By ANDY KIRKALDY
BRANDON — There has been a certain amount of frustration for the Otter Valley Union High School girls’ basketball team this winter.
Entering Monday’s home game against Mount St. Joseph, the Otters had gone 4-7, with three losses by two points and a fourth by three points. And the team’s only senior, valuable forward Julie Ketcham, had missed much of the season with a nagging ankle injury.
In that game, the now 5-7 Otters vented some of that frustration, pinning a 74-24 setback on the winless Green Wave with arguably their most complete effort.
The Otters placed five players in double figures, topped by sophomore guard Kristy Pinkham’s 15 points; committed a season-low eight turnovers while forcing 28 Wave miscues; outrebounded MSJ, 40-32; and moved the ball unselfishly and effectively.
And, said Ketcham, a co-captain who recorded 12 points and three steals and rebounded well in her return from a second stint on the disabled list, the Otters should get a shot in the arm after the tough losses.
“That’s what I enjoyed it for, absolutely. I think we played well,” Ketcham said. “We played well together, and we all got to do some shooting ... It was a good confidence-booster for us.”
Coach Ray Counter played all nine of his athletes extensively (sophomore forward Jessica Greeno was ill and did not suit up), and asked them to play hard, especially on defense, for 32 minutes despite the score.
Counter said his team has gone through stretches in which it has lost focus, and that he was trying to instill good habits.
“I wanted us to finish strong, because we have lapses,” he said. “Our defense has got to be a constant, especially the way we’ve shot this year. It’s been so inconsistent. This was probably our best shooting percentage game.”
After MSJ’s Dominique Mercier scored two of her team-high 10 off the opening tap, OV took control with a 9-0 run over the next three minutes. Pinkham scored five of those points, including two fast-break hoops; junior forward Michelle Lefebvre (13 points) converted an inbounds play; and junior guard Brittany Young hit two free throws and assisted Lefebvre and one Pinkham hoop.
Mercier hit a free throw and a move in the post to make it 9-5 midway through the period, but OV closed the quarter on a 7-3 run to make it 16-8. Junior guard Emily Waldrip (12 points) sank a trey, Ketcham converted an offensive rebound, and Pinkham hit a jumper. In that stretch, Briana Patten swished a trey for MSJ that would prove to be the only Wave hoop for about 11 minutes.
OV put up the first five points of the second quarter, three by junior Shayna McDonough (11 points), before Mercier hit a free throw at 5:30 to make it 21-8.
Then the Otters ripped off an 8-0 run, courtesy of defense (they forced 16 first-half turnovers) and rebounding (they earned a 23-15 first-half edge). Young and sophomore guard Danielle Anderson (from Ketcham) converted on the break, and Ketcham nailed two jumpers. The second Ketcham hoop capped the run, came on a nice feed from Lefebvre from the middle of MSJ’s 2-1-2 zone, and made it 29-9 at 2:10.
Mercier hit at trey and two free throws to cut the margin to 15, but a sweet post move by junior center Harley Fjeld made it 31-14 at the half.
OV opened the second half with a 12-0 run over the first 3:36. Waldrip scored six points in the surge and set up one of two Pinkham layups in the same span, and junior forward Amanda Sanderson (a force on the boards all night long) grabbed an offensive rebound and shoveled a pass to Ketcham for an easy deuce.
At 43-14, the Otters had established complete control. The rest of the way, they continued to pick apart the MSJ zone for good shots, something Counter was pleased to see.
“Any team that’s played zone against us, we’ve struggled this year, so it was good to be able to practice against that zone,” he said.
Counter said he was happy his team shared the ball so well and that so many Otters broke loose on offense at the same time. He hopes that output will translate to more wins down the stretch.
“We’ve had six (athletes) out of 10 this year who have led us in scoring in games, so we have some firepower,” he said.
The Otters were coming off a 19-point loss at Division I Hartford, but Ketcham said that might have been the only game they feel they might not have been winnable.
“Our last game, they were pretty good, but they’re Division I. Besides that, we haven’t played a game that we weren’t able to win,” she said.
Counter is glad to know his team, which hosts Woodstock on Friday, believes it’s better than its record.
“That’s my opinion, but I also believe the girls feel that way,” he said. “It’s not something I’ve conveyed to them that they’re supposed to think. They know how they’ve played in games.”