Thursday, March 3, 2016

PCA Punches Ticket to Final Four

In a battle between the two preseason favorites in D-IV, Portsmouth Christian Academy prevailed 56-47 over Epping in the quarterfinals in Dover on Thursday night. This was a great game - it was hard fought, emotions were running high, you had 2 rival schools going at it in front of a standing room only crowd with a trip to Plymouth State on the line. You can't ask for much more than that.

Epping led by as many as 8, when it was 27-19 with 1:42 left in the 2nd quarter. PCA chipped away at the Blue Devils' lead, cutting it to 29-26 at halftime. But PCA went on an 8-2 run to begin the 3rd quarter to go up 34-31. The Eagles made enough shots (Caleb Gendron and Joe Towle hit big shots during the 8-2 run) and got enough stops in the 2nd half to earn the win.

"All it really was, was execution" said Portsmouth Christian Academy senior guard Kylani Lafleur, who dropped a game-high 19 points. "We stuck to the game plan and played with heart."

The teams split the 2 regular season meetings, and this one was considered a tossup coming in. Before tip-off the place was already packed, there was a buzz in the crowd - this game was oozing with anticipation. Once the contest got started Epping took the early lead, as they were the sharper team early on and was executing better. Blue Devils senior guard Colby Wilson (7 points) drained a fadeaway jumper from the elbow with a hand right in his face. PCA came right back though, fast-breaking off the make, with junior forward Andrew McCormack (7 points) making the layup.

Epping junior forward Jackson Rivers (11 points and 12 rebounds) got whistled for a charge. It was a tough call though - he was just making a basketball move, not barreling into the defender. Wilson made a good pass to teammate Dylan Derosier (team-high 17 points) for a layup, followed by teammate Cam Osgood banking in a leaner in transition. PCA countered on the other end, as Lafleur up-faked and then hit a leaner with a hand in his face.

Rivers connected on a step-back jumper from the foul line to make it 8-4 Epping. Then Blue Devils senior guard Glenn Hagan came off the bench and immediately converted a put-back and then drilled a 3-pointer to extend the Epping lead to 13-6. Senior forward Devon Smart came off the PCA bench and he too buried a 3-pointer, as the Eagles closed to within 13-9 at the end of an entertaining 1st quarter.

The Blue Devils kept the momentum on their side early in the 2nd quarter, as Derosier knifed his way to the rim for 2, followed by a nice block on 'D' by Osgood. Lafleur had an outstanding 2nd quarter though, and he answered back by using a screen set by Smart to drive past his defender (Tommy Bullock) before hitting the teardrop in the lane. Then PCA got a quick steal, and Lafleur used a euro-step move to get to the rim for the layup.

Lafleur kept attacking, as moments later he drove and banked in a tough leaner to pull the Eagles within 17-15. Not only was Lafleur scoring, but he was also getting a ton of deflections and steals on 'D'. His defense was feuling his offense.

"It was execution on defense, playing off instincts and being where I had to be" commented Lafleur, who transferred to PCA this season after playing in D-I for Dover High last year.

Derosier countered with another strong drive and finish. PCA junior forward Paul Staude (9 points) made a nice up-and-under move for 2. McCormack put the ball on the floor, made a nice spin move into the lane before hitting the turnaround jumper. Derosier again showed his quickness off the dribble, drove into the lane and banked in a floater. Epping was up 27-19 with 1:42 left in the 1st half - it was the Blue Devils' largest lead of the game.

But PCA answered that run and got right back in it. It was again Lafleur taking over, as he drove the lane, drew a second defender and then dished it to junior guard Joseph Yoon (10 points) for the layup. Lafleur then got to the rim, got fouled, made the first FT but missed the second. Epping gets the rebound but Lafleur leaps up for another deflection and steal, goes to the rim and banks in a leaner.

"He's the best player in our division" said Portsmouth Christian Academy head coach Lewis Atkins about Lafleur.

Lafleur closed out his outstanding 2nd quarter by hitting a long 2 (had a foot on the line) while falling down, with just 2 seconds left in the 1st half. It was 29-26 Epping at halftime.

"We had some foul trouble there - Jackson Rivers picked up his 2nd foul in the 1st quarter and sat for most of the 2nd" explained Epping head coach Sean Young. "We wanted to have Jackson covering Lafleur."

In the 2nd half Rivers stayed out of foul trouble and on the court - as a result Lafleur went from scoring 5 field goals in the 1st half to 0 in the 2nd half. With Lafleur being held in check by Rivers, it was time for others guys on PCA to step up. That's exactly what happened, as Gendron buried a big 3-pointer from the right wing off the catch, giving PCA their first lead of the game with 4:43 left in the 3rd quarter.

Towle then connected on a 15-footer, extending the Eagles lead to 34-31. That's a couple of big shots there from Gendron and Towle, who had both scored their first points of the contest. On the other end Rivers made a nice block from behind to wipe away a layup attempt by PCA. Epping ran a quick fast-break, with Derosier finishing the layup to tie it up 34-34. PCA looked to run a fast-break of their own off the make, with McCormack scoring 2 more inside. It was 37-34 Eagles after 3.

Yoon continued to play well off the bench for PCA - after a blocked shot by Epping senior Nick Padgett, Yoon hustled for the loose ball and converted the put-back. Wilson buried a 3-pointer from five feet behind the line, nothin' but net. That cut the PCA lead to 39-37.

The Eagles kept looking to get out and run transition whenever possible - they grabbed a defensive rebound, quickly pushed it up the floor and got it to Staude for the layup. That extended the PCA lead to 44-37 with 6:20 left in regulation, forcing Coach Young to call a timeout.

The Blue Devils were still in it though, as Derosier slashed to the rim again for 2 more after an Epping offensive rebound. PCA now led 44-41 with 4:10 remaining. The Eagles countered though, with their 3 biggest buckets of the evening. In the half court offense, Staude zipped a pass to a cutting Gendron for the layup. Then Towle drove and dished it to Staude for another layup. That pushed the PCA lead back to 7, 48-41. PCA kept pulling away - they broke the Epping 3/4 court trap for a layup, with Staude finishing the and-1.

"We were finally able to run our drive and kick offense" said Coach Atkins. "Our depth helped."

On the and-1 by Staude that was also Derosier's fifth foul, so he was out and it was the end to a career for a very good player.

The Blue Devils refused to quit, though. Rivers scored 2 more inside, cutting the PCA lead to 50-47 with 1:11 left in the 4th quarter.

"Jackson has been the best player in D-IV over the last month" said Coach Young. "He's been getting 20 points and 16 rebound per game."

Epping now had to foul, they sent Lafleur to the line and he made 1 of 2 FTs. On the other end Rivers went to the rim strong, got fouled, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Rivers hustled to make a nice steal, again went to the rim with it, again got fouled and this time he missed both FTs. That's four points Epping could have had, but instead they're still down by 4, 51-47. Lafleur goes back to the line and hits both free throws, so now it's 53-47 PCA with just 40 seconds left in the game.

"My father gave me a 1-on-1 talk about how every time you miss a foul shot it really means something" said Lafleur. "So I really tried to make them."

The Eagles added 3 more FTs, and hung on for the 56-47 win. Epping's season is over, while PCA celebrated on the court because they are headed to the Final Four at Plymouth State.

"It's hard because we are are all very close" lamented Coach Young. "These players are like my kids. No team works harder than this group. They played 50+ summer league games over the past two years, plus fall league. They've done everything I've asked of them."

PCA will take on #3 seed Woodsville on Monday night at Plymouth State in the semi-finals. Woodsville advanced to the Final Four tonight by defeating defending champs Wilton-Lyndeborough.

"We scrimmaged Woodsville and I have a bunch of tape on them" said Coach Atkins. "We're capable of owning that trophy. We're confident and we know we can win it."

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