Eagles outlast Otter Valley in girls’ basketball

BRANDON — The Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team opened its defense of the Division II title by rallying past stubborn host Otter Valley on Tuesday, 42-31.
The Otters used their quickness and hard work on man-to-man defense to frustrate the Eagles in the first half, which ended with the host team up, 17-14, behind a trio of three-pointers from senior Jessica Frazier.
But in the second half, the Eagles showed more patience on offense and switched tactics, pounding the ball inside to six-foot junior center Isabel Brennan. Brennan scored eight of her game-high 16 points in the third period, and senior Ashlie Fay (11 points, six steals, four assists) added six as the Eagles took the lead for good, 29-23, after three.
Brennan, who chipped in nine rebounds, acknowledged the Eagles and Coach Connie LaRose talked about a change in approach at halftime.
“We really decided around the perimeter wasn’t working well, so we needed to start getting it in and drawing fouls and really start making some moves in the post,” she said.
LaRose credited the Otters with taking away the Eagles’ preferred first option, their running game.
“They did a good job. We talked about it at halftime. We have to stop trying to outrun them. They’re just as quick as we are, so let’s actually try to play basketball and see what we do with it,” LaRose said. “And we had a pretty good stretch going in the third quarter.”
The Otters’ chances of staging a comeback received a pair of blows late in the third period: First Frazier and then senior Olivia Bloomer went down clutching their left knees. Frazier returned early in the fourth, but soon fell again. Both had to be helped off.
OV coach Steve Keith could only be hopeful afterward for the health of two key players — both are four-year varsity athletes, and Bloomer scored six before she left.
“We’re going to … get them looked at and see where they are,” Keith said. “We’ll know more tomorrow, I think. I’m hoping it’s short-term. We’ve got to be positive.”
LaRose, whose teams have suffered their share of knee injuries over the years, wished the Otters well.
“One is bad enough, never mind two,” LaRose said. “I don’t care if you win or lose, you don’t want that to happen to anybody.”
Keith did see some positives for his team against the defending champs.
“Today had the possibility of going down to the end, and a couple things didn’t fall our way,” he said. “I’m happy with what we were able to do in a lot of ways, and it gives us a good notion of what we have to fix.”
Keith said the Otters will work to cut down on turnovers (they committed 28 vs. the Eagles) become more patient on offense and against the press, and better support the post defenders. With those improvements, a “pretty solid season” is within the team’s reach, he said.
The Otters served notice early the Eagles would have to work hard at the House of Noise for a win. Mount Abe took an early 5-2 lead on a three from senior guard Sam Driscoll (4 points, 4 assists) and free throws from senior forward Meg Wetter and Fay. But two Frazier treys helped OV take a 9-7 lead after one.
The Eagles tied the game at 13-13 at 3:13 of the second on two free throws apiece from Brennan and Fay and a putback by junior forward Jen Gordon. Meanwhile, OV managed only a free throw by senior Cortney Poljacik and Frazier’s final trey and points of the game.
But the Otters continued to frustrate the Eagles offensively, and they added only a Driscoll free throw in the final 3:13. And OV senior guard Taylor Aines (5 points) hit a jumper, and sophomore forward Amy Jones (6 points) rebounded an air ball and beat the buzzer with a layup to make it 17-14.
OV led, 23-22, midway through the third period — despite four points apiece from Brennan and Fay — thanks to two Jones hoops and two Bloomer buckets, one set up nicely by Frazier. But Eagle senior Meghan Livingston (6 points, 4 steals, 3 assists) fed Brennan for a jumper that gave the Eagles the lead, and Brennan hit in the post at 3:00 to make it 26-23. After the two Otters went down, a Livingston free throw and another Fay drive made it 29-23.
The Eagles pushed the lead to 34-23 at 4:47 of the fourth. Livingston fed Fay on the break, Brennan converted a feed from senior Hailey Sayles in the post, and Livingston hit a free throw. OV came no closer than eight the rest of the way despite hoops by Aines, Jones and senior Laura Beth Roberts.
Keith was happy his team hung tough, and praised the Eagles.
“That’s a good team,” Keith said. “In the first half, we did a good job helping (in the post), trying to deny as much in as we could … Second half they spread us out a bit and got some easier looks.”
LaRose said the Otters made it difficult for the Eagles.
“To Otter Valley’s credit, they did the things they needed to do. That was anybody’s game for most of it,” she said.
As for the Eagles, LaRose said she is confident they will put in the necessary work on their patience and offensive execution, especially with Friday’s big test vs. defending Division I champ Champlain Valley on tap.
“We will be a work in progress,” LaRose said. “We have some good athletes and we have a lot of potential. But we’ve got a ways to go.”
Brennan said the Eagles have to be as hungry as the opponents that want to knock them off, but she is also confident in the team.
“We definitely have stuff to work on as a team, but I think we’re coming together really nicely,” she said. “We’re starting to flow like we did last year.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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