BRISTOL — The host Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team used tough first- and third-quarter defense to turn back determined Otter Valley on Wednesday, 46-38.
The Eagles forced 13 of the Otters’ 28 turnovers and received nine of junior Ashlie Fay’s game-high 20 points in the first quarter to take a 15-5 lead after the first eight minutes.
The Otters clawed their way back into the game. When junior Olivia Bloomer (a team-high nine points) converted a short jumper on an inbounds play at 3:30 of the third quarter, the Eagles led by just 26-22.
But then the Eagle press took effect again: OV turned the ball over eight times in the next 4:30, and went scoreless in that span.
Meanwhile, the Eagles closed the third quarter with a 10-0 run: Sophomore center Isabel Brennan converted an inbounds play, junior Sam Driscoll hit a layup after classmate Meg Livingston stole the ball and set her up, Fay scored twice, and Driscoll’s jumper made it 36-22, enough of a lead to hold OV off in the fourth.
First-year OV coach Steven Keith saw a mixed bag: He was happy with his team’s spunk and defense.
“It was a pretty hard-fought game. We dug ourselves a bit of a hole early, but dug out of it. That was good to see,” Keith said.
But poise against defensive pressure will be a focus as the Otters work to improve in the weeks to come.
“We sped up against the press instead of slowing down,” Keith said. “Overall we did a pretty decent job against their press, but that one stretch, we ... just couldn’t maintain it.”
Likewise, Eagle coach Connie LaRose saw things to like and things to improve. She was happy with her team’s fast start and with her starters and main substitutes’ execution of the press.
“I thought at times we were clicking, doing the little things we need to do to make our game work,” LaRose said.
At other times, LaRose would have liked to see “more patience on offense” and composure when the Eagles have a lead. She said there is no reason to force up shots quickly in some situations.
“In the third and fourth quarters, I don’t think we made good game-situation decisions with the ball,” LaRose said. “We must have put up six or eight shots in the span of a minute-and-a-half … It’s what I call the my-turn offense.”
Certainly, the Eagles were impressive early. The relentless press, Fay’s points and four of Livingston’s six points helped the Eagles to the 10-point lead after one. OV managed only two of Brittany Bushey’s seven points and a Bloomer three-pointer in the period.
But the second quarter was a different story. OV turned the ball over just four times and got a lift from junior Jessica Frazier (eight points), who drove for two hoops, hit a pair of free throws, and assisted freshman Amy Jones (seven points) in the post. Meanwhile, the Eagles recorded five of their 15 turnovers and managed only an early Fay three-point play and a late Brennan putback in the period, which ended with the Eagles up by 20-15.
Frazier opened the second half with another strong move, and the lead was three. Mount Abe’s Livingston, who had a game-high four assists, drove and dished to senior Jordan Emmons, and Eagle senior Lizzie Huizenga (eight points) sank a jumper to push the lead to seven. But a Bushey three-pointer reset it to four before Fay and Bloomer exchanged hoops to make it 26-22 at 3:30.
Then the Otters’ wheels momentarily came off, and the Eagles took advantage to push the lead to 14. Bushey snapped that run with a drive a minute into the fourth, and after a Huizenga jumper, a three-point play inside by Jones and a Bloomer basket set up by Frazier cut the lead to nine, 38-29.
Livingston and OV point guard Taylor Aines (six points) exchanged hoops, and it was 40-31 at 4:00. Finally, a free throw by Eagle junior Sara Cousino, a Huizenga layup on the break set up by Fay, and a putback by Fay proved to be enough to seal the win.
OV managed only an Aines trey and two free throws down the stretch, but also missed a couple of good looks that could have tightened the game further.
“A couple layups and a couple open shots fall … and we’re right in it,” Keith said.
Keith’s Otters are 1-3, but have also played some tough competition. Two losses have come to Fair Haven and Mount Abe, both top-four teams in the Division II coaches’ poll.
“We may have stumbled out of the blocks a little bit here, but it’s a long season, and we’re definitely on the way up,” Keith said. “Every day we fix a couple things, so that’s what we’re going to do. It’s a good group, a real good unit, and they play well together. They like playing together, and they like coming to practice, so it’s been good.”
LaRose said inexperienced players like Brennan and junior forward Meg Wetter are learning quickly, and she also expects her team — which was 3-0 heading into a Saturday home game vs. winless Middlebury, but faces tough tests this week in Fair Haven and Burr & Burton — to continue to improve.
“Every day we get a little bit better in practice in the execution of things,” she said. “I think we’re a season-long work in progress.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.