In a game between one of the best teams in the NHIAA and one of the best teams in the MIAA, it was the team from NH that came out on top.
Defending NHIAA state champs Bishop Guertin overcame a slow start (scored just 5 points in 1st quarter) to defeat perennial MIAA powerhouse Central Catholic (Lawrence, MA) on Thursday night. This was the preliminary round of the 2016 Commonwealth Motors Christmas Tournament, at North Andover High School.
"We didn't get off to a good start, but in the 2nd quarter the girls off the bench stepped up and brought some energy" said Bishop Guertin senior and D-I Preseason Player of the Year Meghan Cramb, who dropped a game-high 18 points in the win.
After falling to Bedford (the team they beat in last year's D-I final) BG has bounced back with a 46-27 win over La Salle Academy, a dominant team out of Rhode Island and now a 60-49 win over Central Catholic.
"We like playing against teams like this - it's better competition" said Cramb.
"I think it will help us in the long run" said Bishop Guertin head coach Brad Kreick. "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
Since the high school basketball season is a marathon and not a sprint, it's a good thing BG has a strong bench.
"We turned it around with our bench out there in the 2nd quarter" said Coach Kreick. "We had four subs in the game - Erin Carney, Addison Smith, Meagan Morelli and Rachel Marion. Those four off the bench made a run, they gave us good energy. Having a deep bench allowed us to have fresh legs in the 4th quarter."
Carney in particular was exceptional off the bench for the Cardinals. She's only a freshman and stands about 5-foot-4, but she can flat out play. Carney was doing it all out there - hitting 3's, making driving the lane and making great passes which led to layups, playing tough 'D', grabbing offensive rebounds, finishing inside and hustling for deflections and loose balls. The only starter BG graduated from their championship team was scrappy 5-foot-3 point guard Marie Laplante. Carney has a chance to be just as good as a freshman as Laplante was as a senior.
"She reminds me of Marie" said Coach Kreick about Carney. "She's not afraid of anything, and plays with a lot of energy."
Although Central Catholic is located in Massachusetts, four of their five starters reside in New Hampshire. They are Katie Kirsch (Pelham), Maura Smith (Atkinson), Nicole Elbeery (Hampton) and Ava Bradley (Salem).
BG came out in tight half court man-to-man defense. Central was able to get on the board though, as sophomore guard Kaylee Thomas grabbed an offensive rebound and finished the and-1. BG picked up their pressure 'D' even more, forcing the Red Raiders to turn it over against their 3/4 court press.
Kirsch is a solid inside player. She's 5-foot-11, is physical, active inside, has good footwork and really attacks the basket. Bradley converted a put-back for Central, then Carney finished a put-back of her own on the other end. That's right, Carney, the shortest player on the court pulled down the offensive board and put it back in.
Thomas countered for Central on the other end with a layup in transition. The Red Raiders looked to push the ball up the floor at every opportunity. After all, they play in Mass, with a shot clock (the way basketball is meant to be played) so they have to.
Then Bradley really got into a rhythm. She drove to the rim, got fouled, made 1 of 2 FTs. Then on defense Bradley stepped in and took a charge. Just seconds later on the other end, Bradley pushed the ball on the break, got to the foul line, faked a pass to the wing, kept it herself and hit the floater. Central led 11-5 after 1 quarter. Bradley had 7 points in the 1st quarter.
Fortunately for BG, they held Bradley to just 2 more points the rest of the game. They also held Kirsch in check (just 7 points), plus Central missed a ton of layups.
BG freshman wing Addison Smith made 1 of 2 FTs early in the 2nd quarter. Marion rebounded the missed FT, dished it back to Smith who hit a runner in the lane. BG forced another Central turnover with their press, Smith hit another runner and the Red Raiders lead was down to 11-10 with 6:40left in the 2nd quarter. Central head coach Casey Grange was forced to call a timeout.
Central got it in to Kirsch in the post - she made a good drop step move, turned and scored the bucket. Carney made a good dish to 6-foot senior forward Abbi Field (10 points) who hit the 15-footer. Bridget McCarthy made a good hustle play for Central - she missed a layup on the break, but she stayed with the play to grab her own rebound, dished it to Bradley for the layup.
The up-tempo action continued, as BG got a defense rebound and immediately looked to run - Field zipped a long pass ahead to Cramb for the easy layup. Central looked to run off that made basket - Bradley pushed it hard up the floor, making a nice dish to Kirsch for the layup and a 17-15 Red Raiders lead.
Central switched to a 2-3 zone and Cramb made them pay, hitting a pair of 3's off the catch. It was tied up 22-22. Addison Smith (7 points) made a strong finish inside, and it was 24-22 BG at halftime.
Central led 11-5 after 1 quarter, but BG won the 2nd quarter 19-11.
Early in the 3rd quarter, Elbeery got an offensive rebound and hit a scoop shot in the lane. Elbeery poured in a team-high 12 points, all coming in the 2nd half. Carney (8 points) buried a 3 for BG. Thomas countered with a scoop shot for Central. Field did a nice job of sealing her defender off in the post, got the entry pass, turned and finished.
Carney had a good look at a 3-pointer, but instead she drove into the lane, drew a crowd of defenders, dished it to Field for the layup. A great drive and dish by Carney and an unselfish play. BG led 31-26 with 4:21 left in the 3rd quarter.
Maura Smith (who like Elbeery, had a quiet 1st half) connectewd on a step-back jumper from just inside the 3-point line. Hoffer countered with a put-back for the Cardinals. Kirsch again showed good footwork and post moves, taking it strong to the rim, getting fouled and going to the line.
BG was wearing Central down with their press and pressure 'D'. Marion and Cramb in particular were pressuring the heck out of people on 'D' and getting deflections. Then came one of the biggest shots of the game - BG was in trouble, as the shot clock was winding down and their possession was going nowhere - then Marion drained a 3 from the top of the key. That pushed the BG lead to 38-32. Maura Smith sliced her way to the rim, finishing in traffic and it was 38-34 Cardinals after 3 quarters.
Morelli hit a 15-footer early in the 3rd quarter, as everyone was contributing for BG. Again, Central looked to push it and run after a BG made basket - Elbeery's quick bank shot was good. You've got to make sure you get back on 'D' when playing against Central!
Dee made a nice steal, zipped a pass ahead to Morelli for a strong finish through contact. Then BG got yet another steal with their press (that's going to happen A LOT this season), with Carney finishing the layup in transition. That made it 44-36 BG with 6:25 left in the 4th quarter - Central was forced to call a timeout.
Carney made a good extra pass on the fast-break to Dee, who got fouled and made 2 FTs to make it 46-36 Guertin. On the other end it was the scrappy Carney making things happen once again! She hustled back on defense, and just as Kirsch was making a move towards the basket with the basketball, Carney came from behind to poke-check the ball out of her hands and out of bounds to prevent a potential basket for Central. Carney was doing it all out there.
Elbeery drove into the lane for another scoop shot. Hoffer made a good pass to Field in the post for 2 more points. BG didn't let up - next they executed an outstanding 3-on-1 break, as Cramb pushed it hard up the floor, dished it to Marion, who made the extra pass to Field for the layup.
Central was hanging around, as Elbeery drilled a 3-pointer off the catch from the left corner to cut the BG lead to 52-46 with 2:25 remaining. The Red Raiders seemed to run out of gas after that, though. Down by 6, Central missed yet another layup - then they airballed a 3-pointer.
On the other end, BG gets ahead to Cramb on a run-out, she makes the layup and it's 56-46 Cardinals with just 36.9 seconds left. BG cruises from there for the 60-49 win.
BG went 21-1 last year and were the D-I state champs. They could be even better this year.
Central meanwhile is a good team, but with only one senior in the starting lineup they are young. Also they need to get more consistent. In this game, Kirsch and Bradley were effective in the 1st half but disappeared in the 2nd. Elbeery and Smith were solid in the 2nd half, but both were very quiet in the 1st. If Central can get all four of them clicking together more consistently they will be a very tough team in the MIAA.