There wasn’t anything surprising about the Londonderry High School and Bedford High girls’ basketball squads matching up in a Division I semifinal-round tournament contest at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester Thursday night, March 10.
The Londonderry and Bedford crews engaged in another low-scoring affair in their semifinal meeting, with the second-seeded Lady Lancers losing a shot at a third consecutive Division I championship after suffering a 30-28 edging at the hands of the third-ranked Lady Bulldogs.
As a result of its win, Bedford would face the top-seeded Bishop Guertin Lady Cardinals in the D-I title contest.
Both Londonderry and Bedford went 15-3 during their regular seasons, and disposed of their first two D-I tournament opponents en route to the semifinals. The squads met up twice during the regular campaign, with each team winning on the other’s home court.
Set up for their winner-goes-on, loser-goes-home contest, LHS coach Nick Theos had one key message for his charges.
“We need to be mentally tough and physically tough, and the team with the ball last will probably win,” said Theos.
The Lady Lancers had the basketball last, but the decision went the opposition’s way this time around.
“We would have liked to have scored 60 points, which I’m sure we’re capable of. But we can’t do that against (Bedford), and they can’t do that against us,” said Theos.
The two contingents are evenly matched, know each other thoroughly, and battle each other intently in every meeting.
In the first game played between the squads early in the regular season, Bedford bagged a double-digit dumping of the Lady Lancers at LHS.
The second meeting, at Bedford High in mid-January, saw Londonderry best the Lady Bulldogs in a low-scoring, 28-21 affair.
Then in the tournament contest, Bedford raced out to a 6-0 lead but watched the Lady Lancers tally the next 11 points to face an 11-6 deficit at the end of one period of play.
Londonderry was outscored 8-5 in the second quarter, but the locals still held a tiny 16-14 advantage at the break. And the Lady Bulldogs were struggling mightily with their shooting, hitting just 27.3 percent of their shots in the half. And the two squads combined for 22 turnovers in the opening half, with the Lady Lancers coughing up 12 of those.
The two opposing squads combined for just six points in the third quarter, with Bedford netting four of those to grasp an 18-16 lead rolling into the final period.
In that intense fourth quarter, the score was tied at 20-20 and 22-22, the Lady Lancers held their last lead of the night at 26-25 with 1:21 to go, thanks to a successful jump shot out of the hands of Kelsey Coffey, and the Lady Bulldogs never led by more than three points up to the final buzzer.
Bedford grasped a 29-26 advantage with 19 seconds to go, but LHS star point-guard Jackie Luckhardt trimmed the lead down to a single point by sprinting to the bucket for a lay-up with 11 seconds left.
The Bulldogs added a single free-throw with nine seconds remaining to make the score 30-28, and that’s where it ended up, as the Lancers couldn’t get the basketball back to the net at which they were shooting.
Londonderry finished the game with 17 turnovers, and Kelsey Coffey paced all scorers with a relatively low nine points. Luckhardt ended her LHS career with five points, seven assists, six steals, and just three turnovers.
“It’s hard to be critical of my kids because I think we got absolutely everything out of them that we could this season,” said Theos. “I’m extremely proud of these kids.”
LHS veteran standout Kate Balcom attempts to take a Bedford player to the bucket during the recent semifinal tourney game between the rivals.
Lady Lancer hoop stalwart Kelsey Coffey glides between two Bedford defenders during the D-I semifnal tourney contest.. Photos by Chris Paul