MIDDLEBURY — The visiting Otter Valley Union High School girls’ basketball team earned what the Otters hope will be a breakthrough victory on Tuesday, when they rallied from an eight-point second-quarter deficit for a dramatic 46-43 win at Middlebury.
Senior Kristy Pinkham, who starts along with four freshmen on a team that improved to 1-5, hit five of six free throws in the final 1:24. She first came to the line with the score knotted at 41-41 and hit one of two to put OV on top for good, then hit four straight as the Otters survived one hoop by Tiger senior Katie Ritter and then watched Ritter’s potentially game-tying three just miss in the final seconds.
Pinkham said Tuesday’s effort showed what the young (OV has eight freshman on its roster of 12) Otters are capable of doing. They worked hard on defense and showed increasing confidence on offense as the game progressed.
“Today was the first day we really came together as a team. With the inexperience we have it’s really been tough, but today this was the real team,” Pinkham said. “We started hitting our shots, we played really good defense, and the freshmen really stepped up today.”
OV coach Ray Counter hopes the game can be a turning point.
“It’s great, because I know they were getting a little frustrated from our games, so it’s good to pull one out against a very good club,” Counter said. “It shows they can play.”
On the other hand, the Tigers fell to 2-3. Coach Cindy Atkins said they are simply not shooting well, either from the floor — they missed a number of layups and open jumpers — or from the free-throw line, where MUHS hit just four of 14, three of 11 in the fourth quarter.
“We had a really rough shooting night,” Atkins said. “Otter Valley worked hard on defense and we just couldn’t hit a shot, especially in the first half. Hit a few more free throws, and it’s a different game coming down the stretch.”
Atkins also said that if the Tigers had played better defense, their 19-11 second-quarter lead might have held up.
“That’s what I was saying to the girls. The five I kept out there at the end were the five I felt were playing hard on defense,” she said. “We have to shut teams down defensively, because we have a hard time scoring baskets. We have to work hard on defense.”
The Tigers took an 8-3 lead in the first quarter as four players scored. Then Pinkham (12 points in the gme) rallied OV with a jumper and an uncontested three-pointer to tie the game at 8-8, but two late hoops by Ritter (16) made it 12-8 after one. The second basket, unsurprisingly, came on a putback — MUHS dominated the boards, 45-27, including team rebounds. OV won the turnover battle, forcing 20 and making 15.
In the first six minutes of the second quarter, the Tigers allowed only a trey by freshman Jess Frazier, and stretched the lead to 19-11 on a free throw by Nicole Brown (11 points), another Ritter putback (she had 12 rebounds), and jumpers by Jordyn Smith and Tiffany Danyow.
But Frazier (a game-high 18) sparked an 7-2 run over the final 90 seconds. She drove for two and nailed another three to make it 19-16, and after a Ritter hoop, fed Brittany Bushey for a buzzer-beating basket that made it 21-18 at the half.
“Jessie played a heck of a game. She really sparked us,” Counter said. “And once we got that energy, I don’t think there was any holding us back.”
The third quarter saw six lead changes and ended with OV on top, 36-34. Katie and Chrissy Ritter each had putback baskets, but the Tigers as a team went 0-for-four from the free throw line. Frazier scored nine in the period for OV. Smith sank a trey for MUHS in the final minute to make it 34-33, Tigers, but freshman Jordan Mitchell sank another buzzer-beating for OV — another trey — to give her team the lead.
Mitchell and junior forward Kelsey Poljacik made baskets for OV early in the fourth quarter while the Tigers went one-for-five from the line, and it was 40-35, Otters.
Brown erased that lead with a putback, a hoop in the post, and two free throws at 3:43 that made it 41-40.
At 3:28, Frazier hit one of two free throws to tie the game. At 2:06, the Tigers missed a pair, and the game remained tied.
At 1:24, Pinkham sank one of two from the line, and OV had the lead. Soon afterward, Pinkham intercepted a long inbounds pass intended for Ritter, and the Tigers sent her to the line at 0:47. She sank two: 44-41.
Ritter then went coast-to-coast and finished strong with her left hand: 44-43.
The Tigers went for the steal, and elected not to foul a freshman trapped in the corner, and Counter called for time at 0:29. The ball went to Pinkham, and she went back to the line at 0:17, and hit both: 46-43.
Counter later said he was happy his senior took the shots, but Pinkham admitted she is not the best from the line when it doesn’t matter.
“Let me tell you something, I go O-for-go-for at practice. I don’t make foul shots,” she said. “Today, it was the focus, really. I do well with pressure. I like the pressure.”
The Tigers ran a good inbounds play on the left sideline for Ritter, but her late trey bounced just long as time ran out, and OV and a loud and happy group of fans celebrated.
Counter said he still expects some ups and downs from his inexperienced team, but believes they learned a lot on Tuesday.
“They’re still young. I have to be patient and live with some of those mistakes they have during games,” Counter said. “But their energy is going to create a lot for us. If we just play with that kind of intensity, then we will be better.”
Atkins will look for the ball to fall inside the cylinder at least a little more often.
“That’s my take on the game,” she said. “We have to hit more shots.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.