BRISTOL — The top-seeded and defending champion Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team took an early blow from No. 8 Otter Valley in Friday’s Division II quarterfinal in Bristol, but the Eagles came back swinging to punch their return ticket to Barre, 53-22.
The Otters came out moving the ball crisply and attacking the Eagles’ 3-2 zone from the corners and the high post. At 3:50 of the first, they led, 9-5, on four points from senior forward Olivia Bloomer, two from senior point guard Taylor Aines, and a three-pointer from senior guard Brittany Bushey.
But the Eagles closed the period on a 9-2 run, all courtesy of seniors Meg Livingston and Ashlie Fay, to take a 14-11 lead. And then they held OV to 11 points the rest of the game after a key adjustment on defense. Meanwhile, at the other end the Eagles took charge by showing more patience in the half-court and taking advantage of their chances in transition.
By the half, the 16-4 Eagles led, 29-15, as five Eagles scored in the second, including four points by senior guard Sam Driscoll and three apiece by Livingston, junior forward Jen Gordon and junior Ashley Boise. Boise’s came on a three-pointer that came on a sweet out-of-bounds save and pass from Fay.
Then Mount Abe dropped a 19-2 quarter on OV (10-11), which had ripped off four straight wins to close the regular season and earn the No. 8 seed, and then defeated No. 8 Mill River, 39-23, in its first-round playoff game two days before.
In Friday’s decisive third period, Mount Abe junior center Isabel Brennan, Fay and Livingston combined for 18 points, all of them in the lane except for Livingston’s third three-pointer of the night.
Livingston, who finished with a game-high 15 points, said it took a while for the Eagles to get rolling after a 10-day layoff.
“We definitely had some nerves going into the game. And we knew they were going to be pushing the ball, and they were a quick team. So we tried not to run with them. But that’s what we did in the beginning of the game,” Livingston said. “But eventually we settled in and got into our groove and hit some shots, and I think that helped us.”
Eagle coach Connie LaRose agreed her team was “a little over revved-up” in the first quarter, but was happy they got rolling at both ends of the court. She credited them for adjusting in their 3-2 zone to what she agreed was OV’s smart offensive game plan.
“We put the fix in, and they actually did it,” LaRose said.
OV Coach Steve Keith said the Eagles adapted well, but also that the Otters’ shots just wouldn’t drop.
“They adjusted and they sent that girl down a lot quicker,” Keith said. “They’re long, and they’re fast. And they’re long inside. That part was tough. They adjusted, and we tried a couple adjustments we had against it, and we just couldn’t get it to fall.”
Keith said once the Eagles began to show better patience, they also put a lot of pressure on his man-to-man defense.
“They were clicking. In the beginning our defense was pretty good, good intensity, and they just had a lot of weapons,” Keith said.
The Otters also had a 9-6 rebounding edge in the first quarter, with Bloomer and sophomore Amy Jones doing good work. OV also swarmed the Eagle post players when they got the ball. But the taller Eagles gradually began to assert themselves offensively and on the boards, where they earned a 31-18 edge the rest of the way.
“That clearly becomes a factor,” LaRose said of her team’s height advantage. “After a while it wears you down.”
Senior forward Meg Wetter (eight rebounds), Livingston (five) and Brennan (four) led the Eagles on the boards.
Fay finished with 12 points, four assists and three steals, and Livingston added three steals. Driscoll scored seven with four assists, and Brennan scored nine.
Bloomer had seven points to lead OV; Jones scored four; and Bushey, freshman Sophia Bloomer, Aines and Laura Beth Roberts each scored three.
The Eagles moved on to face No. 4 BFA-Fairfax (17-5) on Monday at 8:15 p.m. in Barre. The game is a rematch of the 2013 final, won by the Eagles, 44-28.
Livingston said their 2013 run in Barre should help them.
“We’re fairly confident,” Livingston said. “I think we’re feeling good because we have a lot of people who have experienced Barre last year.”
In Wednesday’s first-round game, the Otters held visiting No. 9 seed Mill River to five first-half points in the 39-23 win.
Still, OV led by only eight at the half, 13-5, and MRU cut the lead to 19-16 in the third period. But OV took over when Jones blocked a shot and then hit a free throw, and a Bloomer hoop made it 22-16 after three periods.
Roberts sank a three to open the fourth and push the lead to nine, and OV pulled away from there.
Jones finished with eight points and two blocks, Roberts sank three three-pointers for nine points, Olivia Bloomer scored eight, and Bushey netted seven.
After Friday’s game, Keith talked about what the Otters, notably seniors Aines, Bloomer, Bushey and Poljacik, had accomplished, especially after losing all-star senior Jessica Frazier to a season-ending injury in their opening game. Bloomer was also hurt in the opener and missed several games. It would be easy to picture the Otters earning a top-four seed if they had remained healthy.
Keith said his message to the Otters was not to hang their heads, and that it was a great accomplishment to win five straight entering Friday’s game, including earning and winning Wednesday’s home playoff game.
“They’re a great group. I’ve had the luxury of coaching them for two years, and they’ve done everything you’ve asked,” he said. “I can’t say enough about how hard these kids have worked all season. Any game, you knew they weren’t going to quit.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: This story was updated since it was originally posted to correct the name of a player who was misidentified.