MANCHESTER — Thanks to a clutch three-point shot by Brittany Roche and a tough defense that held Pinkerton scoreless in the final two minutes, John Fagula will get a shot at a state title in his final game as coach.
Casey Evans and Aliza Simpson each scored 11 points to lead second-ranked Londonderry to a 42-38 win over rival sixth-seeded Pinkerton Academy of Derry on Thursday in a Division I girls' basketball semifinal tournament game at Southern New Hampshire University.
The 18-3 Lancers will play top-ranked Bedford on Sunday at 6 p.m for the title.
"It's going to be my last game and it will be emotional for me," said Fagula, now in his 32nd second season with more than 600 career wins. He led Nashua to 11 state titles and is still looking for his first with the Lancers.
Taking his hand out of his pocket, he showed one and all his championship ring in 1987 when Nashua was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.
"Told my kids before today, showed them this ring and said this is the goal," said Fagula. "Now we have one game to get."
Londonderry took a 39-38 lead on a three-point shot by Roche with two minutes left. On Pinkerton's next two possessions, they turned it over on steals, and Jaclyn Luckhardt stole one in the paint with 1:06 to play. Luckhardt was fouled and made two free throws, giving the Lancers a 41-38 lead.
"She's our most improved player," said Fagula. "Our defense really did its job in those last two minutes. Roche hit the big shot, but it doesn't surprise me. She's light out in practice and it was good to see her hit one there."
On its next possession, Pinkerton swung the ball to Colleen Fortier who missed a runner, but a jump ball on the rebound awarded the ball back to Pinkerton with 17 seconds left.
After a timeout, Pinkerton's Kayla Stacy tried a long straight away three-pointer, but the ball never touched rim and went out of bounds.
Simpson was fouled with 6.3 seconds, missed the first free throw, but made her second creating a two possession lead for Londonderry and a ticket to Sunday's final.
No one really knows the level of pain Simpson is playing with since coming back from a hairline fracture above her right knee, causing her to miss eight regular-season games. Playing with an elastic black brace and making her sixth straight game appearance since coming off the injury list, she showed good movement running ahead and side to side.
Before the game Fagula said she still isn't back to true form, not able to fully explode off her first step to the basket, but still very effective inside the paint and on the perimeter.
Pinkerton showed no sympathy toward the future University of New Hampshire player, playing Simpson physical and tight the length of the big Penmen floor. There were times in the game Pinkerton got called for hard fouls and hand checks on her and, at other times, Simpson was sent to the floor on good clean plays that didn't warrant a foul.
"There's no holding her back at this point," Fagula said before the game. "We've got to ride with her as long as we can, as long as she can go."
In the first half Simpson, off the picks by Colleen Fortier, scored six team-high points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field with two assists.
Many seemingly easy layups fell off the rim on both sides and despite holding Pinkerton to 18-percent shooting (5 for 27 and 2 of 13 from three-point land) in the first half, Londonderry held an 18-17 halftime lead.
Brandi Bonneau was keeping Pinkerton in the game, playing defense on Simpson and scoring seven points on offense.
Simpson showed signs of busting out in the third period, breaking free for a wide-open jumper and running uncontested for a layup to give Londonderry a 28-27 lead. But Simpson picked up her third foul on a charge and Pinkerton gained momentum heading into the last period with a 32-29 advantage on a three-pointer by Melissa Martel.
Stacy finished with 12 points as the Astros finished at 15-6.