Wilton-Lyndeborough girls basketball advances to state quarterfinals

 WLC head coach Tom Crowley instructs Kelsey Crouse during a free throw. 

 WLC head coach Tom Crowley instructs Kelsey Crouse during a free throw.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC junior Kelsey Crouse goes up for a layup as Franklin’s Savaughna Slocumb defends. 

WLC junior Kelsey Crouse goes up for a layup as Franklin’s Savaughna Slocumb defends.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC freshman Lexi Bausha passes out of pressure during Tuesday’s game. 

WLC freshman Lexi Bausha passes out of pressure during Tuesday’s game.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

 Wilton-Lyndeborough senior captain Adri Bausha goes up for two of her game-high 30 points.

 Wilton-Lyndeborough senior captain Adri Bausha goes up for two of her game-high 30 points. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC's Kelsey Crouse, left, Haidyn Paquette and Adri Bausha celebrate their win.

WLC's Kelsey Crouse, left, Haidyn Paquette and Adri Bausha celebrate their win. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC sophomore Maddy Lebrecque dribbles upcourt against Franklin. 

WLC sophomore Maddy Lebrecque dribbles upcourt against Franklin.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

 The Warriors celebrate their win. 

 The Warriors celebrate their win.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC eighth-grader McKenna Crouse gets a jumper off. 

WLC eighth-grader McKenna Crouse gets a jumper off.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

The Warriors celebrate their win. 

The Warriors celebrate their win.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

By BEN CONANT

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-22-2024 9:04 AM

Modified: 02-23-2024 1:42 PM


The Wilton-Lyndeborough girls' basketball team is heading back to the Division IV quarterfinals for the first time since 2007 after a rousing 55-45 win over Franklin in Wilton Tuesday night. 

Adri Bausha led the No. 6 Warriors (14-5) with 30 points, as the team's lone senior would not be denied in her first home playoff game. 

"She was not trying to lose that game," said WLC head coach Tom Crowley. "That was definitely the best game I've seen her play. She was on the ground, hustling her butt off, getting every rebound she can, grabbing steals, working for hard shots, really taking it to the rim strong. She was huge."

WLC last hosted a home playoff game way back in 2007, and the energy in the gym was unlike anything the current team had experienced. With the bleachers full on both sides and the crowd in a frenzy, it was both intimidating and invigorating for the home Warriors. 

"It was kind of crazy to see every seat taken," Bausha said. "But I liked it. I think the energy and the crowd was amazing. Everybody was cheering, everybody came out and it's great to see it after your program has been low the past few years. It's just amazing to see it spark back up like that."

The No. 11 Golden Tornadoes did their part to whip up the crowd, as the underdogs came to Wilton and gave the Warriors a game. With Division IV Player of the Year candidate freshman guard Kourtney Kaplan Euro-stepping her way through the lane and imposing freshman center Lily Cornell discarding defenders at will, Franklin went back-and-forth with WLC for 3 1/2 quarters. 

The Warriors went box-and-one on Kaplan, with either Kelsey Crouse or Lexi Bausha picking up the freshman guard full-court and dogging her all the way. 

"I felt like Kelsey and Lexi's presence on her made her more of a facilitator early on," Crowley said.

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Kaplan would find more space to work in the second half, where she scored 12 of her team-high 17. There was no answer for Cornell, however, as she had her way in the paint and scored 10 of her 14 in the first half, and the Warriors were up just 25-23 at the halftime break.

WLC, though, was ready for the pressure. 

"Everybody did amazing keeping calm under pressure," Adri Bausha said. "I'm going to say that like 200 times because I think that was the key to our game. That was our thought process the whole week -- we have to keep calm under pressure, stay calm and coordinated in the game and it paid off."

It was just a three-point game through three quarters before the Warriors finally got a leg up, as Adri Bausha drew Cornell's fifth foul to send her out of the game, eliminating one of the Tornadoes' top threats. 

"That was a turning point in the game, because she was killing us," Crowley said.

The advantage was short-lived, however, because after scoring five straight points to put WLC up five, Adri Bausha would herself foul out halfway through the fourth period, taking out the hot hand and go-to scoring option. Closing out a playoff game without their senior leader was the last thing the Warriors wanted to do, but luckily for the home team, the bench was just as cool under pressure as the starters. Danika Stratton, Hayden Paquette and McKenna Crouse all stepped up and got the job done, and the Warriors were even able to extend their lead from five to 10 before dribbling out the clock.

"To have people step up in their roles, the next-man-up mentality of the team, was something that I was really happy with," Crowley said. "I was really proud of those subs getting in and playing so hard and getting boards and making themselves known."

The Warriors last hosted home playoff games in 2006 and 2007 under head coach Dennis Claire, who confirmed as much from his front-row sideline seat. He noted that WLC won both of those games and then lost in the quarterfinals. To avoid that same fate and make a rare visit to the semifinals, the Warriors will have to avenge last year's playoff loss by beating No. 3 Newmarket (15-4) on the road Friday night. The two teams did not face each other this regular season, but their previous playoff matchup is fresh in the Warriors' minds heading into the quarterfinals.

"That might have been our best game last year," Adri Bausha said. "The pressure was up that game. Their crowd was really intense. Their defense is really strong. We're all excited to go back there."

Wilton was a girls' basketball powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s, appearing in eight championship games and winning five, with three straight finals trips from 1996 to 1998. But it has been just as long since the Warriors made it into the semis, and it would be easy to chalk this season up as a win and celebrate a job well done.

Crowley and the Warriors, however, have other ideas. 

"The girls, they're still hungry to keep going," Crowley said. "They want more. They understand that it's one game at a time, but they want more. They want to continue building game by game. They don't want the season to end. They love the sport, they want to keep it going. That's definitely all that you can ask."

WLC plays at Newmarket Friday at 7 p.m.