LONDONDERRY — Aliza Simpson's absence was too much for the Londonderry High girls' basketball team to overcome.
Simpson, a senior point guard who has committed to play at the University of New Hampshire, missed Friday night's 53-49 loss to rival Pinkerton Academy of Derry with a hairline fracture in her right leg that could keep her in street clothes for the next four weeks. She was hurt during Monday's win against Dover.
Pinkerton took advantage of Simpson's absence by applying pressure defense for much of the contest, which helped nullify Londonderry's significant edge in size.
"I don't think they would have pressed as much if Aliza was in there," Londonderry coach John Fagula said. "We had hoped to take advantage of our size on the offensive end, but the speed of the game didn't allow us to play some of those girls.
"We played hard, but we didn't play smart. I think some of that is because my girls aren't used to playing from behind."
The Astros were without one of their best players as well. Junior forward Valerie Martin did not play because of a thumb injury. First-year Pinkerton coach Lani Buskey said Martin will likely be in the lineup for PA's next game.
Pinkerton's Colleen Fortier, a senior forward, led all scorers with 17 points. The Astros received 11 from Kayla Stacy and 10 from Andrea Albrecht.
"We had all the confidence coming in," Fortier said. "We knew we just had to work hard and put all of our energy into it. The whole team really stepped up. This feels so nice, especially after a loss (to Winnacunnet of Hampton) on Wednesday."
Pinkerton raised its Division I record to 9-1. It was LHS' first loss of the season. The Lancers fell to 9-1.
Londonderry received 15-point performances from Jackie Luckhardt, a sophomore guard, and junior center/forward Casey Evans. Freshman guard Kelsey Coffey finished with 10.
It was tie game, 31-31, after three quarters, but Pinkerton began the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run that gave the Astros a 43-33 lead with 4:20 to play. Londonderry fought back, however, and was within two points, 48-46, after a Coffey basket with 1:27 remaining.
After Pinkerton regained a four-point lead, Londonderry sliced that lead to one on a three-point play by Luckhardt with 16.5 seconds on the clock. The Astros made three free throws in the final 10 seconds to seal the victory.
"What the girls did tonight was show a lot of heart," Buskey said. "They believed they could win and that was demonstrated because they got the victory."
Pinkerton led 11-6 after one quarter and 21-18 at halftime, but the game was tied, 31-31, entering the fourth.
"One of the best moments for me was bantering with John Fagulaa before the game and learning from him," Buskey said. "Handing John his first loss is pretty rewarding, because I respect him so much."