Sunday, March 6, 2016

Gilford Goes Undefeated En Route to D-III Championship

Gilford High is your undefeated champions in D-III girls basketball. The Golden Eagles have gone undefeated in the regular season for the past 2 years. They have made it to the D-III finals each of the past 2 years. Their record over the past 2 years is an astounding 43-1. And now their group of seniors, which includes Jordan Dean, Madison Harris, Cassidy Bartlett and Mariah Nelson get to end their careers as champions.

"This ending to my senior year is the most picture perfect ending - it couldn't have gone any better" said Harris, who tallied 5 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block and 1 assist. "Our seniors have played together for a long time. It's a dream come true."

Gilford defeated their rivals Laconia 42-38 in the title game on Saturday at SNHU. It was the fourth meeting of the season between the 2 teams - twice in the regular season, once during the Christmas tournament and again in the D-III finals. Saturday's final was a great game - two good, evenly matched teams giving it their all for 32 minutes. Both teams played tough defense and moved the ball well on offense.

It was a close, back-and-forth battle throughout. It went down to the wire, and with the championship hanging in the balance it was tied up 38-38 with just a minute left in the 4th quarter. Gilford had the ball, they got it inside to Dean and she scored what would turn out to be the game-winning basket. It was the first and only points Dean scored all game, but she made them count.

"That was our 1-4 High offense" said Gilford head coach Rick Forge. "This was our fourth time playing them, so we had to throw a different wrinkle at them. We got a couple of back door looks with it."

Dean's layup made it 40-38 Gilford with just 43.2 seconds left. Laconia had possession with a chance to tie or re-take the lead, but they lost the ball out of bounds and turned it over. Now it was Gilford ball and the Sachems had to foul. They sent Gilford junior Stevie Orton to the line and she hit 2 clutch free throws to make it a 2 possession game. The Golden Eagles hold on for the 42-38 win and celebrated their championship.

"We have a lot of experience - I've played with these seniors since the 3rd grade" said Bartlett, the point guard who tallied 7 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. "There's no greater feeling in the world than doing it with these players. We're so close, like a family."

The SNHU Fieldhouse was packed and it was rockin' for this game. Both fan sections were loud, it made for a great atmosphere. Laconia junior guard Helen Tautkus (team-high 15 points) drove to the rim in transition early in the 1st quarter for an and-1 finish. Teammate Kailey Nute hit a 3-pointer from the right wing, and then Tautkus grabbed a steal near mid-court and took it in for the easy layup to put the Sachems on top 9-2 with 5:01 left in the 1st quarter, forcing Gilford to call an timeout.

Out of the timeout, the Golden Eagle responded with an 11-0 run. Bartlett drilled a 3-pointer, then Bartlett drove strong to the rim, got fouled and hit 2 FTs. Then Gilford sophomore guard Brooke Beaudet (11 points) then buried back-to-back 3's to cap the 11-0 run and make it 13-9 Golden Eagles. Dean made a nice block, but then Nute hit another 3 for Laconia. We were tied 14-14 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Gilford got a quick bucket in transition by Orton (11 points) for an and-1 finish. Laconia answered back, as they got a steal and turned it into a fast-break layup by Erika Marchione to put the Sachems back ahead 17-16. Orton finished strong inside for 2, putting Gilford back on top 18-17. Nute was hustling for loose balls and steals and playing tough defense. Tautkus hit a pull-up jumper from 15-feet.

Natalie Compton buried a 3-pointer for Laconia to put them back on top 23-22. Nelson came off the bench and was playing for Harris, who had 2 fouls. Nelson finished inside for 2, putting Gilford back on top 24-23. Orton missed a 3, but followed her shot and converted the put-back. The Golden Eagles led 26-24 at halftime.

"I think they did a good job of playing a box and one on Kailey Nute - that forced us to switch up our offense" said Laconia head coach Jeff Greeley.

The Sachems quickly tied it back up in the 3rd quarter on a transition layup by Tautkus. Laconia re-took the lead 28-27 on a pair of FTs by Calyce Swormstedt. Gilford went back ahead 29-28, as Beaudet made a great pass to Bartlett for a layup. The Giolden Eagles got the ball right back and extended their lead to 31-28 on a layup by Beaudet.

Then Beaudet drained a 3-pointer to make it 34-28, which was Gilford's largest lead of the game. Beaudet had ice water in her veins - she has a very calm and cool demeanor on the court, it doesn't seem like she gets rattled at all, even in a high pressure game.

Laconia stormed right back, closing the 3rd quarter on a 6-0 run, including back-to-back hoops by Tautkus and a drive and finish by Nute. It was all tied up 34-34 after 3.

Dean made a nice pass to Harris for a layup, putting Gilford back ahead 36-34. The Golden Eagles showed more good ball movement and execution, as they threw a pass from up top to Orton inside for 2 more to make it 38-34. Swormstedt banked in a runner and Tautkus converted a put-back, tying it back up 38-38. You know how the rest went. IT was a game that could have gone either way, but Gilford just made one or two more plays and as a result they are your champion.

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