HAMPTON — Abby Wilber was not in the starting lineup when the season started for the Winnacunnet High School girls basketball team. After an injury and an illness to teammates, Wilber got her chance.
It would be an understatement to say Wilber, a junior, made the most of her time in the limelight in a game against Division I rival Exeter Friday night.
With the Warriors trailing by a point in the waning seconds, Wilber received a pass at midcourt and instantly heaved a shot toward the basket as the buzzer sounded. Wilber’s shot hit the backboard and went straight through net, giving the Warriors an improbable 42-40 win, sending the Winnacunnet home fans onto the court in a frenzy.
Wilber's game-winning shot was featured Saturday morning on ESPN "SportsCenter" Top 10 Plays of the Day. Wilber's shot led off the segment at No. 10.
“I was just hoping for the best,” Wilber said moments after her winning shot. “I really didn't expect anything of it. I just couldn't believe it was real and it was actually happening.”
On Saturday, word started to get around the community that Wilber's shot was getting national TV attention.
"That's pretty cool," Winnacunnet athletic director Aaron Abood said. "I am happy for the team, and the win. I am glad something like that gets national recognition. When you watch it on video, the shot looks even more impressive."
The ESPN anchor mispronounced Winnacunnet, but Abood was understanding about it.
"I am not going to fault them for not being able to pronounce Winnacunnet," Abood said, laughing. "I don't think the first time I saw it I wouldn't have been able to pronounce it correctly either."
Exeter beat Winnacunnet all three times the teams played last season, and Friday’s game was the only regular-season meeting between the two rivals.
“(The game-winning) shot definitely means more because it was against Exeter,” Wilber said. “We have not beaten Exeter since we were freshmen, and our goal was to beat them. It was really exciting.”
Wilber finished the game with seven points, going 2 for 2 from the line in the second quarter, and hitting a jumper in the lane in the third.
“Abby has been key for us all year,” Winnacunnet first-year head coach Andrew Marden said. “Was I surprised (the shot) went in? Everyone in the gym was surprised. Bar Steph Curry, nobody expects that shot to go in.”
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It was the second straight loss for the Blue Hawks, who are now 7-7 on the season. Winnacunnet is 4-7.
"It's really special for her and the team," Marden said. "Once in a lifetime moment for them. This is the first win over Exeter for this group and to do it like that is just an incredible memory for all of them."
“It was a big shot,” Exeter head coach Dave Sokolnicki said. “There was not a lot of time left, and no one had any timeouts left. This is what happens in this rivalry. You have some of these crazy situations that happen.”
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Here are five takeaways from the game:
The plan for the final shot
Marden believed the Warriors were going to be able to get off a decent look for a potential game-winning shot.
“Exeter was chasing the ball with two players and it's a great strategy to eat time but it does end up leaving a lot of space open in the middle of the court,” Marden said. “We were able to break that pressure with a pass and that's how we found enough space to get that shot off.”
Warriors play shorthanded
Winnacunnet was already without junior starter Marisa Reuss for Friday’s game, and had to play much of the fourth quarter with two other starters — Riley Kerens and Casey Coleman — on the bench.
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Both juniors left the game in the second half with knee injuries, and both returned to the game only to be helped off shortly after reaggravating their injuries.
Marden didn’t believe either injury was too serious.
“Our trainers are pretty confident that a couple days off will do them good and they'll be ready to go against Concord on Monday,” Marden said.
Welcome to the rivalry, coach
Marden spent the previous two years as head coach at Division IV Epping, and was introduced into the Winnacunnet/Exeter rivalry in grand fashion.
“(The game) pretty much matched the hype, the student sections were impressive,” Marden said. “After a couple of years of COVID-related stuff, it's kind of hard to remember what these games feel like. I grew up in northern Maine, where basketball rivalries are huge. I've seen gyms that were full and crazy before, but this may have been the craziest I've seen for a high school game.”
Marden certainly won’t forget this first game against the Blue Hawks.
“No, I will not,” he said.
Sokolnicki knew that even with recent success against Winnacunnet Friday’s game was going to be close.
“It always is,” he said. “It can't get tighter than tonight, not with a shot going in with no time left on the clock. Nothing surprises me with this rivalry.”
Blue Hawks take lead in fourth
Freshman Mira Franzoso hit a jumper for Winnacunnet, giving the Warriors a 37-31 lead with 4:16 left.
The Blue Hawks went on a 9-1 run over the next 3 minutes, taking a 40-38 lead on Rachel Ludwig’s steal and subsequent basket with 50 seconds left.
“We were down late in the game and did some pretty nice things to take the lead,” Sokolnicki said. “We just have to move on to the next game.”
Franzoso led the Warriors with eight points, while Rio Franzoso, Kerens, Wilber and Coleman all had seven.
Erin McIlroy led Exeter with nine points, while MarLie Macek had eight.
Coach hopes win carries momentum
The Warriors have seven games left in the regular season, and Marden hopes the momentum from Friday’s win carries forward.
“I think the girls recognize the significance of this win but it's going to be how hard we are ready to work when we come back in the gym on Sunday,” Marden said. “The girls believed in themselves tonight, and they kind of willed that win tonight.”
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Abby Wilber, Winnacunnet on ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 with 3-pointer