Friday, March 11, 2016

BG Beats Winnacunnet in D-I Semis

By: Jeremy Leveille
Bishop Guertin and Winnacunnet. No girls basketball team in NH has been playing better than them coming into tonight. BG was riding a 16 game winning streak, while Winnacunnet had won 10 in a row coming in. Even though it was the semi-finals, this could have easily been the championship game.

In the end it was the depth of BG that was the difference. The Cardinals rotated 8 players in and out and all 8 of them contributed. Meanwhile, Winnacunnet had the best player on the floor in 6-foot senior Meg Knollmeyer (and the likely D-I Player of the Year), but the Warriors relied on her too much, not enough other players stepped up and she was held to just 3 points in the 2nd half.

BG had more depth and more balance, they ended the game on a 14-3 run and win it 46-34. The Cardinals advance to the D-I title game on Saturday night vs. Bedford.

"We've been working really hard in practice" said Bishop Guertin senior point guard Marie Laplante, who had 9 points and 5 steals. "The keys were to minimize our turnovers and defense. My role on the team isn't to score as much, so I try to play good defense."

Laplante, junior guard Meghan Cramb, junior forward Abbi Field and junior wing Molly Dee all had big hoops down the stretch.

"A team effort in every sense of the word" said Bishop Guertin first-year head coach Brad Kreick.

"We build off each other - when one of us makes a shot it motivates the others" said Laplante.

"It's great" said Cramb. "Our team has really come together. Everyone has equal skill. It feels great to accomplish our goal of getting to the championship game."

After a put-back by Knollmeyer (18 points and 10 rebounds) early in the 4th quarter, the BG lead was down to 1, 32-31. Soon after that Winnacunnet had the ball and they were down 33-31, so they had a chance to either tie or take the lead. Instead Knollmeyer misses a layup, then on the other end Dee buries a 3-pointer off the catch from the right corner to make it 36-31 BG with 6:00 left in regulation. So essentially that's a 5 point swing in about 10 seconds right there.

"When she hit that should it got all of us excited" said Cramb.

The excitement didn't stop there. The Cardinals quickly pushed the ball in transition, with Cramb finishing the layup. The Warriors tried to answer back, but Laplante came out of nowhere to grab her fifth steal of the game. Then Laplante drove and made a nice dish to Field for a bucket inside. Winnacunnet continued to struggle running their offense against a tough Guertin defense, as BG stole the ball once again. They were simply the better basketball team in the 4th quarter, and they win it 46-34.

For Winnacunnet, starters Katie Valcich, Emily Britton and Kaya Cadagan were all in foul trouble. Valcich picked up her third foul in the 2nd quarter, while Britton and Cadagan had 2. Then Cadagan picked up her third foul early in the 3rd quarter. Meanwhile for BG, Field and Cramb both had 2 fouls in the 2nd quarter. But BG is so balanced 1 through 8 that they can still play well even with a couple kids in foul trouble. Winnacunnet on the other hand is not as deep and relies heavily on their top 3 or 4 players.

"The foul trouble does something to you emotionally" lamented Winnacunnet head coach Cassie Turcotte. "It makes you more tentative on the defensive end. It makes you scared to box out, rebound and go for the ball. We had a foul called on us not even 15 seconds into the game. They called it tight."

Early in the 1st quarter both teams showed some good ball movement, as Valcich threaded the needle to Cadagan for a layup followed by Cramb making a nice dish inside to Dee for a layup. Knollmeyer made a nice block, and Field picked up her 2nd foul with 6:13 left in the 1st quarter.

Cramb (team-high 10 points) made a strong drive to the rim for a lefty finish. Knollmeyer got good position in the low post, the Warriors got her the ball and she scored. On the other end junior guard Rachel Marion converted a put-back for BG. Knollmeyer finished an and-1 put-back. But junior guard Meghan Donovan made a reverse layup in traffic followed by a a strong finish inside after she rebounded her own miss to get BG a 12-10 lead after 1.

The teams continued to battle it out in the 2nd quarter. Knollmeyer rebounded her own miss and put it in, cutting the Guertin lead to 17-15. At this point, Cramb, Field, Valcich and Cadagan all had 2 fouls. Then Valcich picked up her third foul with 2:47 left in the 1st half.

The Warriors again got the ball inside to Knollmeyer for 2 more, and Winnacunnet was on top 20-19. BG sophomore forward Caroline Hoffer converted a put=back and then banked in a 3-pointer, as the Cardinals took a 24-20 lead into halftime.

Cadagan (10 points and 5 rebounds) was back in there to start the 3rd quarter, and she finished inside off a baseline out of bounds play. Then the Warriors got out in transition, with Britton finishing the layup to tie it up 24-24. Dee slashed to the rim for a lefty finish, putting the Cardinals back ahead 26-24.

Laplante slashed to the rim for 2, and on the other end Cadagan drained an 18-footer. Valcich made a great pass to Cadagan for a layup, as the Warriors went back on top 29-28 with 1:30 left in the 3rd quarter. That was the last lead Winnacunnet would have all game. Laplante answered back with another drive down the lane and floater, and BG led 32-29 after 3. Knollmeyer was held to just 1 point in the 3rd quarter.

"They were definitely doubling a lot inside" said Coach Turcotte. "They fronted her a lot. A front and then another player would double down quickly. What's unfortunate is that when they doubled we didn't find the open guard."

This game marks the end of a great career for Knollmeyer, who will play her college ball at D-II New York Institute of Technology.

As for BG, they will definitely be the favorites in the title game on Saturday night. And if Bri Purcell isn't able to play the Cardinals could win it by 20+ points.

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