Gilford sophomore Maddie Harris (14) skies for a rebound in traffic during the Eagles' 55-47 loss on the road at third-seeded Campbell in the Division III quarterfinals on Saturday night in Litchfield. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
March 02, 2014LITCHFIELD – A lot changed in 373 days.
Just over a year after Gilford High School rolled over Campbell High School in last year's Division III second round, the Golden Eagles found themselves matched up with the Cougars once again on Saturday night. On the road against a now veteran Campbell club, a now youthful Gilford squad saw its promising season come to an unfortunate end with a 55-47 loss in the D-III quarterfinals.
"I don't think anyone gave us much of a shot (against Campbell)," said Gilford coach Rick Forge. "But we were competitive from the start. I'm pleased we were able to stay with them. They're a legitimate contender."
In last year's playoff meeting, a senior-laden Gilford team breezed to a 59-37 win. But while the Eagles graduated six seniors and four starters from that team, Campbell returned the core of its squad and entered the postseason as the third seed and one of the favorites to take home the D-III title.
"Last year we were still young and the kids were still learning a new system," said Campbell coach Bobby Allan, whose team advanced to the Final Four and a semifinal meeting with second-seeded Bishop Brady. "I think this year's win shows our maturity level. We were able to overcome a lot this year and the girls worked their tails off."
Forge admitted that despite the familiarity with last year's playoff meeting, his team (which started four sophomores) was very different from the 2013 edition.
"You have to keep it in perspective," Forge explained. "We're obviously a lot younger than (Campbell) but tonight's game I think will go a long way for the future of our program. The kids stepped it up down the stretch here and that's going to bode well for them next year."
It was a game that was very much in limbo throughout. While Campbell stormed out to a 13-9 lead after one quarter and bumped that advantage to 25-14 with 3:34 left before halftime, the Eagles made a run to show they weren't going anywhere. Maddie Harris hit a jumper, Cassidy Bartlett sank a pair of free throws and Kelsey Buckley put in a layup as Gilford clawed back within 25-20 at halftime.
"I told the kids (at halftime) that (Gilford isn't) going to go away," Allan said. "We knew they were a team that battles back. Rick is a great coach, he knows basketball and he knows what it takes to advance this time of year."
Sophomore Jordan Dean (10 points, 10 rebounds) kicked off the third quarter with a putback to get the Eagles within 25-22, though Campbell would slowly start to impart its influence from there. The Cougars would push their lead to 36-27 after a Kylee Julia three-pointer, though Dean scored eight of her 10 points in the period to keep Gilford within 45-34 entering the fourth.
"(Dean) was huge, she kept us in it in the third quarter," said Forge.
Every time Campbell tried to pull away in the fourth, the Eagles cut the deficit. Bartlett's three-pointer with 6:51 left got the deficit within 46-37, and Gilford had four consecutive trips down the floor with a chance to get even closer. But missed free throws and layups, problems that have haunted the team all season long, proved to be too much. Brid Fillion came off the bench to drain a three with 1:47 left and make it a 51-44 game, but the Cougars finished things off from the free throw line. Buckley scored the game's final points with a layup in the waning seconds but Campbell held on for the 55-47 final.
"We really didn't finish tonight but that wasn't unusual because we've had trouble in that department all year," Forge explained. "But it was a good showing overall. I don't think the kids were intimidated at all. It was a tough draw for us. We knew it would be tough but you have to beat some good teams in the tournament."
Bartlett led the Eagles with 12 points on the night, while Buckley just missed a double-double in her final game with 10 points and nine rebounds. Maddie Harris totaled eight points and four rebounds while Kayla Orton hauled in four rebounds off the bench. Shannon Mercer added three points for Gilford while Julia Harris gave the Eagles some solid minutes off the bench at the guard position.
"We were able to do some things tonight that we were happy about," Forge said. "But Campbell was a step quicker than most teams we play. Everything you do has to be spot on against them."