By ANDY KIRKALDY
BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team made the most of a rare home game on Friday, dispatching Colchester, 51-30, to improve to 5-3.
In what was just their second appearance in Bristol this season, the Eagles held the 2-6 Lakers without a basket for the first 10:07.
After the Lakers cut a 16-1 Mount Abe lead to 16-10, the Eagles responded with a 10-0 run to make the lead an insurmountable 26-10 at the break.
The Eagles had two major advantages. One, although the Eagles were also struggling to take care of the ball, the Lakers had even more trouble against the Eagles’ 2-2-1 press. Colchester turned the ball over 16 times in the first half, with many miscues leading to Eagle points.
Senior co-captain Paige Wener said the Eagles’ effort on defense was a major factor.
“We tried to make the press work a lot, and that kind of rattled them,” said Wener, who contributed seven points, six boards, three steals and three assists.
The other advantage was that sophomore Jen Loyer suited up for Mount Abe. Loyer didn’t start, in part because Coach Connie LaRose wanted to reward Eagles who had showed extra effort in practice, including senior Alyssa Stearns, and in part because Loyer had been ill.
In the first period, Loyer came in with Mount Abe up, 5-1, at 3:33, and helped spark an 11-0 run. Loyer assisted a Wener hoop, fed Sara Taggart and Wener for moves that drew fouls and one point at the line each, stole the ball and scored, and put back in her own miss. The other two points came from a steal by Jade Dingler (11 points, 4 rebounds).
LaRose said Loyer made an impact.
“Obviously, when Jen came on the floor, things ignited a little bit. She goes to the rim with her head up,” LaRose said. “She’s always seeing what’s out there, and it changes the whole complexion of things.”
The Eagles then committed five turnovers in the first 3:55 of the second quarter. When Laker Paige LaPlant hit a trey at 5:53 that made it 16-4, and the Lakers added one Chelsea Weeden jumper and two by Taylor Riley, the second at 3:15.
By then, LaRose had reinserted Loyer (17 points, 7 rebounds, 7 steals). At 2:46, Loyer hit two free throws and stole the inbounds pass and scored. Dingler followed with a jumper and a drive to the hoop, and Taggart (10 points in the paint) sank two free throws to create the 16-point lead.
At 7:49 of fourth quarter, when Laker Brittany Bissonette (a team-high 7) hit a free throw, the lead dropped to 11 at 36-25. But the outcome never seemed in doubt, as LaRose was taking the opportunity to tinker with combinations and share out playing time. She said the results were mixed, but saw positives.
“We experimented with a lot of different things tonight. I’m not sure there were a lot of consistent results in terms of what I wanted to see us execute, but there were flashes,” LaRose said.
The greater suspense was whether Mount Abe could hit a free throw. The only reason the score grew as close as 11 was that the Eagles missed 11 straight, a streak snapped when Wener hit two at 4:45 of the fourth.
Wener said she knew it was getting ugly.
“I had a feeling that we had missed a couple,” Wener said. “I was a little embarrassed.”
But LaRose said foul shooting is really not an issue.
“We’ve been around 80 percent for the last three or four games,” she said.
And the Eagles made seven of 10 down the stretch and allowed only six fourth-quarter points to win by 21. Also contributing for Mount Abe were Shanna Gebo (5 rebounds) and Jill Huizenga (4 rebounds, 3 assists).
Even though the Eagles earned a slight, 37-34 edge on the boards, including team rebounds, LaRose would like to see improvement there. She also said the Eagles had to work on holding onto the ball: With eight turnovers in the fourth quarter, the Eagles finished with 25.
“We need to make better decisions with the ball. When we make better decisions, taking care of the ball will take care of itself,” she said. “We need to do a much better job of that to play with the better teams.”
Overall, Wener joined LaRose in believing the Eagles have a chance of realizing their high hopes for this winter.
“We’re doing good,” Wener said. “We’ve gelled a lot in the beginning of the season, and I think from here on out we’re looking to win a lot of games and do really well.”