By: Jeremy Leveille
Earlier on Friday we wrote about how Portsmouth and Oyster River were the two favorites this season in D-II girls basketball. Well those two teams matched up on opening night to see which one was truly the early favorite for the title - advantage Portsmouth.
The Clippers started off slow, as Oyster River led 15-6 after 1 quarter. But after that it was all Portsmouth, who went on a 13-0 run to begin the 2nd quarter. That put them up 19-15 and they also went on a 16-7 run in the 3rd quarter to take their largest lead of the game 39-25. Led by Juniors Libby Underwood (13 points), Heather Durand (10 points and 12 rebounds) freshman forward Abbe Laurence (15 points) the Clippers cruised to the 50-39 win.
"I honestly think that this is our year" said Durand. "We have been working hard for this."
"We want this, but we're trying to keep it in perspective" added Underwood.
Portsmouth is confident, they're hungry, but they're not getting ahead of themselves. Sounds like the right attitude to have. And after their performance on Friday night they have to be considered the team to beat in D-II.
The Clippers looked especially impressive during a 10-2 run in the 3rd quarter. Guard Faith Poirer hit a runner in the lane. Senior forward Sara Messler (team-high 15 points) answered with a long jumper on the other end (close to a 3-pointer but she had a foot on the line). Then the buckets really started coming for Portsmouth. Durand slashed to the rim for a strong finish in traffic. The next trip down the floor Underwood broke down her man off the dribble for a strong finish at the rim. That made it 35-25 Clippers with 2:17 left in the 3rd quarter, forcing Oyster River head coach Don Maynard to call a timeout. Portsmouth just kept on rolling out of the timeout though, as Durand quickly pushed the ball ahead to Underwood for a transition layup. Just seconds later the Clippers got another steal, and this time it was Laurence finishing the fast-break layup. That capped the run, making it 39-25 Portsmouth. The Clippers fans were fired up!
I've covered quite a few Portsmouth games over the past few years with head coach Dan Parr and this is definitely the most I've seen them get out and run the break.
"Transition is something we have been working on" said Underwood, who accepted a scholarship over the summer to play her college ball at Providence. "We want to get some easy baskets. With myself, Heather, Abbe, Arianna (Hebert) we have players who can run."
It was definitely their defense which ignited the transition game for Portsmouth. The Clippers forced Oyster River into a whopping 25 turnovers.
"We called a timeout and talked about how we had to pick up our defense" said Durand. "That was the key."
It wasn't all sunshine and roses for Portsmouth, however. They lost sophomore wing Sadie Shore to an injury. Shore scored 5 points in the 1st half, but sat most of the 2nd half.
"I hope Sadie is okay" said coach Parr. "Her shoulder got banged up. It might be dislocated. She's at the hospital now."
Meanwhile for Oyster River, a positive that came from this game for them was Messler scoring her 1,000th career point. Messler pulled up along the baseline and hit a short jumper late in the 2nd quarter to give her 4 points on the game. Play was stopped for Messler to be recognized and congratulated on her achievement.
"I wasn't thinking about it, I just wanted to play the game" said a humble Messler.
"Sara Messler is a neat kid" said Coach Parr. "She hurt us badly when we played them last year. She hurt us in the post, ad she also has the outside game. She tries to help her teammates out, too."
Messler and her teammates got off to a strong start, leading 15-6 after 1 quarter. Shore converted an and-1 put-back for the game's first points to make it 3-0 Clippers with 5:00 left in the 1st quarter. The first 3 minutes of the contest were filled with Oyster River turnovers and missed shots inside by Portsmouth. Durand made a nice blocked shot from the weak side. Sarah Sherman hit a pair of mid-range jumpers, Rose Tarvainen finished an and-1 put-back and Messler flipped in a transition bucket to make it 11-6 Bobcats. Samantha Walker then made an easy layup underneath, making it 15-6 Oyster River and forcing Coach Parr to call a timeout with 42 seconds remaining in the 1st quarter. Not only were they up 15-6, but the Bobcats had to be especially pleased with the fact that Underwood was held to 0 points in the 1st quarter.
That changed in the 2nd quarter, as Underwood got on the board, putting back her own miss for 2. Durand then slashed to the rim, hitting a scoop shot on the break. Then Durand again scored in transition, this time pulling up off the dribble and hitting the foul line jumper. Underwood drilled a step-back 3-pointer and then the Clippers quickly got a steal, Underwood dished it to Durand on the 2-on-1 break for the layup. That capped a 13-0 Portsmouth run, as they now led 19-15.
Oyster River chipped away at the Portsmouth lead in the 4th quarter to try and get back in it. Messler put the ball on the floor and scored a tough bucket inside. Sherman hit a couple more jumpers and the Clippers' lead was down to 41-35 with 5:27 left in regulation. But then Portsmouth responded with a 9-2 run. Laurence converted an and-1 put-back. Then Laurence hit a shot inside, and then just seconds later Laurence stole the ball near mid-court and then hit another layup on the break. Then it was Laurence again, this time with a strong and-1 finish inside. It was a 9-2 run for Portsmouth, with all 9 points coming from Laurence - not bad for a freshman!
"After I picked up 3 fouls early I felt like I needed to make up for it" said Laurence. "In the 2nd half I calmed down and got it together."
The Clippers held on from there for the 50-39 win at Stone Gymnasium in Portsmouth.