Bedford suffers 1st loss in final

John Fagula has always been a fan of Westerns. Sunday night at Southern New Hampshire University, his script – 32 years in the making – was finally complete.

Cast in the leading role was sharpshooter Aliza Simpson, who finished her high school career with a game-high 16 points, with trusted sidekick Brittany Roche right by her side.

With 49 seconds remaining in regulation, Londonderry High School brought the ball up court into its offensive zone in a tie game. The Lancers got the ball in Jaclyn Luckhardt’s hands, she drove baseline and dished off to Roche, who collected the ball with some space in her favorite spot on the floor. She didn’t hesitate to fire from the corner, draining a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left for her second straight game-winning shot as second-seeded Londonderry (19-3) upset top-seeded Bedford (21-1) 57-56 in the Division I girls
basketball championship game.

“Shooting from there, that’s my spot,” said Roche, who finished with seven points. “That’s where I make most of my shots from anyways, on the baseline.

“It was pretty intense for me. I was really happy that it went in. Even the last game, that’s where it happened too. I just felt that it was going to go in.”

Bedford had one last chance to tie, but had to settle for a Brianna Purcell rebound and layup at the buzzer off a missed 3-point attempt. The two points weren’t enough in the one-point loss. The Bulldogs were off their game from the field, shooting 36 percent (18 for 50) from the field and 18.8 percent (3 for 16) from beyond the arc. They managed 17 points from the free throw line, but were at just 60.7 percent there on 28 attempts.

Conversely, Londonderry was 45.5 percent (20 for 44) from the field, 46.7 percent (7 for 15) from beyond the arc, and 76.9 percent (10 for 13) at the charity stripe.

“Tonight, everybody expected this to be one of those things where Bedford would probably win, but can you give them a game,” Fagula said. “I kept telling my kids, ‘What do you mean can we give them a game, can they give us a game.’ Because we played them last year and this year, at halftime, even though we didn’t play great we had the lead but we didn’t play for 32 minutes.

“Tonight, a couple times we got down and they made some runs. I said ‘Good teams are going to make runs against you. You’ve got to make runs back.’ And we had enough guts to keep coming back and make the right plays at the right time.”

Trailing 12-9 after the first quarter, Londonderry tied it up twice in the second frame, first on a 3-pointer by Kelsey Coffey three minutes into the quarter, and again two and a half minutes later, on a Elizabeth Caron trey to offset a Mackenzie Brown (13 points) bucket and free throw for Bedford.

Following another lead change as Bedford’s Gabrielle Hunter hit a jumper, the Lancers went on a 9-0 run to grab a 26-19 lead with 40 seconds remaining before halftime. Bedford’s Ali Glennon (11 points) closed the quarter with a three-point play to cut Londonderry’s lead to four at 26-22 as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

The Lancers were only able to coral Bedford’s high-powered offense for so long, as the Bulldogs charged back out of the gates for the third quarter. Following a Simpson 3-pointer to start the quarter, Bedford put together a 13-0 run that helped put them ahead 40-38 heading into the final quarter.

Londonderry counter-attacked, opening the fourth quarter with a Coffey 3-pointer and Roche basket. The Lancers held the lead until Bedford’s Glennon hit 3 of 4 free throws on consecutive possessions, tying it up 47-47 with 4:54 to play. Just 10 seconds later, Bedford’s Nicole Tucci was at the line giving the Bulldogs a 49-47 lead.

Londonderry received some big contributions from it’s supporting cast, as Jordan Marett scored her only field goal of the day to tie things at 49-49 with 4:25 to play. Bedford then attempted to pull away, putting together a small 5-0 run to grab a five point lead, 54-49, with 2:49 to play.

The Lancers would not be denied, as Luckhardt hit a runner that turned into a three-point play after being fouled and hitting the free throw with 2:39 left. Trailing by two, Simpson hit a pull-up jumper to knot things up yet again, 54-54, with 1:52 to play, setting the stage for Roche’s game-winning touch.

“My team stepped up huge,” said Simpson, who despite missing eight games this season with a hairline fracture on her right kneecap wraps up her high school career with a team title to go along with her 2013-14 individual awards – New Hampshire Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Miss New Hampshire Basketball and Division I Girls Basketball Player of the Year. “There’s not one person on this court. Brittany with a 3, Jackie, everyone made a play today. That was unbelievable.

“I just think we stepped up as a team. We’re the underdogs, we have nothing to lose, so.”

The Lancers had nothing to lose, but everything to win – including Fagula’s 12th Class L/Division I in 32 years as a girls basketball coach between Nashua and Londonderry. It was the first title for him with the Lancers.

It’s the perfect end to a long career full of 624 wins, his final one fittingly enough with a championship plaque in hand.

“I couldn’t have scripted it better than this,” Fagula said. “I’m a big fan of Westerns. I love Westerns, and this is one heck of a way to go riding off into the sunset.”