Jim Fennell's High School Basketball: Bedford's plan worked like a charm
MANCHESTER -- SUE THOMAS is a level-headed person, so, it was with no smugness, bitterness or any other kind of excusable emotion that the Bedford High girls' basketball coach put into perspective Saturday's Division I championship game.
"Eight starters were from Bedford," Thomas said. "We think about it all the time."
On this day, the five wearing the Bedford uniform got the better of the three playing for Bishop Guertin of Nashua.
Meghan Green, Nicole Hayner and Madison Gibbs have been anchors for the Cardinals. They all live in Bedford, but they each had ties to Bishop Guertin that drew them there when it came time for high school.
They led the Cards to a state title last year and helped them live up to the billing as this year's preseason favorite. BG was the top seed in the tournament and won its first three tournament games by an average of 40 points.
But second-seeded Bedford had a plan to slay the giant and it worked beautifully. The Bulldogs - a team that had never won a tournament game in its previous four years in Division II - concentrated on Green, BG's talented senior center who is headed to Boston University in the fall. Then they dared anyone else to beat them.
Hayley Driscoll made a layup with 6.8 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 39-38 win and complete Bedford's memorable first season in Division I.
And, Thomas said, she doesn't expect to see any more of the kids from Bedford playing against the Bulldogs. Kids are staying in the system and the depth of the program is impressive.
While BG coach Scott Hazleton will have to figure out how to replace Green, Gibbs and Hayner, the Bulldogs will be the clear favorite in Division I next season.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: The best play of a full day of basketball Saturday at the Southern New Hampshire University had nothing to do with wins, losses, last-second shots or championship celebrations.
It was a simple act of kindness, a wonderful showing of camaraderie between teammates.
A timeout was called in the first half of the Unified tournament's championship game between Nashua South and Spaulding of Rochester, catching one of the Panthers by surprise. She stood in the middle of the court unsure what to do.
Alex Ashwell, one of the team partners, jumped off the bench and happily ran onto the court, taking the player by her hand and walking her back to the bench. Both returned smiling.
Nashua South won the game, but the winners were decided long before that. They were the players and their partners - students who volunteer - and the coaches and the families of all the kids on all the teams involved. It was anybody who has seen one of these games and figured out how special they are.
There were no losers.
"It was a great experience," said Ashwell, who had never been part of a Unified team before. "It makes you feel great knowing you are helping someone else have a good time."
Nashua South coach Mike McQuilkin said the relationship between the players and the partners is a key to the experience.
"That's the best part," McQuilkin said. "Watching the kids interact on a daily basis."
Pat Corbin, executive director of the NHIAA, said there were 17 Unified basketball teams this winter, up from 11 in last year's inaugural season. He said 30 schools are signed up for next year.
"It's like you go to one game and you're hooked," McQuilkin said. "You can't help but not be back."
THE UNDEFEATED: Lebanon High became the only girls' team in the state to finish the season without a loss when it beat Portsmouth, 48-41, Friday in the championship game of the Division II tournament at SNHU.
The Raiders went 22-0, 24-0 overall, and were dominant behind Emily Kehoe and Moriah Morton. It was their first title since 2007; they had been runner-up three times in between.
Now it's Pembroke Academy's chance to match that feat on the boys' side.
The Spartans were the only boys' team in the state to go undefeated in the regular season and now they are in Wednesday's semifinals facing No. 13 Coe-Brown Northwood in Durham at the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gymnasium.
The game may seem tilted in Pembroke's favor, but Coe-Brown has already knocked off two higher seeds (Hollis-Brookline and Windham) and it gave the Spartans all they could handle during a 43-37 loss a month ago.
The other semifinal should be interesting with No. 3 Lebanon playing No. 7 Souhegan of Amherst. The Raiders handily beat the Sabers at the beginning of the season, but Souhegan is a different team now, an inspired one, and is coming off an impressive quarterfinal win over second-seeded Portsmouth.