Mount Abe girls outlast Otter Valley

<p> BRISTOL &mdash; The host Mount Abraham Union High School girls&rsquo; basketball team used tough first- and third-quarter defense to turn back determined Otter Valley on Wednesday, 46-38.</p><p> The Eagles forced 13 of the Otters&rsquo; 28 turnovers and received nine of junior Ashlie Fay&rsquo;s game-high 20 points in the first quarter to take a 15-5 lead after the first eight minutes.</p><p> 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.</p><p> 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.</p><p> 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&rsquo;s jumper made it 36-22, enough of a lead to hold OV off in the fourth.</p><p> First-year OV coach Steven Keith saw a mixed bag: He was happy with his team&rsquo;s spunk and defense.</p><p> &ldquo;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,&rdquo; Keith said.</p><p> But poise against defensive pressure will be a focus as the Otters work to improve in the weeks to come.</p><p> &ldquo;We sped up against the press instead of slowing down,&rdquo; Keith said. &ldquo;Overall we did a pretty decent job against their press, but that one stretch, we ... just couldn&rsquo;t maintain it.&rdquo;</p><p> Likewise, Eagle coach Connie LaRose saw things to like and things to improve. She was happy with her team&rsquo;s fast start and with her starters and main substitutes&rsquo; execution of the press.</p><p> &ldquo;I thought at times we were clicking, doing the little things we need to do to make our game work,&rdquo; LaRose said.</p><p> At other times, LaRose would have liked to see &ldquo;more patience on offense&rdquo; and composure when the Eagles have a lead. She said there is no reason to force up shots quickly in some situations.</p><p> &ldquo;In the third and fourth quarters, I don&rsquo;t think we made good game-situation decisions with the ball,&rdquo; LaRose said. &ldquo;We must have put up six or eight shots in the span of a minute-and-a-half &hellip; It&rsquo;s what I call the my-turn offense.&rdquo;</p><p> Certainly, the Eagles were impressive early. The relentless press, Fay&rsquo;s points and four of Livingston&rsquo;s six points helped the Eagles to the 10-point lead after one. OV managed only two of Brittany Bushey&rsquo;s seven points and a Bloomer three-pointer in the period.</p><p> 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.</p><p> Frazier opened the second half with another strong move, and the lead was three. Mount Abe&rsquo;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.</p><p> Then the Otters&rsquo; 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.</p><p> 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.</p><p> 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.</p><p> &ldquo;A couple layups and a couple open shots fall &hellip; and we&rsquo;re right in it,&rdquo; Keith said.</p><p> Keith&rsquo;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&rsquo; poll.&nbsp;</p><p> &ldquo;We may have stumbled out of the blocks a little bit here, but it&rsquo;s a long season, and we&rsquo;re definitely on the way up,&rdquo; Keith said. &ldquo;Every day we fix a couple things, so that&rsquo;s what we&rsquo;re going to do. It&rsquo;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&rsquo;s been good.&rdquo;</p><p> LaRose said inexperienced players like Brennan and junior forward Meg Wetter are learning quickly, and she also expects her team &mdash; which was 3-0 heading into a Saturday home game vs. winless Middlebury, but faces tough tests this week in Fair Haven and Burr &amp; Burton &mdash; to continue to improve.</p><p> &ldquo;Every day we get a little bit better in practice in the execution of things,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;re a season-long work in progress.&rdquo;</p><p> <em>Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].</em></p>

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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