BARRE — The Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team fought back fiercely in the second half of Saturday’s Division II final in Barre but could not overcome an ugly second quarter and champion Lamoille’s stout interior defense, anchored by center Chelsea Dunham.
The top-seeded Lancers beat the No. 3-seeded Eagles, 50-42, with Dunham dominating at both ends of the court. Lamoille’s six-foot-two-inch senior center topped all scorers with 13 points and was a force on defense, using her size advantage to swat away shots and grab several rebounds.
Mount Abe’s star guard and co-captain Jenn Loyer led the Eagles with 11 points and dished out some dazzling assists to teammates who were able to occasionally sneak behind the Lancers’ defensive front.
The Eagles began the contest on a high note, confusing the Lancers’ offense with a suffocating press defense. Mount Abe also capitalized on its opportunities on offense, surging to an early 5-0 lead punctuated by a trey from Loyer. But Lamoille eventually broke the ice on a basket by guard-forward Katie LaFreniere with 4:07 left in the first quarter. A buzzer-beating leaner from guard-forward Carly Ackley pulled Lamoille to within one of the Eagles, 12-11, at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter proved to be the Eagles’ undoing. A series of turnovers and major defensive lapses opened the floodgates for a potent Lamoille offense. Dunham tallied seven points in the quarter on a series of layups and effective post moves, while guard-forward Nikki LaFreniere added five points of her own en route to a Lamoille total of 23 points in the quarter.
Meanwhile, the Eagles could muster only three total points, on foul shots by forward Lydia Stearns (2) and Amber Fay (1). Loyer could only watch helplessly from the bench, where she sat out most of the quarter with early foul trouble.
The Lancers went into the locker room at the half with a commanding 34-15 lead.
“We went away from what was working for us,” Eagles Coach Connie LaRose said of the second-quarter swoon. “We stayed with the press early on and we got away from it when they made that big run in the second quarter. They were spreading the court out, and we chased.”
When the free throws didn’t fall, the team got anxious, LaRose added.
“This is where some of our youthfulness came back to haunt us, because they get impatient, they think you’ve got to make it all up at once,” she said of the deficit.
Mount Abraham came out in the second half with a lot more fire and a rededication to the press defense that had served them so well in the first quarter. Sparking the Eagles’ comeback was guard Sara Sayles, who scored six points and played some tenacious defense. Loyer hit a big three-pointer to supplement scores by guard Ashlie Fay, forward Amber Fay and forward KC Cousineau.
Lamoille maintained a 45-32 cushion going into the final quarter, thanks to five points from Katie LaFreniere and baskets from Nikki LaFreniere, guard Shaunna Haley and Dunham.
With their double-digit lead, the Lancers slowed down the pace considerably in the fourth quarter. Cousineau cut the Lancers’ lead to eight with 3:20 left in the game, and a three-pointer by Loyer trimmed it to seven with 43 seconds left. But that’s as close as the Eagles would get to what would have been their second-ever D-II title (they won it in 1997).
This was Lamoille’s third Division-II title in five years and its second in a row.
LaRose was buoyed by her girls’ performance in the second half and is optimistic she will return a solid team to make a run at the title again next year.
But she’ll be losing a big talent in Loyer. The senior said she wants to continue playing basketball, perhaps at the college level.
“I haven’t quite decided yet,” Loyer said of her next move.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]