BARRE — For the second straight year and the third time in six seasons, the Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team is going to the Division II final at the Barre Auditorium.
The top-seeded, 19-3 Eagles earned that berth in a Monday night semifinal by outscoring No. 5 Lyndon in a dramatic fourth quarter, 19-16, in a 47-42 victory.
The Eagles led throughout the second half, but the 14-9 Vikings, behind center Riley Blankenship’s 24 points, seven times cut Mount Abe’s advantage to a single point before the Eagles closed the game with a 5-1 run in the final 1:23.
Lyndon called time while trailing, 42-41, at 1:36. But the Eagles made a key defensive play. Lyndon tried to get the ball to Blankenship but sophomore guard Ashlie Fay came up with the steal and headed up the floor.
Ahead of her was older sister Amber Fay, and Ashlie found her at 1:23 for the 44-41 lead. Blankenship hit a free throw at 0:40 to make it a 44-42. The Vikings had to foul to get the ball back, but hit Amber Fay from behind, an infraction that the officials ruled was flagrant, giving her two free throws and the Eagles the ball.
Fay hit one at 0:22, and the Vikings had to foul again. Eagle free-throw-shooting machine Meghan Livingston then iced the win by swishing two at 0:14 to create the final score.
Amber Fay, a tri-captain who also hit a three-pointer to make it 42-38 at 2:40 (it was her first basket of the game as she scored all six of her points in the stretch), said the defense played a big part in the win.
“For some reason, we played like heck. But we always seem to pull it out in the end,” Fay said. “We work hard in practice on that defense.”
Fay said she didn’t dwell on her earlier misses during crunch time; Coach Connie LaRose called the three-pointer “a big one.”
“When you think about it, they don’t fall, and when you don’t, they do,” Fay said.
Ashlie Fay and Livingston, also a sophomore, played key roles. Ashlie Fay led Mount Abe with 14 points, including all six of the Eagles’ points in the third quarter, and four more in the fourth, plus nine rebounds, five steals and five assists. Livingston scored eight in the fourth quarter as the Eagles snapped out of a scoring funk.
LaRose was asked her opinion on the game, and credited Lyndon’s zone defense and her two sophomore guards.
“Wow, that’s my take,” LaRose said. “Lyndon did a great job of keeping us out of our offensive flow all night long. Thank goodness for Ashlie Fay and Meg Livingston, who managed to slide in there a few times and get us a few not-in-the-typical-flow-of-the-offense shots.”
Livingston and senior center Lydia Stearns (nine points, five rebounds) scored four points each in the first quarter as the Eagles took a 10-9 lead after one. Five points from Blankenship kept the Vikings afloat in the first.
The Eagles still led by one, 16-15, at 2:30 of the second when Stearns sparked a 6-0 Eagle run with a jumper and a putback. Ashlie Fay added an offensive board as the Eagles took a 22-15 lead at the break.
The Eagles could have stretched the lead further, but committed 11 of their 21 turnovers in the quarter. On the other hand, they dominated the boards in the period, 14-3, although Lyndon earned an overall 30-29 edge. Kayla Jardine’s 10 and Blankenship’s nine boards added up for Lyndon, while Megan Ogden snared six for the Eagles.
The turnover woes continued for Mount Abe early in the third, but the Eagles’ 3-2 zone and 2-2-1 press continued to cause problems for the Vikings, too. At 2:57, the Eagle lead was still seven, 26-19, after Ashlie Fay’s third and fourth points of the quarter, two free throws after a steal.
Then it occurred to Lyndon to give the ball to Blankenship. She scored twice inside in the next 1:11, forward Denielle Riendeau added a putback, and guard Hannah Jardine hit a late free throw to conclude a 7-2 Viking run that made it 28-26 after three.
The lids came off the baskets in the fourth. Livingston scored twice, while a Jardine three-point play and a coast-to-coast Blankenship foray for Lyndon cut the Eagle lead to one point each time. A Stearns free throw and Ashlie Fay’s steal conversion pushed the lead to four at 4:40, but Blankenship sank a three to make it 35-34, Eagles, at 4:15.
Amber Fay set up Ogden in the post at 4:04, but two Blankenship free throws at 3:50 made it 37-36. Livingston hit a jumper at 3:05, but Blankenship drove to make it 39-38.
Then Amber Fay decided it was time to start scoring and buried a three from the right wing.
“That was huge,” LaRose said.
Jardine cut the lead to a single point one final time, with another three-point play at 1:58, but the Eagles had the answers down the stretch.
For Mount Abe, Ogden finished with four points; junior guard Lizzie Huizenga, two points and two steals; and Amber Fay, three steals and four assists. Casey Ogden, Jordan Emmons and Jessie Martin also saw action.
Senior guard and tri-captain Sara Sayles, typically a starter, did not. LaRose is optimistic she can return on Saturday after about missing three weeks with a knee problem.
“With us not playing until Saturday, certainly we’ll be trying her a little bit and see how she handles it,” LaRose said.
The Eagles’ fans and cheerleaders will also be sure to show up on Saturday. Fay and LaRose said it at times felt like a home game on Monday.
“They’re there for us,” LaRose said. “I can’t say enough good things about them.”
At 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, the Eagles will seek the program’s first title since 1997 against either No. 2 Hartford or No. 3 Fair Haven, both 17-5, who were set to play on Wednesday after the deadline for this edition of the Independent. The Eagles did not play Hartford, but lost at Fair Haven in December, 40-23. LaRose said the Eagles will, as usual, will be operating with a size disadvantage on Saturday.
“But I feel good with a team of midgets that can just go really fast,” she said. “I feel good to be where we’re at. I really do. They played hard tonight.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]