BRISTOL — Except for the hugs and flowers marking the team’s Senior Night, it was business as usual for the Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team on Tuesday night — another lopsided victory.
This time the victim was Missisquoi, and the score finished at a misleading 55-27. At one point in the second quarter, after Coach Connie LaRose had already called off the press that forced 14 first-quarter T-Bird turnovers, the Eagles led by 30-8.
It’s been like that for most of the season for the 14-4, defending Division II champion Eagles. Two of their losses came at the hands of undefeated defending D-I champion Champlain Valley, and they have split two games each with Colchester (14-4 and in fourth place in D-I as of Tuesday) and South Burlington (12-6 and in seventh place in D-I).
But only one other team has come within 10 points of Mount Abe: Fair Haven, which as of Tuesday stood in second place behind the Eagles in D-II with a 14-5 record. Mount Abe beat the Slaters in Fair Haven, 37-31, in December.
Otter Valley came within 11 in the teams’ opener, as OV lost star Jessica Frazier to injury. Other than that, a 19-point win over Mount Mansfield was the closest result. The Eagles led that game at the half, 31-13.
The Eagles were set to visit Mount Mansfield on Wednesday and will conclude their regular season (weather permitting) at Milton on Friday. As of Tuesday, the Yellowjackets were 12-6 and in third place in D-II. Mount Abe defeated them, 61-26, on Jan. 25. The Eagles will clinch D-II’s No. 1 seed for the second straight time by winning either game.
Senior tri-captain Ashlie Fay, who sparked Tuesday’s routine rout with 21 points, five steals and four assists, said she believes the Eagles are ready for another playoff run, but agreed this past Saturday’s key 55-43 win over South Burlington offered better evidence than Tuesday.
“I feel pretty good. We’ve had some tough things, some tough games, but we’ve been coming together,” Fay said.
Fay said the team has not quite fired on all cylinders even while rolling over many opponents, but she believes with the postseason coming next week the Eagles are getting down to business.
“Some games we haven’t quite clicked. I feel like we haven’t been focused,” she said. “But now it’s coming down to playoffs.”
“I think we’ve looked a little more cohesive. We’ve had a difficulty throughout the season. It seems like either the perimeter kids are on, and there’s nobody home in the paint, or we’re not finding them, we’re not getting them the ball, or vice versa. The kids in the paint are doing everything and our perimeter kids are standing around,” LaRose said. “If we ever put both ends of that together, that’s the team we want to make a run with, and I think it’s coming a little more.”
Given that the Eagles have only been challenged a half-dozen times, LaRose has gotten creative to make things tougher for her starting lineup.
“We run seven or eight defenders against five starters all the time at practice just to make them work harder,” LaRose said. “We have to find a way to pick up the pace a little bit.”
On Tuesday, LaRose juggled her lineup to add senior guard Hailey Sayles to the starting group in honor of senior night. Sayles, Fay, senior guards Meg Livingston (12 points, four rebounds), senior forward Meg Wetter (five rebounds, three steals) and senior guard Sam Driscoll (four assists, three steals) combined to force the 14 MVU turnovers in the period.
Fay, Livingston and Sayles combined for all the Eagles’ scoring as they took an 18-8 lead. Two three-pointers by MVU’s Adrianna Lagrow, who sank four from behind the arc and finished with 12 points, kept the score semi-respectable.
LaRose added junior center Isabel Brennan, senior guard Keegan Jackman and junior guard Ashley Boise to the second-quarter mix, and the Eagles responded with a 12-0 run over the first five minutes. Fay scored six, and Livingston, Boise and Brennan chipped in hoops in the decisive surge, with Brennan adding two assists.
MVU (2-17) broke an 8:15 drought when Sadie Reynolds scored inside at 3:00, and Lagrow sank another trey to make it 30-13. The Eagles made it 34-13 at the half when junior forward Jen Gordon hit in the post and junior Stephanie White grabbed an offensive board and set up a Jackman jumper.
The Eagles opened the second half with hoops from Fay and Sayles and two Livingston free throws that made it 40-13. The rest of the game was played because the rules call for 32 minutes.
Afterward, LaRose and Fay talked about what had to happen if the Eagles want to defend their title.
LaRose said the Eagles must maintain poise if they fall behind early, and then pointed to defense — the Eagles allowed a historically low point total during the 2013 postseason.
“Obviously you have to score points, but you’ve got to get it done on the defensive end first,” she said. “It’s got to start there for us.”
Fay would like to see a continuation of the recent progress.
“We have to play as a team. We have to really click,” Fay said. “Because when we really click, everyone is on, ball movement, passing, defense and our shooting.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EAGLE SENIOR MEGAN Wetter puts up a shot in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game against Missisquoi. Wetter had five rebounds in the Mount Abe win.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell