Today we will take a look at the two Final Four matchups taking place at Londonderry High School this evening.
Instead of a regular breakdown, we turn to the coaches who faced this team all year to dive into the matchups for us using blind quotes.
Our column is brought to you by our friends and partners at Nashua Community College, who have an Open House on Wednesday from 5 to 7 pm.
Division I Bracket and Box Scores
#1 Bishop Guertin vs #4 Goffstown
Both of these teams haven't seen each other since opening night when the Cardinals were able to handle Goffstown in the first game of the season.
A lot has changed since then, and both teams feel they have a shot to make it to UNH on Sunday.
We spoke with three coaches to break down the teams, starting with the Grizzlies.
"As odd as it is to say, I think this is a fairly even match-up. They are both very different teams from when they played in the first game of the season."
"BG is the team everyone is chasing. Goffstown is a team that can beat them. There will be plenty of offense in this game, a rematch of the season-opener that saw 120 combined points scored. In a star-studded matchup, there will be plenty of fireworks," said another Division I coach.
"This is Goffstown’s first trip to the Final Four since the canceled 2019-20 tournament, and none of their roster have played a Final Four game."
"It all starts with Ava Winterburn and her game has grown so much in the last year. She shows that she trusts her teammates and is a willing passer and she has shown incredible improvement on the defensive end of the floor. She wants the tough match-ups. Her competitive spirit is off the charts and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who plays harder, and I think that is contagious for her teammates."
"She’s the best scorer in the division and can single-handedly impact a game as much as any player in the state. Her ability to give consistent offense and elevate her teammates has helped Goffstown become one of the highest-scoring teams in the state. When she is playing well, which is pretty much every night, the rest of their starters are playing well."
Ava Winterburn has been outstanding from start to finish this season, but the key in this game to the coaches is the production they can get outside of Winterburn.
"Ava Winterburn is definitely Player of the Year material but the role players buy into their roles. When they all work together, it is an impressive team."
"You knew that Goffstown would get most of their points from Ava Winterburn, but didn’t know where else they’d get consistent scoring from. We know that now: Maggie Sasso and Ava Ruggiero have been very consistent for them all season and in big games."
"Ava Ruggiero was absolutely fantastic against Pinkerton in the quarters. If she can repeat that performance and if Goffstown can get a similar effort from Maggie Sasso, I think the Grizzlies will be in good shape."
"Goffstown will need to find some offense beyond Winterburn to compete in this game. Sasso gives them a real threat who can shoot the ball, create her own offense, and demand some attention from defenses. If she can get going from outside, it will open up everything for Goffstown."
"Ava Ruggiero has been lights out as of late. If she and Sasso can both get in double digits and keep up with the scoring outputs of BG, they may have a shot to stick around in the game," said another coach.
"Meredith Winterburn having a big night could be a surprise. A long, athletic wing who can shoot the ball, the younger Winterburn has been quiet this season but has some serious skill. In a game where the spotlight will be on the stars and Goffstown will need big nights from the supporting cast, she could be a surprising impact player."
One coach sees depth as a potential weakness in this matchup.
"Beyond Winterburn, Goffstown has good role players who can impact a game, but their ability to impact games at a high level comes from the attention teams have to give Winterburn. When the teams met earlier in the season, foul trouble hampered Goffstown and BG was able to pull away late with Winterburn on the bench."
Defense could be a big factor in the outcome of this game.
"Their switching on screens defense may create some matchup nightmares for them against a team as deep and talented as BG."
"I look at Stack versus Winterburn. If Ava can limit Stack to 10 and stay out of foul trouble herself, this game will be close."
"While Goffstown can score with the best of them, I think defensively is where you can get them. They are much improved in that area, but can their team defense hold down BG? Ava Winterburn has gotten herself into foul trouble against all the top teams. They had a sizable lead on Bedford in the second half, and then Ava had to go to the bench with four fouls and momentum shifted in a big way. If Ava has to go to the bench, their team defense has to be able to hold the fort down."
Now, coaches will turn their attention to the Bishop Guertin Cardinals, the top seed and lone undefeated team in the division.
"They are a matchup nightmare for teams."
"I say the numbers don't lie in this one. BG hasn't lost. I don't see that changing."
"BG has a clear advantage. They live on this stage and it’s Goffstown’s first time. BG will not have the same nerves to begin the game as Goffstown will and as a result, they’ll be able to settle into the game a little quicker," said another coach.
"In these big games, your defense is what you can rely on to get you settled in. BG knows this and will use their defense to settle into the game."
"BG has the edge thanks to their depth and experience on this stage. Playing in these games has become an expectation for this program and a roster full of scholarship-level talent knows what it takes to win late in the tournament."
"BG has the advantage by the nature of their team and their vast experience in the playoffs and in winning the Division continuously."
This roster is as experienced as they come, and their starting lineup may be the best one left standing.
"This is the final season for a group of seniors that have been to back-to-back championship games and are the defending state champions. They have four elite double-digit scorers and two more kids who can go get 15 plus."
"Brooke Paquette. She shines the brightest when the lights are the brightest," said one coach.
"She (Brooke Paquette) will dominate the foul line as typical and her attack to the rim will cost Ava Winterburn and the starters for Goffstown fouls when they protect the paint."
"Brooke Paquette running the offense is dangerous in both what she can score and what she can create for her teammates. They have weapons at every position and can score from anywhere on the court efficiently. Their depth makes them very difficult to gameplan for, you can slow them but you probably can’t stop them."
"BG is a very complete team and are better than last year with Stack back."
"Meghan Stack has been playing like the best player in the state as of late. Her game is so unique. I think she will do her best to attack the interior of Goffstown’s defense and will look to go at Ava Winterburn early."
"Meghan Stack can challenge WInterburn both offensively and defensively. Olivia Murray and her ability to score will be big as well."
An x-factor all season long, especially last postseason, has been Hannah Lynch.
"Lynch is a terrific versatile defender. Winterburn is one of the most unique matchups in the state with an ability to play 1-5 and score at all 3 levels."
"Lynch versus Winterburn is a matchup to watch. Any time you come up against a player averaging 26 points per game, the question isn’t how do you stop her, it’s how do you slow her? BG wins this matchup if they hold Winterburn under 20 or make her shoot somewhere in the low 30% range to get her points. Goffstown wins this matchup if Winterburn has one of her “average nights” and scores in the high 20s at 45 percent and efficiency."
The experience and skill are there, but even a team like Bishop Guertin could face some challenges.
"Playing in the half court is a weakness. BG’s run of dominance has been fueled by fast starts, relentless pressure, and overwhelming leads established early. However, as Concord showed in the quarterfinals, if you can handle the pressure, there are easy transition baskets to be had, and BG does not score as efficiently five on five as they do off turnovers and in transition."
"I think if you were to find one flaw with BG is that they aren’t very deep. They rely on seven kids in most games. If the game is called tight, foul trouble could be an issue for them if they have to go deeper than 7 into their bench."
So, who wins tonight?
"I pick BG. I just think they are too deep and too fast."
"Call me crazy, but I can see Goffstown pulling off a big upset. They’ve played the top teams tough and have learned what caused them to lose those games. I’m going Goffstown by 4."
"BG. Goffstown has the best player but BG has the best team."
My pick: BG by 12
#2 Portsmouth vs #3 Bedford
These two played one of the best regular season games we have seen this winter, with the Clippers storming back late on the road to take down Bedford 55-53.
"This is such an even matchup I’m still struggling to decide who wins," said one coach.
"This has the makings to be the game of the tournament. When these teams met in the regular season, it was a two-point Portsmouth win in a game that Bedford had a late lead in. As is always the case late in the tournament, execution down the stretch will be a major factor with two very evenly matched teams."
This could be the game of the night with a trip to the finals on the line.
We asked three coaches to break down the matchup, starting with the third-seeded Bulldogs.
"Bedford has two first-team all-state kids and knows how to use them. Having two kids who can go get 25 plus against good competition is a nightmare matchup. They are extremely disciplined on both sides of the ball and will not beat themselves. Defensively, they will throw different looks at you, and this ability to change it up on the fly can kill an offense’s momentum."
"I think Bedford has the upper advantage for two reasons. One, they are experienced and have played in big games, not to say Portsmouth hasn’t, but they know what it takes to close out a team and advance to the finals. I think that experience will be a key factor. Two, Bedford hasn’t forgotten the two-point loss to Portsmouth in the regular season, a game they let get away from them. I think they will be out to avenge that loss."
"Having Lana McCarthy and Kate Allard with very strong senior leadership coming from Sydney Grogan is a big strength," said one coach.
"Both can dominate the boards and get second opportunity baskets while also presenting one of if not the best 1/2 scoring duo in the playoffs."
"Lana McCarthy and Kate Allard might be the best 1-2 punch in the entire state. Lana is really tough to cover inside. She understands how to position herself to create the smallest window for her to get the ball deep in the post. Her ball handling has also improved and can put it on the floor and get to the rim. Kate might be the most complete player in the state. She’s always been good inside but is very comfortable with the ball in her hands anywhere on the court and has developed a terrific pull-up game from both mid-range and outside the three-point line to complement her interior game."
McCarthy and Allard will be major factors as always, but it will be the role players that will have a factor in this one.
"I think collectively, it’s the role players for Bedford. You know what you will get from Lana and Kate. They have both been very consistent every game. Bedford will need kids like Sydney Grogan and Ava Dubois to put up similar numbers to what they did in the quarterfinal game versus Manchester Memorial. I think it comes down to the role players for Bedford."
"Lyla Stein having a big game both sides of the ball is key. Pushing double-digit scoring and slowing her matchup will be important as Bedford tries to match Portsmouth’s scoring depth."
"All the talk about the studs and scorers could leave the (Bella) Slover/Grogan matchup as the one that decides it all. Which veteran point guard can better control their talented crew to a victory?"
Much like the game above, depth could come into play.
"Foul trouble could hurt them," said a Division I coach.
"Bedford isn’t very deep. They have a 7 girl rotation that they appear to be comfortable with when games are tight. In addition, Bedford isn’t a good free-throw-shooting team, which is a big reason why Portsmouth was able to beat them in the regular season. If the game is tight down the stretch, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Portsmouth play the Hack-a-player game and put pressure on Bedford to make free throws."
"Bedford only has three players averaging 5-plus ppg and struggles to score at all three levels as a team. If players are forced to score from the outside, their offense will struggle. That is a BIG if, as very few teams have been able to successfully limit Allard AND McCarthy in the same game."
Now, the coaches turn their focus to the Portsmouth Clippers.
"I think Portsmouth is the most complete team. They don’t have many holes. They are very deep. Playing rotations tend to shrink a bit as you get deeper into the tournament. Will the Portsmouth role players be able to remain as efficient as they have been and make the impact they have made with less minutes?"
"They have six girls who average 6 plus and have reached double figures this season. Portsmouth has some of the best secondary options in the state. Defensively, they are one of the most disciplined teams in the division. They get in gaps well and limit easy penetration."
"I give Portsmouth a slight edge. They have a ton of offensive weapons and back that up with solid play on the other side of the ball. In games where teams are focused on taking away options one and two, options three and beyond can be difference-makers, and I think this is where Portsmouth can excel."
Portsmouth doesn't have much size, but the size they do have was able to play with Bedford in the first meeting.
"While Bedford might have the two tallest players on the floor on their side, Portsmouth probably is bigger across all positions. They really will defend you and have lots of versatile players who can do a lot of things defensively."
"Maddie MacCannell’s ability to clean up the glass, protect the paint, and get some easy offense for Portsmouth will be crucial as their only size against one of the biggest teams in the state."
"McCannell has become a double-double machine and is very good around the rim. McCarthy might be the best player in the state. Can MacCannell keep her off the glass, limit her easy offense at the rim, create some of her own looks, and stay out of foul trouble?"
"The two match-ups I look at are Avery Romps versus Kate Allard and Lana McCarthy versus Maddie MacCannell. MacCannell won her matchup and as a result, Portsmouth won that game. If Bedford is to win, both Kate and Lana will need to dominate those matchups."
"Avery Romps is key. She had a quiet 7 points vs Bedford in the regular season meeting. I think she matches up well with Kate Allard defensively, but I think you need to attack Kate on the other end. I would expect more points out of Avery in this one."
"Romps can attack the hoop and challenge Bedford’s interior defense and get them into foul trouble."
Margaret Montplaisir and Mackenzie Lombardi are viewed as players who could swing this game.
"Montsplaisir is honestly the X-factor. She doesn’t get enough credit. Her range is impressive and her hustle is outstanding. She could decide the game."
"Mackenzie Lombardi has come on strong off the bench for Portsmouth as of late and has been playing under the radar a bit. I think she could surprise again and have another big game."
"Coming off the bench, Lombardi has reached double digits in four of their last five games and had a game-high 16 points against Windham. While it may not be a surprise anymore with how she has been playing, a sixth player being a significant impact player is a testament to Portsmouth’s depth."
"On the offensive end, they are so balanced that it’s really hard to key in on one player. If you try to take Avery Romps out of the game, there are kids like Margaret Montplaisir and Savannah Emery who can step up and pick up the slack. I think their depth overall is their biggest strength."
What could plague Portsmouth in this matchup?
"Depth at the forward positions. If Bedford tries to make this a physical game in the paint, Portsmouth may struggle to contain McCarthy and Allard for 32 minutes. Romps and McCannell give good natural matchups and Montplaisir and Emery can fill in a little but if Portsmouth gets into any foul trouble or has to go to the bench to guard McCarthy and Allard, they may struggle."
"Having to focus so intensely on defending both McCarthy and Allard may hurt some of their offense. They are an offense by committee. The committee has to score and needs to be able to transition from the defensive mindset to the offensive side."
So, who wins tonight?
"Bedford by the skin of their teeth."
"If forced to choose, I hate to pick against Portsmouth because they are THAT GOOD, but I’d say Bedford by a possession or two. I think they haven’t forgotten the loss earlier in the season and will be out for revenge."
"I give the edge to Portsmouth in a tight single-digit game. They simply have more weapons and the ability to hurt you in more ways."
My pick: Bedford by 2.
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