Published DateLACONIA — Down 12-24 at half-time, the Laconia High School girls' basketball team had a lot of ground to cover if they were to advance beyond the second round of the NHIAA tournament. Fortunately for the Sachems, speed makes it easier to make up distance, and speed is something the Sachems have in spades.
Winnisquam, the tenth seed in Division III, came into the game with a significant height and experience advantage. The Bears roster featured just one freshman and one sophomore, while freshmen make up more than half of the seventh-seeded Sachems. Thanks to the size disparity, the Bears enjoyed high-percentage shots from the paint, starting the game with a lead that they would hold for most of the game.
Winnisquam started the second quarter with a 9-12 lead. After Winnisquam's Bailey Long converted one of two free throws, Laconia's Taylor Sullivan cut the lead to two on a layup, fed by an in-bounds pass by M.J. Bordeau. Winnisquam's sharp shooting, though, including several three-pointers throughout the night, kept Laconia at bay in the first half. Hannah Chapin hit a buzzer-beating jump shot to extend Winnisquam's half-time lead to a dozen.
The Sachems came out hot to start the second, though. Freshman guard Cali Swormstedt scored a couple of quick baskets, then a driving layup by Kailey Nute brought Laconia within six. After a three-point shot by Swormstedt, Laconia had cut the score to 25-28. At the end of three, the score was Laconia 27, Winnisquam 32.
Swormstedt hit another three-pointer at the beginning of the fourth to bring Laconia within two. Winnisquam scored, then Laconia senior Shayna Emond, coming into the game from the bench, hit a three to create a one-point game. A long two-pointer by Swormstedt put Laconia ahead, a lead cut short thanks to a layup by Winnisquam's Dallis Austin. Natalie Compton, running the court for a breakaway layup, put Laconia back on top for good.
Laconia struggled to put the game out of reach, missing several shots during a possession that lasted from 1:08 to 44 seconds remaining. Winnisquam couldn't take advantage in the ensuing possession, though, and it seemed fitting that the final point of the game was scored by Swormstedt, connecting on one of two late-game free throws.
Swormstedt scored 20 points, including 13 in the second half. She also contributed three assists, five rebounds and five steals. Nute was the team's second-highest scorer, with six points, three rebounds and two assists. Senior guard Sami Hicks shot just one for seven, but collected nine rebounds, six steals and two blocks.
Coach Jeff Greeley praised his team for overcoming their pre-game jitters – for most of the team, it was their first playoff game, having earned a first-round bye – and noted that every player that suited up had a role in the victory. For example, Emond's minutes were short but critical, he said. "She provided a lot of energy and spark. When we needed some strength, a shot in the arm, that was exactly what she provided."
Greeley attributed the first-half deficit to nerves. Instead of seeking the weaknesses of Winnisquam's zone defense, he said, "we settled for a lot of outside shots." And Laconia's hands were cold from outside, connecting on just three out of 24 attempts from behind the three-point arc. "I think we were just really nervous," he said.
At half-time, he encouraged his team to keep up the pace, employing a full-court defense on nearly every possession. Soon, it was Winnisquam making the nervous mistakes, committing 27 team turnovers. Greeley expressed his appreciation for the vocal and supportive fans, whom he called the "sixth man" in the victory.
With Winnisquam in the rearview, Laconia now turns its attention to second-seeded Bow, a team that last night beat 18th seeded Inter-Lakes by the score of 28-20. That quarter-final matchup will take place Saturday night in Bow. Like Winnisquam, Laconia's next opponent will present an older and larger team than Laconia. Greeley's looking forward to it, though. Although many of his players are young, he doesn't consider them inexperienced. "All the kids have played with each other, they continue to fight for each other... It should be an exciting game."