First-year varsity basketball coach Lani Buskey and her Pinkerton Academy girl hoopsters had their superb 2013-14 season and a valiant drive toward a Division I championship – end with an intense semifinal-round tournament loss to the rival Londonderry High Lady Lancers at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester on Thursday night, March 13.
The sixth-seeded Lady Astros who went 13-5 during the regular season and split games with their rivals from Londonderry during that span headed into the high pressure of the fourth quarter of the semifinal game leading by three points at 32-29. But the Lady Lancers, playing with star senior guard Aliza Simpson unlike during those two regular-season meetings with PA, outscored the academy crew by a 13-6 margin in the final period to snare a 42-38 victory.
“I was incredibly proud of my team for their effort,” said Buskey. “All season long we’ve been out-sized, and never once did my girls back down. They were tough, physical, and they always played with tremendous heart. That’s exactly what they did in the semifinal for 32 minutes.”
The Pinkerton bunch played intense defense and made virtually every move the second-ranked Lady Lancers made on offense a major challenge.
“We played the type of defense that made us successful all season long,” said Buskey. “Holding a Londonderry team that’s been out-scoring opponents by a margin of about 20 points in the playoffs to 42 points in that game is a success for my girls. We had some struggles on the offensive end. If one more shot falls on our side, it’s a different outcome. We were in that game until the final buzzer rang. How could I as a coach be disappointed in an effort like that? They left it all on the court.”
Each team netted a dozen points in the first quarter, with Pinkerton refusing Londonderry any penetration to the basket. But both offenses struggled in the second quarter, with a total of just 11 points being scored during those eight minutes. And retiring coach John Fagula’s Londonderry bunch carried a tiny, 18-17 advantage into the second half.
The Lancers’ star Simpson was held to a mere six points and turned the basketball over a whopping five times during the first half of play. PA’s Brandi Bonneau led all scorers with seven points at the break.
And it was a successful three-point shot out of the hand of Lady Astro Melissa Martel with just five seconds left in the third quarter that busted a 29-29 tie and sent PA into the final eight minutes of play with the 32-29 advantage.
PA standout guard Kayla Stacy, who ended up leading all scorers in the game with a dozen points, came up huge several times in the fourth quarter to the academy side, knotting the score at 36-36 with a trey with 3:35 to go, and putting her squad back up at 38-36 with a two-point bucket on a fiery drive to the hoop with 2:15 remaining.
But a moment later LHS junior forward Brittany Roche had a three-point shot which bounced off the rim, into the air, and down through the net fall for her to give Londonderry a 39-38 lead. And the Lady Lancers wouldn’t lose the lead during the remaining 1:35, despite the Pinkerton crew’s attempts to get even again.
Lady Lancers’ stalwart Simpson finished the game with 11 points, eight rebounds, four steals, four assists, and just one second half turnover. Junior forward Casey Evans also netted 11 points and grabbed four boards for the victors.
Along with Stacy’s 12 points, Pinkerton got nine from Bonneau and seven from Colleen Fortier. Standout junior forward Val Martin was held to just three points, but she tore down 11 rebounds to lead everybody in that vital category.
“As for the season as a whole, I’d definitely call it a success,” said Buskey. “I’m incredibly thankful to these 13 girls for making my first year as a varsity coach so rewarding. I told them in the locker room after the game that I’m so happy that they were my first varsity team. They gave me 110 percent, they worked every day to try to please me, and they brought me to the final four in my rookie season. I don’t think I will ever forget them or that moment.”