By Christopher Smith
---- — MANCHESTER — He just won the state title. Somebody give this man a bowl of popcorn.
When asked how he’d celebrate Londonderry’s Division 1 girls basketball title, coach John Fagula, who retired after the game, said, “I’ll tell you quite honestly, if the popcorn stand wasn’t closed, I’d probably get a couple of bags of popcorn.”
Second-seeded Londonderry earned a 57-56 victory over previously unbeaten Bedford, the No. 1 seed, to secure the championship at Southern New Hampshire University Sunday night.
Want drama? Here’s some.
Fearless junior Brittany Roche, a 6-foot forward, converted a wide open 3-pointer along the baseline with 12.3 seconds left to break a 54-54 tie. Bedford missed two 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds and the game ended on a meaningless Bulldogs layup at the buzzer.
Roche converted the same 3-point shot from the corner to give the Lancers a one-point edge with 2 minutes left in the semifinals against Pinkerton March 13.
Of any spot in 3-point range, Roche feels most comfortable taking her shot from the corner.
Jackie Luckhardt drove base line toward the hoop and found Roche there alone.
“There was no one guarding me, so why not shoot it?” Roche said.
Fagula’s stellar career ended in the best way possible. He won 11 Class L titles with Nashua and coached five nationally ranked teams. His 1987 Purple Panther squad won the USA Today national title. But those teams were loaded with Division 1 talent unlike the teams he has had at Londonderry. So one could argue this might be his sweetest victory of all.
“The best part about it for me is that I don’t have to think about ‘what ifs,’” Fagula said. “That’s the kind of thing that’s frustrating when you get close and you don’t win it.”
Fagula has had multiple “what if?” nights in recent history. Londonderry lost by just three points to Bishop Guertin in the 2012 final. The Lancers also dropped the 2011 state title game to Winnacunnet.
Fagula said he certainly didn’t want to have to again answer questions about what his team could have done differently to win.
“Now, I don’t have to do that,” he said. “I can just kind of ride off into the sunset. I loves Westerns.”
The title also marks the first for UNH-bound point guard Aliza Simpson, a senior, who had starred on the two previous runner-up teams for the Lancers. Simpson didn’t get a chance to will her team to victory against Bishop Guertin two years ago because she fouled out with 5:37 left.
Simpson finished Sunday night with a game-high 16 points. She also collected two rebounds, made three steals and dished out six assists.
“She’s brought an energy and a work ethic that’s just hard to beat,” Fagula said of Simpson. “The other kids have just tried to keep up with it and I think that’s helped them. She’s made them better players, as well as herself. And she’s such a great kid off the court.”
Simpson missed eight games this winter with a fracture below her kneecap, but she still earned the Gatorade New Hampshire Player of the Year. She found out before the championship game she also earned Division 1 Player of the Year and Miss New Hampshire Basketball.