is Bedford and Londonderry who are the favorites. Londonderry is the 2-time defending champs, while Bedford returns literally everybody from a team that was the #1 seed last year. The teams are led by point guards who are excellent defensively - Brianna Purcell from Bedford and Londonderry's Jackie Luckhardt. Purcell and Luckhardt set the tone for their teams on both ends of the floor.
So it's no surprise that in this game momentum swung when one of those players returned to the floor after sitting out. Just 19 seconds into the 3rd quarter Purcell went for a rebound under the basket, was knocked to the floor, lying motionless for a moment. Bedford fans held their collective breathes that Purcell was alright. Finally she got up and went to the bench, where she was attended to by the trainer. With her out of the game, It went from a 1 point Bedford lead to a 7 point lead for Londonderry. But then Purcell returned to action, moments later hit a pair of free throws, the Bulldogs took a 29-28 lead and went on to win it 45-32.
You won't find many players around who are tougher or play with more heart than Bri Purcell.
"She hit her elbow" said Bedford head coach Sue Thomas. "She sets the tone for the team."
"I was just trying to take a charge, and the next thing I know I was lying on the floor" explained Purcell, an all-state point guard who helped Bedford win the D-I title as a freshman in 2013. "At first I hit my head, my arm was caught under my head and my head was pounding. My arm feels like it's straight, but it's not."
Purcell's return to the lineup sparked an 18-2 run which turned out to be the difference in the game. While Purcell was the catalyst for the Bulldogs, they are a well balanced team. In addition to Purcell, Maddie Blake, Nikki Tucci, Jenoyce Laniyan, Alexis Meservey and Alyson Fillion all hit shots during the run.
"I told them that we are a solid team, we just had to settle down and take open shots" said Purcell.
The first shot in the run came from Meservey, who hit a big 3-pointer just seconds after Luckhardt banked in an 18-footer that put Londonderry up 26-19. That was right around the time Purcell returned to action. Then Tucci hit a long jumper from the corner. On the next trip down the floor Blake connected on a 3-pointer off the catch from the corner to cut the Lancers' lead to 28-27. Then Purcell drove hard to the bucket, got fouled and hit both free throws to put Bedford back on top 29-29.
"Once momentum swings it is hard to stop it" said Londonerry head coach Nick Theos, who won a title last season in his first year at the helm. "When Tucci and Blake hit those shots I knew we were in trouble."
"With about three minutes left in the 3rd quarter I called timeout and informed them that they had not yet scored a single point that quarter. We are a good shooting team, but we were playing tight. I knew eventually we'd find our shot."
The Bulldogs kept their run going into the 4th quarter. Tucci hit a jumper from near the foul line, Fillion followed that up with a shot of her own near the charity stripe and just seconds later Bedford raced back up the floor on the break, getting the ball ahead to Laniyan who finished strong at the rim. That made it 35-28 Bulldogs with 4:33 left and forced the Lancers to call a timeout.
Out of the timeout Laniyan made a nice block on defense, starting another fast-break which ended with a layup by Purcell. The 18-2 run was complete, with the Bulldogs now holding a commanding 37-28 lead. Luckhardt (game-high 14 points) answered with a floater to try and keep her team in it. But there was only a minute left in the game, and Fillion hit a short jumper on the other end to push the lead back up to 9, 41-32. Bedford added four foul shots in the closing seconds and held on for the 45-32 win.
"They were in trouble, they had their leader out of the game" said Coach Theos. "But we let them back in it."
Both teams came out with in-your-face pressure man-to-man defense. Londonderry senior guard Kate Balcom was all over the place, converting a put-back on one end and taking a charge on a drive by Courtney O'Connell on the other. Laniyan (9 points) countered for Bedford with a 3-pointer. O'Connell played tough on-the-ball defense, forcing a loose ball, diving on it and getting the jump ball.
Blake slashed to the rim for 2, giving the Bulldogs an early 7-2 lead. Junior guard Kelsey Coffey answered on the other end with a jumper from the elbow. Balcom blocked a shot attempt by Purcell, but on the next time down the floor Purcell used a ice hesitation to dribble to get into the lane for the layup. It was 10-8 Bedford after 1.
Balcom continued her strong play in the 2nd quarter, making a steal and pushing it hard p the floor in transition for the layup to tie it up 10-10. Michaela Downing drove and finished in traffic for the Lancers to cap an 8-1 run and put them back ahead 12-10.
6-foot-2 freshman forward Ashley Evans made a nice block on Laniyan, Kat Wells finished in transition off a Bedford turnover, while Balcom kept pulling rebounds and blocking shots. Just when it seemed like the Lancers were gaining momentum, Purcell drained a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Bulldogs back on top 17-14. It was 17-16 Bedford at halftime.
Coffey sat most of the 2nd quarter with 2 fouls. She is the team's best shooter, but finished with just 2 points.
"They did a nice job on Kelsey, but she took herself out of the game" said Coach Theos. "She likes being out there on the court. When she had to sit with the 2 fouls she lost her rhythm and never got it back. She needs to be mentally tougher."
Purcell suffered her injury just 19 seconds into the 3rd quarter. When play resumed she was on the bench. Luckhardt then slashed to the rim for 2 to put Londonderry back ahead 18-17. Evans hit a layup and Luckhardt drove into the lane before hitting and floater, and-1. Purcell was still on the Bedford bench icing her left arm. Luckhardt then banked in the floater to make it 26-19 Lancers. That's when Purcell returned to action, Bedford regained momentum and you know how the rest went.
"I thought Mia Roy and Alyson Fillion did a great job while Bri was out" said Coach Thomas.