BRISTOL — As expected, any resistance No. 16 Missisquoi offered to the No. 1 Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team in Tuesday’s first-round Division II playoff game was futile.
The 20-1 Eagles forced 13 first-quarter turnovers in taking a 17-1 lead after eight minutes, and then put it on cruise control on the way to a 60-17 win over the 3-18 T-Birds.
Certainly, things will get tougher as the Eagles go deeper into the tournament. On Friday they will meet the winner of a game played late on Wednesday between No. 8 Lamoille (10-9) and No. 9 Harwood (10-10).
If Mount Abe holds serve in that quarterfinal, it’s on to Barre on Monday at 8:15 p.m., probably vs. either No. 4 defending champion Hartford (17-3 heading into Wednesday’s first round) or No. 5 Lake Region (17-4).
And No. 2 U-32 (19-1 entering the tournament on Wednesday) is lurking on the other side of the bracket.
But the Eagles are confident moving forward: They met tough challenges down the stretch, when they defeated D-I’s Nos. 4 and 6 seeds South Burlington and Colchester on the road to nail down not only D-II’s top seed, but also the Lake Division title.
Junior Meghan Livingston said those games boosted the Eagles’ confidence and helped them gear up for the postseason, but won’t change the daily focus on getting better that has gotten them 20 wins.
“I think they prepared us for the playoffs, because we haven’t seen the tougher competition (in Division II),” Livingston said. “We’re just taking it one game at a time, I think, working hard in practice.”
That approach, not looking too far ahead and taking care of the business at hand, has helped the Eagles check one thing after another off their to-do list.
“All season, our first goal was to make it to the final four (top seeds), and we got there. And then it was league champions, and we got that,” Livingston said. “And the next step is make it to Aud and win the championship.”
Certainly, the Eagles took care of business on Tuesday, even with senior starter and defensive sparkplug Lizzie Huizenga sitting because she missed a game and practices because of a field hockey trip.
Although they missed shots early, once Livingston hit a jumper at the five-minute mark of the first period, the floodgates opened.
Livingston (14 points) and Ashlie Fay (12 points, five assists, six steals) combined for 13 of the Eagles’ 17 points in the period, and they and junior Sam Driscoll (five points, four assists) and senior forwards Jessie Martin (four assists, four rebounds, five steals) and Jordan Emmons (six points) made life miserable for the T-Birds when they tried to dribble or pass the ball.
Coach Connie LaRose called off the press in the second quarter, and MVU settled into a four-points-per-quarter pace until erupting for eight points in the fourth to reach double digits. Laura Flint’s five points and Chelsea Boudreau’s four led MVU.
Meanwhile, 10 of 11 Eagles scored. Sophomore center Isabel Brennan made the biggest impact off the bench, with 10 points, seven rebounds and several blocked shots. Junior guard Hailey Sayles scored five, and senior guard Chelsea Rublee added three. Junior forwards Megan Wetter and Sara Cousino scored two apiece, and they and junior forward Addy Campbell hit the boards hard.
The bench did not let up defensively, as the Eagles forced 32 turnovers in all. Mount Abe also earned a 39-32 rebounding edge, including team rebounds, a solid advantage considering that the one-a-minute MVU turnover pace meant that there were fewer defensive boards available.
Overall, LaRose agreed with Livingston that the road victories late in the season gave the Eagles a lift, especially when they rallied past Colchester, 43-41.
“I think it was huge at Colchester. We were down by five at halftime,” LaRose said. “We weren’t playing particularly well, and I feel like the kids got refocused as we entered that second half … Confidence-wise, it was a huge win.”
And if the Eagles play well in their next three games, LaRose likes their chances.
“As a whole, I think there’s good balance. Our inside game isn’t incredible, but it’s at least a presence,” she said. “And the guards, if they can keep their hands in the passing lanes and not get crazy with the fouls, and Meg is hitting and Sam is hitting, and Lizzie can knock one down here and there, and Ashlie can get to the rim … When they all click, we’re as good as anybody.”
OTHER PLAYOFF GAMES
In other D-II action on Tuesday, March 5, Otter Valley’s Marble Valley League rival Fair Haven ousted the Otters, and Vergennes lost at No. 3 BFA-Fairfax. In D-I, No. 13 Middlebury (5-12) was set to take on No. 3 Essex on Wednesday night after the deadline for this edition of the Independent.
No. 6 Fair Haven moved to 16-5 by topping No. 11 OV, 36-20, in a defensive battle. The Slaters decided matters by outscoring the Otters by 14-6 in the third quarter.
Bethany Lanfear led the Slaters with 10 points, while Lindsey Marcy and Alexis Ellis added six apiece. Jessica Frazier (10 points) and Olivia Bloomer (eight) accounted for most of the 10-11 Otters’ offense.
Next up for Fair Haven will be No. 3 BFA-Fairfax, which defeated visiting No. 14 VUHS on Tuesday, 53-26. The Bullets were led by Chace Carpenter’s 25 points and improved to 19-2. They held the Commodores to 10 points in the second half. VUHS finished at 4-17.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]