The Londonderry High girls basketball team beat Bedford 28-21 on Thursday night.
No folks, that's not a typo. It was a 28-21 final. And no, that's not a football score.
In a game where both teams played tough defense and were sloppy on offense, Londonderry played tougher defense and was less sloppy on offense. As a result, the Lancers got the win.
"We've played each other way too many over the past couple of years" said Nick Theos, head coach of the 2-time defending D-I champs Londonderry. "They're always low scoring, sloppy games. They know what plays we're going to run and vice-versa. We just wanted to outlast them."
This game was filled with turnovers, missed layups, errant passes and air-balls. But Londonderry held Bedford to just 5 points in the entire 2nd half. They started the 4th quarter on a 7-1 run, and were led by the play of senior guards Jackie Luckhardt (game-high 9 points) and Kate Balcom as well as junior guard Kelsey Coffey.
Neither team shot the ball well or executed on offense all game, but Londonderry did both slightly better.
"The biggest key for us was to just slow the ball down, relax and keep running our plays" said Luckhardt, who is in her third season as a starter for the Lancers.
Bedford has arguably the best back court in the state, with point guard Bri Purcell and shooting guard Nikki Tucci. Both are seniors. The all-state duo has been playing together all growing up. But tonight Tucci was held scoreless and Purcell's only basket came in the closing seconds after the Lancers already had the game in the bag.
"That's their biggest offense and we shut them down" said Luckhardt.
"We didn't want to let Tucci beat us" explained Coach Theos. Last game against them Kat Wells held Tucci scoreless. Tucci scored, but not when Kat was covering her. Then tonight she held her scoreless again. With Purcell, we knew that her and Luckhardt would balance each other out. So we needed Kat Wells to win her match-up with Tucci, and she did."
Bedford led 16-15 after a low-scoring 1st half. There was even less scoring in the 2nd half. Halfway through the 3rd quarter it was still 16-15 Bulldogs. Balcom was playing some tough defense. She was also going all out hustling for loose balls and offensive rebounds. Coffey drove into the lane, hit a floater and after 3 quarters it was 19-18 Londonderry.
The teams combined to score just 6 total points in the 3rd quarter. Bedford and Londonderry were considered to be the top 2 girls basketball teams in the state. But judging by how much these teams struggled to score the basketball, the rest of D-I has to be liking their chances a little more now.
Luckhardt came out in the 4th quarter with even more energy - she was all over the place, wreaking havoc and grabbing steals. Between her and Balcom, the Lancers have a duo that plays as hard as anybody in NH.
"Kate is one of the most athletic players I have seen" said Luckhardt. "When me and her are getting steals it helps our team gain momentum."
Londonderry kept that momentum, as banked in an 18-footer off the catch to extend the Lancers' lead to 21-18. That shot came after both team's went scoreless for the first 3:30 of the 4th quarter. Then Luckhardt was left open, and she made Bedford pay by hitting a 15-footer off a cross-court pass by Coffey. That made it 23-19 Londonderry with just 2:30 remaining.
The Lancers regained possession, trying to run the clock against the Bulldogs' pressure defense. Londonderry should have been whistled for a 5 second closely guarded violation but there was no call. Then when Bedford did get the ball back, sophomore guard Alexis Meservey's 3-pointer attempt which would have cut the Lancers' lead to just 2 went in and out. Then Luckhardt made a pair of free throws to make it 26-19 with just 35 seconds left in regulation. They held on from there for the 28-21 win.
"Everybody on our team got tighter as the game went on" lamented Bedford head coach Sue Thomas, whose team was undefeated coming into this game. "Even if just one of our kids was making their shots it would have helped. But the whole game we were playing like we were down by 5 with only a minute left - even when we were up. And Jackie Luckhardt was getting steals on every play - she had a great game."
Defense dominated early on. Bedford senior forward Courtney O'Connell made a nice block. Coffey got the offense started by draining a 3-pointer. Then Bullogs' junior forward Jenoyce Laniyan drove hard to the rim from the foul line for an and-1 finish. Then the offenses slowed down even more, as we had lots of turnovers, air-balls and missed layups.
Then Bedford showed some good ball movement, as O'Connell zipped a pass over to Purcell, who dished it inside to Laniyan who hit a jumper from just inside the foul line. Bedford guard Alyson Fillion hit a pull-up jumper from 18-feet and it was 7-6 Bulldogs. Luckhardt came back on the other end by drilling a jumper of her own to put the Lancers back on top 8-7 and that was the score after 1 quarter.
O'Connell put Bedford back ahead 9-8 early in the 2nd quarter by connecting on a 15-footer using a high release off a kick-out by Mia Roy. Then Purcell made a nice defensive play, stepping in and taking a charge on Londonderry forward Shannon Sonia. Then after a quick transition layup by Bedford junior wing Maddie Blake it was 14-8 Bulldogs - they were on a 7-0 run. Londonderry had gone scoreless for the first 4 minutes of the 2nd quarter.
The Lancers responded with a 7-0 run of their own. Balcom converted a layup in transition. Then Luckhardt jumped the passing line, making a nice steal at 3/4 court and racing to the rim where she got fouled and made 1 of 2 foul shots. Balcom then showed some good hustle, diving on the floor for a loose ball. Londonderry continued to push the pace of the game, as Luckhardt rushed the ball up court, driving into the lane before making a nice dish to freshman forward Ashley Evans for the layup. That capped the 7-0 run and gave the Lancers the lead back, 15-14. Roy hit a pull-up jumper from 15-feet to put Bedford back on top at halftime, 16-15.
Both teams really struggled on offense in this game. Londonderry just struggled a little less.
Before this game I thought it was a sure thing that Bedford and Londonderry would be meeting in the D-I title game in March. Now I'm not so sure.