Crusaders show ‘guts’, slip past Central in playoff nailbiter

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BEDFORD, NH – The Manchester Memorial High School girls basketball team won six of seven games this season in which it scored 45 or more points. The Crusaders lost six of the seven contents in which they failed to hit the 45-point mark.

Manchester Central, on the other hand, didn’t win a game this season when its opponent scored 39 points or higher.

So when Memorial came from behind in the final minute of Tuesday’s playoff clash with Central to tie the contest at 40 and send the game into overtime, the writing may have already been on the wall.

“We were dead to rights … but we have some resiliency on this team,” said Memorial head coach Greg Cotreau.

It was, indeed, the Crusaders who advanced to the second round of the Division I tournament after delivering the Little Green a heartbreaking 51-44 overtime defeat while competing in front of dozens of parents in a neutral setting at Bedford High School.

Madison Pepra-Omani, Jessica Carrier & Ryan Moran.
Madison Pepra-Omani, left, Jessica Carrier, center, and Ryan Moran, right, are three of the key pieces fueling Memorial’s playoff run.

“I knew our team has a lot of fight and we weren’t going to give up until it was over,” said Memorial senior guard Jessica Carrier, who drew a foul on a three-point attempt with less than a second on the game clock and then drained all three free throws to send the contest into overtime.

“I knew I had to make them to keep my season going,” she said. “I kind of just think that you’ve got to shake it off and just focus. All I was thinking about was the basket and (the way that) I had to have my legs in order for the ball to go in, and that’s what I did.”

Just getting the opportunity to tie the game seemed a long shot multiple times in the final minute, but the Crusaders simply would not quit.

Down 38-34 with less than 14 seconds remaining, Memorial’s Erin McCoy chose an opportune time to contribute her first points of the game, draining a three to draw the team within one.

Central added a point off a free throw, and then Memorial turned the ball over, which seemingly sealed the Crusaders’ fate.

Central’s Reeham Imam was quickly fouled and proceeded to hit one of two free throws to extend the Little Green’s lead to three.

Cotreau then called a time out and drew up a successful play that got the ball over half court where he called another time out.

“We knew with 4.2 seconds, or whatever it was, we weren’t going to get a play coming down, so we needed to trust that (Ciara Banks) could make that pass and Elizabeth Barrientos could catch that pass and that we could call a time out,” he said. “We knew that those three things could happen.”

That’s where the best-laid plans ended.

Cotreau called upon on a play that had freed up Madison Pepra-Omani for an open look in the past, but also included Emma Rossi as a secondary option. The ball, however, was poked away on the inbound play and Carrier grabbed the loose ball, turned and heaved a desperation three.

The shot fell well short, but the whistle blew and the rest is history. Carrier, who missed four free throws in the third quarter, drained all three free throws when it mattered most, and the Crusaders, outscored Central 11-4 in overtime to secure the win.

“Guts, guts and more guts,” said Cotreau, “I think it goes down to the fact that we don’t have a lot of experience we brought back from last year, but … Jess Carrier, Elizabeth Barrientos and Ryan Moran, those are kids that have played in a lot of moments like this.”

That experience certainly helped, and Cotreau said he hopes the leadership of Carrier and Moran, the team’s captains, will continue to fuel the upstart Crusaders as they advance to play 8-2 Bedford.

“We have a team that can give Bedford problems,” he said “I think we’re athletic; we’re undersized but we know how to defend the post, we had two close games against Bedford … so I think if there’s a team in this region that can really make a run at them, I think our girls firmly believe it’s us.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Bedford High School.

Memorial notes: Carrier, after going scoreless the first three quarters, scored all 13 of her game-leading points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Moran set a career high with eight points in the first half alone, and then improved upon that personal best with four additional markers in the second half. In overtime, Rossi hit a three on the Crusaders’ first possession then assisted on a Moran layup to provide a quick five-point cushion for her team. She notched her ninth point of the game on a free throw to put the icing on the cake in the final minute of OT.

Central notes: Sophomore guard Emily Hobausz and senior guard Erin Flurey led the Little Green with 12 and 10 points, respectively, while Imam contributed nine in the losing effort.

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About Ryan O'Connor 11 Articles
As a longtime journalist in Southern New Hampshire, Ryan O'Connor has written for several local online and print publications covering everything from school board meetings and local high school sporting events to major crime stories and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary (yes, the last two are mutually exclusive). In addition to spending time with his beautiful wife and four amazing children, Ryan enjoys attending and serving at church, golfing as much as possible, home brewing, playing softball and snowboarding when time allows.