Milford beats Pelham, North to advance

NASHUA – As Richard Parent watched the Nashua High School North girls basketball team’s rout over Nashua South Friday night, he was already drawing up the perfect game plan in his head.

The Titans had struggled early in that game against the zone defense, a perfect situation for a Milford team that prides itself on its shutdown defensively play in the zone.

On Saturday, Parent’s coaching dream became reality.

The Spartans came out in a 1-1-3 defense and shut down North for nearly an entire four quarters to take a 54-49 win over the Titans to advance to the Nashua North Holiday Classic championship game Sunday at 4:30 p.m. against Winnacunnet. North, on the other hand, will settle for the 3 p.m. consolation game against Merrimack.

“I thought our zone was better than their offense,” Parent said. “And getting back. Our girls got back really well tonight and we beat them almost every time.”

“We’re really proud of our zone defense,” Adelle Pitsas said. “When we run that we’re confident no matter what team we play.”

Milford used its lockdown defensive play and good outside shooting to overcome the Titans. The Spartans had effective ball movement, got open looks and hit four 3-pointers for the game.

Seniors Jessica Ryan, Pitsas and Becca Cleary combined for 37 points. Pitsas was Milford’s ace at point guard as the Spartans effectively broke North’s full-court press. She was the key behind the Spartans’ offensive success and her energy kept them in control whenever the Titans were seemingly coming back in the game.

Pitsas, who finished with 12 points, made her biggest impact in a second quarter in which Milford scored 23 as a team to break the game open. Ryan (16 points) and Cleary (nine) each made 3’s to extend the Spartans’ three-point lead at after the first quarter to nine, then Pitsas connected from long range at the top of the key and finished an and-1 in the lane as Milford’s lead ballooned to 26-13.

The Spartans took a 33-20 lead into halftime, but the Titans countered at the start of the third quarter with a 7-0 run to cut it to 33-28. Adaeze Okorie began the run with a traditional three-point play and Sara Cordova followed with a 3 to cut the deficit to seven. Taylor Choate extended the run with a fastbreak layup off a turnover and North was suddenly within reach.

Choate led the Titans with 14 points, while Cordova and Okorie added 11 points apiece.

Parent immediately called a timeout to get his team back in line, something Pitsas said was significant at the time.

“Coach Parent yelled at us and said, ‘That’s not how we play,’” Pitsas said. “I think that woke us all up because that’s not how we play. I think that we picked it up from there.”

Milford five straight points out of the timeout and pushed its lead back to nine. The Spartans answered every North comeback attempt from there.

Ryan hit another 3 with 6:22 left to play to extend Milford’s advantage to 51-41. North got back to within five again, but was overwhelmed by the Spartans’ defensive presence the rest of the way.

“We had our opportunities to get back in the game,” Titans coach Ricky Oliver said. “We keep digging ourselves holes and have to keep digging our way out of them.”

Oliver was visibly frustrated after a poor offensive showing from his team. He said his team has been prone to slow starts throughout the season and will use this letdown as a teaching moment to improve his team.

“I don’t care if it’s horseshoes or checkers, as a coach I want to win all the time,” Oliver said. “What these games do for us is help us build character.

“We have three of the best guards, and every day you play you have to re-prove yourself on the court.”

Milford 44, Pelham 39

Milford team saw the Nashua North Holiday Classic as an opportunity.

Not only was it a chance for the Spartans to challenge themselves with competition from throughout the area, but also a chance to improve their shortcomings, most notably their man-to-man defense.

Milford’s problem Friday, however, wasn’t necessarily its diversion from its zone defense, but what Richard Parent said was a lack of focus, as the Spartans fell behind early and struggled throughout the first half.

“The first half we weren’t moving our feet at all. We came into it too confident and I think we lacked a little bit of focus,” senior Jessica Ryan said.

Fortunately for the Spartans, they responded with a dominant run in the third quarter after mixing in some zone to come away with a 44-39 win over Pelham at North.

Milford used balance scoring to succeed offensively. Ryan led the Spartans with 10 points, while Adelle Pitsas added nine, all of which came in the second half, and Becca Cleary scored eight.

Milford will play Nashua North in the semifinal Saturday at 6:30 p.m., with the winner taking on the winner of Winnacunnet- Merrimack on Sunday.

Trailing 28-18 at halftime, the Spartans opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run and held the Pythons to three points for the quarter by forcing them to take outside shots.

Pitsas led Milford offensively during that stretch, first with a layup in transition then a 15-foot jump shot to get the Spartans to within four points. Pitsas helped cut Pelham’s advantage to 31-30 with a nice feed to Kaitlyn Matthews in the paint while driving down the baseline.

Erin McGuire hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Spartans a 33-31 advantage after three quarters – their first lead since 4-0 to open the game. Milford never trailed again.

Pelham made its own run in the fourth to tie the game at 37-37, but a Cleary layup and a pair of Ryan free throws put the Spartans back up four before Pitsas made free throws at the end to seal it.

“One of the things we talked about was character and being able to come back in situations like that,” Parent said. “There was a couple of times we lost poise in the moment, but as a team I thought we did really well.”

After a pair of quick buckets to start the game, Milford was slowed by Pelham’s full-court pressure. The Pythons forced the Spartans to turn the ball over and commit fouls on the other end, sparking an 8-0 Pelham run.

That in turn got Milford into foul trouble as it got sloppy on the defensive end. The Spartans committed nine fouls in the first quarter alone to fall behind 12-8.

When asked about his team being bothered by the full-court press, Parent said, “It shouldn’t have because we definitely have been practicing against it. We switched up in the second half and ran a different press break.”

Milford cut into the Pythons’ lead with five made free throws from Devany Pitsas, but a Jessica Lessard 3-pointer began a 10-0 Pelham run that expanded its lead to 26-15.

McGuire stopped the bleeding with a 3 in the final minute of the half, but the Pythons answered with a basket on the other end to take a 28-18 advantage into halftime.

“We need to work on man defense,” Parent said.