NHIAA Girls’ Div. I final four offers intriguing matchupsBy JOHN HABIB
New Hampshire Union Leader
March 10. 2014 9:26PM
On Saturday, Pinkerton Academy contained Bishop Guertin of Nashua senior Jamie Sherburne, holding the 1,000-point scorer and future Niagara University standout to 14 points in a 52-49 Division I girls’ basketball quarterfinal win in the Gate City.
Now head coach Lani Buskey and her Astros turn their attention to University of New Hampshire-bound Aliza Simpson when sixth-ranked Pinkerton (15-5) battles second-ranked Londonderry (17-3) in the 8 p.m. semifinal contest Wednesday at the Southern New Hampshire University Fieldhouse.
The game was moved to the later time to accommodate fans who want to watch Londonderry face off against Pinkerton in the Division I ice hockey semifinals at the JFK Coliseum in Manchester at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The time switch means top-ranked unbeaten and defending state champion Bedford (20-0) will play fourth-ranked Nashua North (16-4) in the 6 p.m. opener at SNHU.
Pinkerton and Londonderry split their regular-season games, each winning on their home court. Simpson, a terrific 5-foot-9 guard who signed her national letter of intent to play for UNH last December, didn’t play in both games because of an injury. The all-time assist leader at Londonderry suffered a hairline fracture above her right kneecap against Dover on Jan. 27. She missed eight games, including the two against the Astros. She’s played in her team’s last four games.
Londonderry coach John Fagula said Monday Simpson is still not back to 100 percent. “She’s not quite as explosive, but we’re not holding her back,” he said. “At this stage we’re going as hard and long as we need her.”
Buskey would have liked for her team to have played against Simpson this season, but she compared Simpson to Sherburne. “They both have the same mannerisms, speed and style, so we know what to expect from Aliza. We also have players who have played her in the past.”
Fagula said trying to simulate a game plan for Simpson is not the same as facing her live. “You can say to your team she likes to do this and this is what we’re going to do to try to stop her, but it’s hard to do,” said Fagula. “From our side, we know they’ll make a point of emphasis to get the ball out of her hands.”
In the first meeting against Pinkerton, Fagula said he played man-to-man and pressed. In the second meeting, he played a zone. This time? “Not saying,” said Fagula. “I’m not being coy, but it depends on the situation.”
Pinkerton will be led by Andrea Albrecht, Kayla Stacy, Colleen Fortier (scored 17 points in win against Londonderry), Brandi Bonneau and Valerie Martin. “It’s been a team effort all year,” said Buskey. “We don’t rely on just one player, which makes it hard to defend against us.”
Buskey knows Londonderry has the height advantage to gain a rebounding edge and while Simpson poses a problem, so do Casey Evans, Kelsey Coffey and sophomore guard Jackie Luckhardt, who filled in admirably in Simpson’s absence.
“We know coach Fagula will mix up his defensive coverage, so we’re prepared to play against the zone and man,” said Buskey. “We have to execute and protect the ball. We can’t afford to make many mistakes.”
Buskey, who took over the program this season from longtime head coach John Barry, said she’s has learned more about the game from coaching against Fagula, an 11-time time championship coach (with Nashua) who has over 600 coaching wins in 32 seasons. “He’s a great coach and I respect what he’s accomplished over the years. You learn something just talking to him 20 minutes before a game.”
Nashua North will have its hands full with Bedford, which recorded a 65-39 decision against the Titans on Jan. 10 in Bedford. Still North coach Ricky Oliver is confident his team has a chance to knock off the Bulldogs.
“We were the last team to beat them,” said Oliver, referring to a win against Bedford last season. “We know it’s going to take a Herculean effort, but we’re confident. We’ve won 10 of our last 11 games and we believe in ourselves.”
Bedford, which won all 18 regular-season games by an average of 30.4 points a game, is a formidable team with Haley Driscoll, McKenzie Brown and Rachel Collins. North will counter with Adaeze Okorie, Sarah Cordova, Brittney DesRoche, Emily Kendall and Taylor Choate, a junior who scored her 1,000th career point Saturday.
“We’re going to play Bedford the same way we played all season,” said Oliver. “Believe me, we’re going to leave everything on the floor Wednesday.”