Winnisquam’s Hannah Willcutt (left) battles for a rebound with a Somersworth player during the Bears’ 40-37 win in Division III preliminary round play on Feb. 22. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
February 27, 2012SOMERSWORTH – Despite a rocky third quarter, the Winnisquam Regional High School girls' basketball team did just enough to pull the upset on Feb. 22.
Senior Sara Andrus sank two free throws with 14 seconds left and the 11th-seeded Bears played tough defense on their final possession to earn a 40-37 win on the road over number six Somersworth High School in a Division III preliminary round game.
"It feels really good," said Winnisquam forward Hannah Willcutt. "It was a close game last time we played them so we knew it was probably going to be close again this time. But we knew what we needed to do and we pulled it off."
It was a back-and-forth game in the second half, similar to when the squads met during the regular season on Jan. 13 in the same gym, a 37-36 Somersworth victory. Winnisquam (10-9) led 28-21 at halftime, but the Hilltoppers came out firing in the third quarter. The hosts went on a 12-2 run to open the frame, speeding up the tempo in the process, to grab a 33-30 advantage with 2:32 left. Winnisquam's Angie Roy put the spurt to a stop when she sank a jumper in the final minute, but Somersworth still led 33-32 entering the fourth.
"I don't know if we could have made more mistakes in that third quarter," admitted Winnisquam coach Everett Andrus. "They pressured us and we didn't handle it very well. They erased our lead pretty quickly."
With the hostile crowd now fully into the game, the Bears had to regroup and execute in the fourth quarter. Roy started things off with another jumper, putting Winnisquam back up 34-33 and Willcutt added a bucket minutes later. Points were hard to come by for both squads in the fourth, and Somersworth held a tight 37-36 lead as crunch time came calling.
With 2:32 to play, senior point guard Mackenzie Burdick gave the visitors the spark they needed, as she beat two defenders off the dribble and got in for a layup, putting the Bears up 38-37.
Winnisquam used its final timeout with 1:41 to play, and while the teams exchanged turnovers shortly thereafter, the WRHS veteran leadership did a nice job moving the ball around and holding possession. Andrus ended up with the ball near the sideline, and she was fouled with 14 seconds remaining. Holding onto the one-point advantage, she calmly sank both freebies. Somersworth got a pair of looks on the offensive end, but neither shot was from beyond the three-point line, and time ran out for the 40-37 Winnisquam victory. All told, the Hilltoppers didn't score any points over the final 5:57 of the fourth quarter.
"I knew I had to make them," said Andrus of her two free throws. "It was a tough game but we pushed through it and we just really wanted it in the end."
Coach Andrus was pleased with how his squad performed down the stretch, without the comfort of a timeout in his back pocket should problems arise.
"The girls were smart late," he explained. "And we tried to put people in the game who weren't afraid to get fouled and be ready in those situations."
The Bears trailed 13-7 after one quarter, but they executed in all facets in the second period. Winnisquam scored 21 points in the frame, with six different players putting points on the board in the process. Andrus and Rachel Willcutt hit back-to-back threes to get the ball rolling, and the inside play of Hannah Willcutt and Bailey Long proved to be too much for the Hilltoppers to handle.
"One big advantage they had was with their size," admitted Somersworth coach Jeff Francoeur. "We can play uptempo, we can play in the half court. But the one thing we can't handle is size."
Hannah Willcutt scored 10 of her team-high 12 points in the first half, with several putbacks coming via offensive rebounds.
"We got in a rhythm in the second quarter, got into some openings in their defense," Willcutt explained. "We just stayed relaxed. Once I got it going, I wanted the ball."
The Bears' ball movement also forced Somersworth to change up its defense, something Francoeur admitted wasn't at the top of his wish list.
"Winnisquam did a great job offensively making us come out and guard them," he said. "We couldn't just pack it in inside like we might have liked to against their big girls."
The Bears also did a nice job on Somersworth sniper Rachel Hill, one of the better guards in Division III. Hill scored eight points in the first quarter and appeared headed for a big night, but Winnisquam held the junior to just four points over the final three periods.
"We really tried to make a point of stopping her," said coach Andrus of Hill. "She's good, she scored 17 points against us last time. We did well with her in the second half."
Roy had eight points for the Bears, including six in the second half when scoring was tough to come by. Andrus added seven in the win while Burdick chipped in six.
"I told somebody the other day, the top five teams are very good in our division…after that, teams six through 12 there isn't a lot of difference," said Francoeur. "We knew that, we saw them once here already and it was a tight game. We just didn't execute the way we needed to late in the game. Hats off to Winnisquam, they played a good game."
The Lady Bears saw their postseason ride come to a close three nights later however, as Winnisquam ran into a tough third-seeded White Mountains squad and fell, 46-36, in Whitefield. It was the third loss to the Spartans on the season for the Bears, though the quarterfinal round defeat was the closest of the trio.