Wliton-Lyndeborough girls’ basketball falls in state quarterfinals

WLC head coach Tom Crowley talks to his team during the third-quarter break. 

WLC head coach Tom Crowley talks to his team during the third-quarter break.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONNANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC sophomore Maddy Labrecque drives past Newmarket's Amaya Beckles. 

WLC sophomore Maddy Labrecque drives past Newmarket's Amaya Beckles.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONNANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC freshman Lexi Bausha had little trouble scoring through multiple Newmarket defenders Friday night. 

WLC freshman Lexi Bausha had little trouble scoring through multiple Newmarket defenders Friday night.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONNANT PHOTOGRAPHY

Wilton-Lyndeborough junior Kelsey Crouse makes a pass as Newmarket defends.

Wilton-Lyndeborough junior Kelsey Crouse makes a pass as Newmarket defends. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONNANT PHOTOGRAPHY

 WLC sophomore Haidyn Paquette and Newmarket's AJ Mulligan go for a loose ball.

 WLC sophomore Haidyn Paquette and Newmarket's AJ Mulligan go for a loose ball. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC sophomore Cailin Swett gets a shot off against Newmarket. 

WLC sophomore Cailin Swett gets a shot off against Newmarket.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC's Adri Bausha drives past Newmarket's Jillian Long. 

WLC's Adri Bausha drives past Newmarket's Jillian Long.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

Wilton-Lyndeborough senior Adri Bausha secures a loose ball between two Newmarket players as sister Lexi lends a helping hand.

Wilton-Lyndeborough senior Adri Bausha secures a loose ball between two Newmarket players as sister Lexi lends a helping hand. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC freshman Danika Stratton ties up Newmarket's Amaya Beckles. 

WLC freshman Danika Stratton ties up Newmarket's Amaya Beckles.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

WLC eighth-grader McKenna Crouse goes for a shot against Newmarket. 

WLC eighth-grader McKenna Crouse goes for a shot against Newmarket.  PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

By BEN CONANT

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-26-2024 10:44 AM

Wilton-Lyndeborough's storybook season came to a close in the Mule Den Friday night, as host Newmarket pushed their way past the upstart Warriors 46-40 overtime win in the state Division IV quarterfinals. 

No. 3 Newmarket (16-4) had surrendered just 15 points in their playoff-opening win over Epping and looked just as tough defensively to open Friday's game with No 6 WLC (14-6). 

"Being a young team, our offense can kind of ebb and flow, just not having that level of confidence yet," Newmarket head coach Meghan Averill said after the game. "The defense is definitely something that we feel like we can control, and I feel like this is one end of the floor where the team has bought in. Midyear, they turned it on and they've really just dug into, 'yeah, that's our identity' and just really owned it. I'm proud of the team for actually trusting the coaching staff enough to say that defense matters in this division, defense can make or break the season for you."

It took more than three minutes of game time before either team was able to even attempt a shot, and another minute ticked off before sophomore Amaya Beckles got the scoring started for Newmarket. The Mules held WLC to just four points in the first period, and it looked like the packed crowd was in for another Newmarket defensive clinic.

The Warriors played right into the Mules' hands, literally, by making a number of ill-advised cross-court passes that were easily picked off by the opportunistic defense. But in the second quarter, the Warriors calmed down, smartened up and started taking it to the home team

."We got a little bit smarter offensively," WLC head coach Tom Crowley said. "Started taking it to the rim a little bit better. Realize that the pressure is what it is. It's going to be like that all game, but we can 100% handle it. Just because they are a lot quicker than what we've seen, it doesn't mean we're not that quick, too."

There's no one quicker on the Warriors than freshman Lexi Bausha, and the scrappy guard turned up the heat in the second period, stripping ballhandlers, jumping passing lanes and finishing through contact multiple times, including a flying offensive rebound/layup combo that gave WLC their first lead of the game at 16-15. Lexi scored 10 of her 16 points in the second quarter; she and senior sister Adri (18 points) combined for all but six of the Warriors' points in the game.

"They're tough," Averill said. "We knew coming into the game they were going to be tough, and I was still amazed with some of the stuff they were doing. [Lexi] throwing in some of those runners when we had two on her -- we had a help defender and she's still scoring off the backboard. And [Adri], we had to change from our game plan on her because she's just so big and strong in the middle. She's really like a D-I body out here in D-IV, so a lot of credit goes to them. I know they've carried that team all season. Those players are just so solid and I respect them."

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Peterborough Planning Board approves 14-unit development near High Street
Franklin Pierce University names valedictorian and salutatorian
Peterborough firefighters continue fishing derby tradition
Scott Bakula starring in Peterborough Players’ ‘Man of La Mancha’
Antrim Fire Department selling used truck
Jaffrey kicks off Earth Week with no-waste potluck and environmental speakers

The Mules had a star performance of their own from Beckles, who dropped a game-high 25 points, including a 30-foot buzzer-beater to end the third period, and with Beckles and the Baushas both scoring crucial buckets back and forth, neither team could take control of the game.

"[Beckles] is always coming early, staying after and putting the work in," Averill said. "That gives her the confidence to know she can do it. But I'm just still amazed every day that this is a sophomore that we're putting a lot on and she just takes it and does what she needs to do for the team."

Wilton's lack of depth started rearing its head a bit in the fourth quarter, as Adri Bausha, Kelsey Crouse and Cailin Swett were all in foul trouble, but the Warriors fought through it. Newmarket led with just over a minute left and got a steal and fast break that could have sealed the deal, but Adri Bausha, playing with four fouls, chased down the Mule break, defended without fouling, got the ball, drew a penalty and tied the game at the charity stripe. Sister Lexi followed that up with a hard drive to draw another foul; she hit both free throws and gave Wilton a 38-36 lead with 43 seconds left.

However, as WLC's Maddy Labrecque went up for a defensive rebound, grabbed the ball and was knocked to the ground by an aggressive Mule boxout attempt, the Warriors were left incredulous as she was called for a traveling violation rather than shooting two free throws to ice the game. Newmarket took possession, and Beckles hit a wild layup through contact to tie the game.

WLC had two decent looks at a game-winner in the final seconds but couldn't convert, and the game went to overtime tied at 38. With the wind knocked out of their sails, fatigue setting in and players fouling out, the Warriors couldn't muster much in the overtime period, with one Danika Stratton basket accounting for all their scoring, and the Mules moved on to the semifinals with a 46-40 win. 

Quarterfinals loss aside, it was a historic season for the Warriors, who hadn't made it this far in the playoffs since 2007, when Crowley was in third grade and most of his team had yet to be born. WLC will only graduate one player, Adri Bausha, and looks to be on a positive trajectory going forward. 

"Adri was a freshman when I took over," Crowley said. "The year before, they didn't even have a team. To have us be 13-5 on the regular season with a home playoff game and the needle moving up – that is something I think the school, and the community as a whole should really hang their hat on. The girls, they should be proud of them. I certainly am. To build that back up is something special. You don't really see teams do that very often."