By Bob Ekstrom
The Portsmouth High girls employed a suffocating tipoff-to-buzzer defense and senior guard Samantha Turcotte netted her 1,000th career point Friday night as the Lady Patriots overwhelmed the visiting Villa Novans of Woonsocket High School, 68-21, to earn their second straight conference win and improve to 4-7 within Division I Central.
Portsmouth trailed only once, 2-0, but the backcourt combination of Turcotte and her younger sister Briana jump-started a home team offense that was characteristically sluggish in the opening minutes. The Turcotte sisters alternately scored the Lady Patriots’ first 10 points and they never looked back. A 16-0 run capped by Samantha’s three-pointer from the left corner opened the Portsmouth lead to 20-4 with 7:06 remaining in the first half, as the Villa Novans succumbed to the unrelenting Patriots half-court trap by repeatedly turning the ball over or taking ill-advised outside shots.
The margin more than doubled to 43-9 at halftime, and swelled to 60-13 midway through the second half after senior Maddy Blackburn, a career 100-point scorer in lacrosse, collected her first two basketball points of the season, becoming the final Lady Patriot to do so. First-year Coach Rob Johnson distributed playing minutes across his entire bench throughout the second half, as 12 different players contributed to the scoring attack. But the night belonged to Samantha Turcotte.
With 6:02 remaining in the first half and Portsmouth leading, 22-8, the senior Turcotte collected a pass from sister Briana on the right wing and drilled her third trey of the game. Villa Novan head coach George Coderre, aware of the moment’s significance, immediately called time-out as the crowd, many of whom were maintaining their own countdowns, rose to its collective feet. The basket made Turcotte the second girl and ninth overall player in school history to join the 1,000-point club.
PHS Director of Athletics Stephen Trezvant presented Turcotte and her family with a plaque commemorating the achievement during a mid-court ceremony before play resumed. It’s the second time the second-year AD has had the honor.
“I’m quite blessed to have two one-thousand point scorers in my tenure thus far,” said Trezvant. “We had Evan Hole last year who was a phenomenal student-athlete for us. This year, we’re so excited for Samantha and everything that she’s done here.”
For coach Johnson, who came to Portsmouth after serving in a similar capacity in the college ranks at Johnson & Wales the past two seasons, Turcotte’s presence has likewise been a blessing in his first season.
“She always works hard, so I always have her to lead the way,” he said. “That’s been very important as you teach these kids to work hard in practice. She’s been a big part [of the team’s development] because she does work hard every day and it helps to get the other girls to respond.”
When play resumed, Turcotte’s milestone ignited the Lady Patriots at both ends. Turcotte forced two turnovers in the first minute back on the floor, and after the Villa Novans went scoreless over a four-minute stretch in which Portsmouth built a 37-8 lead, her night was over. She finished as game high-scorer with 20 points in only 14 minutes of play, but that was still enough to bolster her 16.2 points-per-game average, currently eighth among Division I’s top scorers.
“I was nervous,” admitted Turcotte after the game, “but I knew that I was in closing distance of 1,000 points, so I was ready for it to just be over.”
Friday’s accomplishment was the cherry on top of a four-year evolution that took Turcotte from a kid with raw talent to one of refined skills that make her one of the most highly-recruited players in Newport County this winter. The evolution did not come easy, and it was not a solo journey.
“My dad was a big influence, but also my former two coaches,” she said, referencing former head coach Jeff Goss and assistant Bill Waterman, who both worked tirelessly with her during her first three interscholastic seasons.
“Coach Waterman stayed after [practice] shooting with me, and Coach Goss pushed me in the right direction and told me just to keep striving for my goals and just pushed me to work harder.”
Goss found a niche for Turcotte in his offense right away, setting her up as a perimeter shooter playing alongside a cadre of great dribble-penetrating point guards over the years that have included Trish Fontaine, Sarah Corrigan, Megan Sewall, and now Hannah Wilkie. “She always had that pure shot,” said Goss. “In her sophomore and junior seasons, she spent countless hours after practice every day just shooting. If she had missed something in practice she wouldn’t leave until she made it.”
Many of those hours were under the tutelage of Waterman, who helped adjust all facets of her shot, including her left balancing hand, her release, and even her shooting stance.
“She was willing to work and stay the hours,” Waterman said. “We worked before practice, after practice, just shooting and shooting, improving her technique, getting her footwork down. She was a very good student and was willing to do the work. It was obvious from the get-go she was going to get to 1,000 points. There was no question in my mind.”
With Friday’s basket, Turcotte also becomes the 15th girl and 43rd overall player among the six Newport County schools to join the millennium club. But for now, total points already scored is a subordinate concern to Turcotte. It’s all about total games remaining to play.
“Our team had been struggling through the first half,” said Turcotte amid the throng of well-wishers congregating after Friday’s game.” Hopefully, [in] the second half we’ll be able to pick it up and come together as a team and get into the playoffs.”