Sunday, March 6, 2016

Winnacunnet Girls Head Back to Final Four

Winnacunnet, Bishop Guertin, Bedford and Londonderry. They were the four preseason favorites in D-I girls basketball, and all four of them are now officially headed to the Final Four at SNHU.

#4 seed Winnacunnet took on #5 seed Pinkerton on Saturday night in Hampton. Of the four quarterfinal games, this one figured to have the highest chance of an upset because Pinkerton actually beat Winnacunnet in the regular season 48-31.

This time around it was a different story. The Warriors ended the 1st quarter on a 16-3 run, they led 33-14 in the 2nd quarter, pushed their lead to 43-21 in the 3rd quarter and cruised to the 61-46 win. From mid-way through the 2nd quarter on, the outcome of this game was not in much doubt. Winnacunnet was in control.

Why was this game so different than the regular season meeting? The biggest key is Winnacunnet junior wing forward Kaya Cadagan, who did not play in the regular season meeting because she was out with a sprained ankle. She played on Saturday night in the quarterfinals, though. Cadagan teamed up with senior forward Meg Knollmeyer to form a dominant inside duo. Cadagan had 14 points, while Knollmeyer (the likely Player of the Year in D-I) tallied a game-high 24 points and 15 rebounds.

"We knew we had the height advantage, so we ran specific plays to get it inside" said Knollmeyer. "When Kaya is there we play a faster game and it gives us momentum."

Cadagan scored the game's first 2 points on a put-back, and throughout the game she continued to attack the basket and finish. The Warriors kept feeding the ball inside to her and Knollmeyer, and they were also running their high-low offense which is their bread and butter.

"When we played them in the regular season I couldn't play" said Cadagan. "It was hard watching from the bench and not be able to help the team."

Pinkerton led 7-3 early on though, as Courtney Velho finished an and-1 off a baseline out of bounds play and sophomore point guard Amanda Lemire hit a pull-up jumper on the break. The Warriors answered back though, as they ran a fast-break of their own off the make, getting it to Cadagan for the layup.

Cadagan banked in an 18-footer, teammate Emily Britton (9 points) stole the ball at 3/4 court and took it all the way in for a layup. Winnacunnet used their full court press to get a steal in the back court off the inbounds pass, Katie Valcich went up strong with it, got fouled and made both FTs. The Warriors went high-low, with Knollmeyer zipping a pass to Cadagan inside for 2. Pinkerton senior forward Sara McLeman made a nice block on Knollmeyer. The Knollmeyer hit an 18-footer.

Valcich found Knollmeyer in the post for a strong finish, and it was 19-10 Winnacunnet after 1. Knollmeyer showed some good hustle early in the 2nd quarter, diving on the floor for a loose ball, which forced a jump ball. The Astros were trying to hang in there, as senior guard Marissa Stacy (11 points) led the break and hit a pull-up jumper near the foul line. Velho played some tough defense and blocked Cadagan. But Winnacunnet was in control, as sophomore guard Jenny Freedman zipped a pass ahead to Britton on the break for a layup to make it 23-12 Warriors, forcing Pinkerton to call a timeout.

Winnacunnet kept pressing full court, and they got another steal with it which led to a layup by Freedman to make it 25-12. Lemire finished strong on the break. But the Warriors kept having success with their press, as Cadagan and Freedman converted layups. Britton banked in a leaner to extend the Winnacunnet lead to 31-14. Knollmeyer had another strong finish to make it 33-14. Lemire hit a 3, as the Astros ended the 2nd quarter on a 7-0 run. It was 33-21 Warriors at halftime.

Winnacunnet kept pushing their lead in the 2nd half. Freedman converted a put-back, Knollmeyer and Cadagan scored inside and then they got another steal which led to another layup by Knollmeyer which amde it 43-21 Warriors.

"We were disrupting them when they had the ball" said Winnacunnet head coach Cassie Turcotte.

Stacy hit a 3 for Pinkerton, but Britton answered right back with a 3 of her own, pushing the Winnacunent lead to 46-26. Knollmeyer kept hustling on defense, and the Warriors led 46-29 after 3 quarters.

The outcome of the game had been decided, but give the Astros credit for continuing to fight and play hard in the 4th quarter as they outscored Winnacunnet 17-15. Velho banked in a runner, Cadagan hit a jumper from the elbow. Knollmeyer finished an and-1 put-back, Stacy finished an and-1 for Pinkerton. Lemire drove and dished it to Velho for a layup. Lemire hit a 3, but it was too late as the Warriors cruised to the 61-46 win.

Winnacunnet will take on BG on Thursday night in the D-I semi-finals at SNHU. BG won the regular season meeting.

"When we saw them here it was an evenly matched game" said Coach Turcotte. "But we have experience on that big court and they don't."

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