By Christopher Smith
---- — MANCHESTER — Senior star Aliza Simpson, who will play at UNH next year, was selected as the Gatorade New Hampshire Player of the Year early yesterday.
But when crunch time came in the Division 1 semifinals last night, her teammate, unsung sophomore Jackie Luckhardt, made the play of the season.
Luckhardt, a 5-7 guard in her first varsity season, made a steal with just over a minute remaining when the Lancers led Pinkerton by only one point. She almost immediately was fouled.
Luckhardt, faced with a 1-and-1 situation, made both free throws. From there, second-seeded Londonderry won 42-38 over rival Pinkerton, the sixth seed, here at Southern New Hampshire University.
“It was very big for us to get the steal because we were able to get possession, relax and calm things down,” Luckhardt said.
Relax? How exactly could Luckhardt relax heading to the foul line in a one-point semifinal game?
“I just try to block all the noise and stare at the rim and take deep breaths and don’t think about the situation,” she said.
Londonderry will play defending champ Bedford in the Division 1 title game Sunday at 6 p.m. here at SNHU. Bedford routed Nashua North, 68-31, in the other semifinal yesterday.
Sunday’s game, win or lose, will mark John Fagula’s final contest as a head coach. The Londonderry coach will retire following the championship.
Fagula, a N.H. legend, spent the first 20 years of his coaching career with the Nashua girls, going 432-72, including winning 120 straight games against New Hampshire teams at one point. With Nashua, he won 11 Class L titles and had five nationally ranked teams. His 1987 Nashua squad won the USA Today national title. The coach also captured his 600 career victory last winter.
Fagula has been wearing one of his Nashua championship rings during this final playoff run.
“He’s done everything for me,” Simpson said about Fagula. “I can’t even put it into words what he’s done for me. Just to win it for him and in my senior year, it would be unbelievable.”
Luckhardt finished with six points. The high-scoring Simpson was held to 11 points, sharing team-high honors with Casey Evans.
“It was definitely not a good shooting day for me but my team really stepped up,” Simpson said. “That’s what they’ve got to do. Brittany Roche hitting that big 3 was, I think, the turning point in the game. Jackie’s defense — and the whole team — it’s just unbelievable. They stepped up when I wasn’t playing well.”
Roche’s 3-pointer came with about 2 minutes remaining. She was wide open from the corner and sunk her shot. Within a minute, Luckhardt sealed it with her huge steal and clutch free throws.
“She’s definitely a sneaky little player,” Simpson said about Luckhardt. “Her defense is unbelievable. Just playing her in practice, she’s fast, quick and smart. The biggest thing for her is she’s very basketball smart. She knows where the ball is going.”
Pinkerton gave a tremendous effort and nearly pulled off the upset behind strong efforts from Kayla Stacy (12 points), Brandi Bonneau (9 points) and Colleen Fortier (7 points).
But the Lancers, who beat Pinkerton 53-49 on Jan. 31, sealed it by holding the Astros to just six points in the fourth quarter.
Simpson said of Pinkerton, “They shoot, they’re quick and they’re fast. We learned everyone’s strength like Val (Martin) goes right. Colleen’s a lefty. Colleen can shoot. And we all just knew what they were going to do.”
Londonderry 42, Pinkerton 38
Division 1 Semifinals
Pinkerton (38): Melissa Martel 1-0-3, Andrea Albrecht 1-2-4, Kayla Stacy 5-0-12, Marissa Stacy 0-0-0, Colleen Fortier 2-2-7, Brandi Bonneau 2-4-9, Valerie Martin 1-0-3. Totals 12-8-38
Londonderry (42): Aliza Simpson 3-4-11, Jackie Luckhardt 1-4-6, Taylor Collins 2-0-4, Kelsey Coffey 0-1-1, Jordan Marett 1-0-2, Brittany Roche 2-0-5, Ashley Berube 1-0-2, Casey Evans 4-3-11. Totals 14-12-42
3-pointers: P — Bonneau, Fortier, K. Stacy 2; L — Simpson, Roche