By: Jeremy Leveille
Despite having a key player transfer to Bishop Guertin three years in a row (Paige Parkinson, Marie Laplante and Abby Streeter), Nashua North head coach Ricky Oliver just keeps winning games. With their 59-42 win over Manchester Memorial in the D-I preliminary round, this is the Titans' fifth consecutive trip to the quarterfinals. They've made the tournament ten years in a row, including one Final Four appearance.
In their win on Wednesday night, North was once again led by their standout senior duo of guards Sara Cordova (team-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers) and Dezi Okorie (8 points and 6 steals). Okorie played tenacious defense all game long, forcing Memorial into a ton of turnovers. North went on a 9-2 run in the 2nd half, with all 9 points coming on 3-pointers by Cordova. That gave the Titans a 43-25 lead in the 4th quarter, which was too big of a deficit for the Crusaders to come back from.
"The thing we try to focus on is using our speed and athleticism to turn them over and get layups" said Okorie. "That gives us energy.It comes naturally to me - playing tough defense up top and forcing turnovers."
Okorie and Cordova have started all four years together at North. But they lost to Memorial 60-58 during the regular season and if they lost to them again then their careers would be over.
"We were determined" said Okorie. "We didn't want to end our season on our home court against a team that had already beaten us. We wanted to get to the next round."
North was only up 10-8 after 1, but it was in the 2nd quarter when the turnovers started to pile up on Memorial. The Titans got a steal and quickly went the other way with it in transition, as freshman guard Peyton Ryan dieshed it to Cordova for the layup. Then Ryan (9 points off the bench) buried a 3-pointer from the right wing, her second 3 of the contest. That extended the Titans' lead to 15-8. Memorial answered back, as senior guard Abbey Morrison drove inside for 2.
Morrison took it to the rim again, but this time senior forward Lexi Ivory stepped in to take the charge. The Crusaders turned it over again, North ran the break, sophomore guard Alana Choate got fouled and hit 2 free throws. Memorial countered, as sophomore guard Melanie Presseau (12 points) drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to cut the North lead to 19-15.
The Crusaders kept turning it over though - Okorie grabbed a steal near midcourt and took it all the way in for a transition layup. Just moments later the Titans got another steal, and this time Okorie zipped a pass ahead to Choate for the easy layup. The Titans led 23-15 at halftime.
"This is a young team, and I think they had some jitters in the 1st half" said Manchester Memorial head coach Lindsay Gundy. "That caused some of our turnovers. We were getting the shots we wanted in the 1st half, they just weren't falling. They didn't do anything we didn't expect them to do."
Cordova slashed to the rim for a floater early in the 3rd quarter, extending the Titans' lead to 25-15. Her and Okorie should both be all-state players in D-I this season. Morrison (team-high 18 points) connected on a 3-pointer off the catch from the left wing - she should also be an all-state player.
North junior wing Isabel Dunning (8 points) hit a running lefty hook shot. Then the Titans broke the Memorial full court press, with Dunning dishing it to Ivory for a 3-pointer. It was now 30-18 North with 4:40 left in the 3rd quarter - North was pulling away.
Okorie grabbed another steal near midcourt, again taking it all the way in for the easy layup. That made it 32-18 Titans with 3:49 left in the 3rd quarter, forcing Coach Gundy to call a timeout. Out of the timeout though the Crusaders' turnover woes continued, with 2 more steals by North and another easy layup by Okorie.
Memorial was hanging around though, as Morrison dished it to sophomore forward Ashley Mathieu-LaFrance for a layup. That cut the Titans lead to 34-23 with 1:02 left in the 3rd quarter, forcing Coach Oliver to call a timeout.
Unfortunately for the Crusaders, that would be as close as they would get for the rest of the game, as North led by as least 12 for the whole 4th quarter. Cordova sunk back-t-back 3-pointers at the end of the 3rd, one off a baseline out of bounds play and the other off the catch from the left wing with 2 seconds left in the quarter. The Titans took a commanding 40-23 lead into the 4th quarter.
Cordova's hot shooting continued, as she nailed yet another 3 ball early in the 4th quarter, this time getting a friendly home court bounce. That capped a 9-2 run for North (all 9 points on 3's by Cordova) and made it 43-25 Titans. Give Cordova credit for the way she kept her head up and kept shooting. She was only 1/5 from beyond the arc in the 1st half and 3 of those 4 misses were airballs. But she stuck with it and hit 3 big shots in the 2nd half.
Presseau drove the lane and hit a floater, followed by a nice hustle play by Memorial sophomore guard Destiny Lopez where she hustled for a loose ball, saved it and then throw it off a North player and out of bounds. Give credit to Memorial for the way they kept fighting all the way until the end.
Then came a controversial call, as Crusaders sophomore guard Haleigh Shea made a strong take and finish at the rim for an and-1. Right? Wrong. Apparently the official called an offensive foul on Shea, with Ivory taking the charge. Ivory left the game injured, but returned a few minutes later. That was Shea's fifth foul, so she fouled out.
North was again able to break the Memorial press for a layup, as this time it was Ryan scoring the bucket. The Crusaders refused to quit though, they kept fighting. Presseau drained a 3-pointer off the catch from the left wing, but North was still on top 50-36 with just 3:40 remaining. The Titans cruised from there for the 59-42 win. Memorial played North even, 19-19 in the 4th quarter.
"It seemed like if we played with the intensity in the 1st half that we did in the 4th quarter we would have been right there" said Coach Gundy. "I have 10 kids who play hard, we just didn't execute."
6 of Memorial's top 8 players are only sophomores, so this could be a scary team in 2 years.
North moves on to play at #2 seed Londonderry on Saturday night in the D-I quarterfinals. Londonderry took care of business tonight vs. Exeter. The winner of that game heads to the Final Four at SNHU.