Sunday, February 7, 2016

Londonderry's 'D' Gets them the 'W'

It's no secret that Londonderry is one of the best defensive teams in the state. They have senior point guard Jackie Luckhardt, who is arguably the best defender in NH. They have senior wing Kate Balcom, who goes hard on every play of every game - defending, rebounding, taking charges and hustling for loose balls. They also have Ashley Evans, a 6-foot-2 freshman who can dominate the boards. All of this was evident on Saturday afternoon vs. arch-rival Pinkerton.

The Lancers packed in their zone defense, not allowing the Astros to get the ball inside and forcing them to take 3-pointers. Pinkerton's shots weren't falling, and as a result they scored just 14 points through 3 quarters. Londonderry wins it 39-28.

"I credit their defense" lamented Pinkerton head coach Lani Buskey, who has gotten her team to the Final Four in each of her first two seasons at the helm. "We're easy to defend if only two girls want to take a shot. I need five starters and two off the bench to all be weapons on offense - not just two."

Both teams were coming off losses. Pinkerton suffered their first loss of the season to Nashua North last week, while Londonderry fell to Winnacunnet.

The Lancers led 9-4 at the end of the 1st quarter. They got a lift when Delaney McGurn came off the bench and hit a pair of shots.

"Delaney as a freshman in a Pinkerton vs. Londonderry game to come in and hit two shots right in a row was huge" mentioned Londonderry head coach Nick Theos, who won a title in his first season at the helm last year.

Early in the 2nd quarter Luckhardt showed why she's arguably the best defender in NH, making a great steal and then racing to the rim. She got fouled and hit both free throws. In addition to playing tough defense, Luckhardt dropped a game-high 13 points, as she was the only player in double figures for either squad.

Pinkerton was struggling with their outside shooting. Astros senior guard Marissa Stacy hustled back on defense to block a shot attempt by Luckhardt. A transition bucket by the Lancers put them up 15-4 with 4:18 left in the 2nd quarter, as Londonderry was on a 6-0 run. This forced Coach Buskey to call a timeout.

The Astros finally end their offensive drought, as Stacy connected on a 3-pointer off the catch from the top of the key. Balcom showed great hustle, flying in towards the basket from out of nowhere to grab an offensive rebound. Pinkerton sophomore guard Amanda Lemire hit a 3 of her own off the catch from the top of the key, and it was 15-10 Londonderry at halftime.

"I keep telling them, if we can hold top 5 teams to under 30 points we'll be okay" said Coach Theos. "We want to give the impression that we're pressing, without giving up layups."

Courtney Velho converted a layup early in the 3rd quarter, but that would be the only basket the Astros would score that entire quarter. Luckhardt answered back by hitting a pull-up jumper from the elbow. Then the Lancers got a quick steal, with Kelsey Coffey dishing it over to Balcom for the layup and 19-12 Londonderry advantage. Both teams continued to shoot the basketball poorly.

Coffey drove baseline and made a nifty reverse lay-in finish. Luckhardt made a steal in the back court and easy layup. Balcom leaped up to make a nice block on 'D'., but instead was whistled for a foul - definitely a tough call on the Lancers. Velho made a nice block for Pinkerton, who trailed 24-14 after 3 quarters.

"There's not many plays that they take off" Coach Theos said about his team. "They work really hard."

Balcom made a nice block on a 3-pointer attempt by Pinkerton early in the 4th quarter. Then Evans (6 points and 15 rebounds) made a nice block as well. Luckhardt came off a screen and hit a 15-footer to make it 26-15 Lancers. Evans buried a short jumper, and then Luckhardt connected on a pull-up jumper from 15 feet. It was now 30-16 Londonderry with 4:00 left in regulation, and with how badly the Astros were struggling to score it seemed at that point like that game was over.

"Ashley and Kate did a great job rebounding" said Theos.

Pinkerton wasn't ready to give up just yet, though. After that last shot by Luckhardt, the Astros looked to run a fast-break off the made basket. They got it to senior forward Sara McLeman for a quick layup. Then Stacy (11 points) drilled a 3-pointer from the corner and Lemire hit a short jumper. Pinkerton was finally showing some life, as they now trailed 34-25 with 2:28 left in the 4th quarter, forcing Coach Theos to call a timeout.

But it was too little too late. Luckhardt hustled for a loose ball and dove on the floor to knock it over to a teammate. Londonderry cruises from there for the 39-28 win.

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