After winning its first eight games this season, the Pinkerton Academy of Derry girls' basketball team suffered its first Division I loss Wednesday night at Winnacunnet of Hampton. The Astros didn't have long to lick their wounds, because Pinkerton will be tested at unbeaten Londonderry (9-0) tonight.
The Pinkerton/Londonderry game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., and is the first half of a doubleheader. The Pinkerton and Londonderry boys' game will follow at 7:30. LHS is encouraging its fans to "white out" the gym by wearing white clothing.
The Astros and Lancers form one of the state's top athletic rivalries, which includes Mack Plaque weekend in the fall.
Lani Buskey has experienced the rivalry as a Pinkerton player — she graduated in 1998 — and as the program's junior varsity coach, but this will be the first time she's faced the Lancers as Pinkerton's head coach.
"I took every game seriously when I was the JV coach, but this is the next level," Buskey said. "It'll be a little more competitive, so I'm looking forward to it."
Senior point guard Aliza Simpson, who will play for the University of New Hampshire next season, is Londonderry's leader. Simpson scored the 1,000th point of her high school career earlier this month and has helped the Lancers win eight of their nine games by at least 18 points.
Simpson was held out of Londonderry's 92-28 victory over Keene on Wednesday with a leg injury. All 12 Londonderry players scored in that game, led by Ashley Berube's 20-point performance.
"She has great basketball instincts and she wants the ball when the game is on the line," Londonderry coach John Fagula said. "There are a lot of players with exceptional athletic ability who play great when nothing is on the line. They don't all have the instincts she has, either."
Londonderry is tied with Bedford at the top of the Division I standings. Pinkerton is alone in third.
The Astros surrendered the final 10 points in Wednesday's 44-40 loss to Winnacunnet. Brandi Bonneau led Pinkerton with nine points in the loss.
Pinkerton's Valerie Martin, a junior forward, may return after missing two games with a thumb injury. Martin and senior guard Kayla Stacy are each averaging a team-high 14 points per game.
"It's going to take incredible defense on our side because they have Aliza, and she's an incredible offensive threat," Buskey said. "She's scoring in double digits and getting double digits in assists, so you'd be foolish to not try and stop her. The offense runs through her and it's a smart offense.
"We'll need a bunch of players to step up and play that defensive role against her."
Besides Bedford and Londonderry, Division IV Groveton (11-0) and Division IV Hinsdale (10-0) are the only unbeaten girls' basketball teams in the state.
The Pinkerton-Londonderry boys' game will feature teams that are near the top of the Division I standings as well.
Londonderry (7-2) is hoping to regain the services of senior guard Drew Coveney, who missed three games after suffering a shoulder injury against Bishop Guertin of Nashua. Pinkerton (6-2) has won six in a row, and limited its opponent to 47 points or fewer in five of those victories.
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MANY people labeled Manchester Central as no worse than a co-favorite in Division I when the boys' basketball season began, but the bullseye got a little bigger after Central defeated Merrimack 62-59 Monday night in a game that featured the only unbeaten teams in the division. The win raised Central's record to 9-0 in Division I and 12-0 overall.
"I want our guys to be happy when they're successful, but the reality is we do have things we need to clean up," Central coach Doc Wheeler said. "We want them to enjoy it, but we want them to remain passionate about improving and getting better. There is a big picture."
Central, the only undefeated boys' team in the state, will be at home against Timberlane of Plaistow tonight. The Owls will be trying to end the program's 73-game regular-season losing streak, which is the longest active losing streak in the country. Timberlane will drop to Division II next season.
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BILL VERMETTE, who guided Bow to the Division III girls' basketball title last season, said he's still having a hard time sizing up Division III this year, primarily because the division is so large. Division III has 27 schools, seven more than any other division.
"It's really tough to tell who fits where because of the scheduling in our division," Vermette said. "There are 27 teams and we don't all play each other. You can take the top eight teams and they may have a legitimate shot at it. I really think Campbell and Bishop Brady are the frontrunners. I think that athletically, player for player, they're still the two best teams."
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BEDFORD is 1-7 entering tonight's home game against Nashua South, but Bedford's 66-45 setback against Trinity of Manchester is the only game the Bulldogs have lost by more than four points.
Roger Brown covers high school basketball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @603SportsMedia.