Eagles outlast Otters in girls’ basketball opener

BRISTOL — In the season opener for both high school girls’ basketball teams, host Mount Abraham on Monday pulled away from scrappy Otter Valley in the fourth quarter to earn a 34-20 victory.
Senior center Isabel Brennan scored six of her game-high 12 points in a 12-0 fourth-quarter Mount Abe run that began with the Eagles up by 22-18 after OV sophomore guard Sophia Bloomer hit two free throws with 6:47 to go.
The Eagles had led by a point at the half, 14-13, but OV went scoreless in the third quarter until senior guard Laura Beth Roberts beat the buzzer with a three-pointer to bring the Otters within striking distance entering the final period, 21-16.
But ultimately the quick, but not tall, Otters did not have an answer for Brennan and the Eagles’ other six-foot senior forward, Jen Gordon, who scored eight of her 10 points in the second half as the Eagles worked the ball inside more often.
And, said OV coach Steve Keith, his team’s shots just refused to drop.
“It would have helped if a couple more shots fell in the first half for us, but they didn’t. In the second, we got some decent looks and they didn’t fall in,” Keith said. “We played very well defensively. We made them do some things they didn’t want to do at first, and then they made a nice adjustment in the second half, kind of isolated down low against us.”
Mount Abe coach Connie LaRose, whose team is coming off back-to-back Division II titles but graduated all its starters except Brennan, was pleased with the Eagles’ defensive effort.
“We actually did a little bit better than I thought we would,” LaRose said. “We’ve got to do a little bit better with decision-making, but we have a lot of kids who haven’t played much. That’s to be expected.”
Brennan pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds and led Mount Abe with four assists, a couple to Gordon in the post as the Eagles finally began to look inside more after the break.
“We definitely could have used that advantage more,” Brennan said. “When the bigs work together, because we know where we want each other’s passes to be because we play that position, we can make some good strong moves to the basket.”
OTTER VALLEY UNION High School junior Amy Jones blocks a shot by Eagle senior Keegan Jackman Monday. Mount Abraham won the game, 34-20. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Early on, the Otters used their aggressive man-to-man defense to deny those looks inside, and the Eagles, understandably in an opener with many new starters, were hesitant offensively. OV took a 7-2 lead in the first five minutes as Bloomer hit two jumpers and Roberts sank a trey; they each finished with a team-high six points.
The Eagles got a spark off the bench in the final minute of the period to make it 7-5. Freshman forward Emma Carter hit a free throw, and after a turnover forced by freshman guard Emma LaRose, senior forward Steph White grabbed one of her eight rebounds on the offensive glass, was fouled and hit two free throws.
Neither team got much going early in the second period. Carter (five points in an energetic effort) hit two free throws, and junior OV forward Amy Jones, who had a strong game defending and rebounding, hit twice in the lane, once on a feed from junior guard Lexi Hedding, and OV led, 11-7, at 3:25.
But the Eagle forwards began to take charge. Brennan scored twice, once on a feed from junior forward Dani Forand, and Forand hit a free throw as Mount Abe took a 12-11 lead. A jumper by sophomore guard Meghan Hallett at 1:30 gave OV its last advantage, which Gordon erased with two free throws that made it 14-13, Eagles, at the half.
Gordon then completed a personal 8-0 run with six post-up points in the first three minutes of the second half, and it was 20-13. But the Eagles cooled off, managing only a Carter free throw in the rest of the quarter, and Roberts’ late trey made it 21-16.
A Carter free throw opened the fourth period, and then Bloomer’s two free throws cut the Eagle lead to 22-18. Brennan, however, responded with a hoop inside, and then Forand followed with a lefty layup on the break set up by junior guard Jesse McKean at 6:05.
The score stayed at 26-18 for more than three minutes, but finally Brennan fed Gordon inside at 2:35, and the Eagle lead was a safe 10 points. Four more points from Brennan and two free throws from senior guard Ashley Boise wrapped up the Eagles’ scoring, and senior forward Kylee Bissette hit two late free throws to break the OV scoring drought.
Keith was happy with the Otters, particularly their rebounding and defending, and said he expects good results ahead.
“The kids worked hard,” Keith said. “At 22-18, I thought, you know what, we just need to get one to get in and get a couple plays to go our way. But overall I’m encouraged by what we did. Our defense is there. We’ve just got to get our offense around and hit some more shots. We’ll do that. We’ll get them there.”
LaRose said the Eagles have plenty of work to do, but believes they can rise to the challenge.
“I think this is going to be a very different looking team in February than where they’re at right now,” LaRose said. “For most of them, other than at the JV level, this is the first time that it’s all on them. They’ve always had somebody else that could handle the pressure, handle the ball. And now it’s on their shoulders. And how they deal with it mentally as well as physically remains to be seen. But if they want to get after it, I think they can do some things.”
Brennan said it would be a matter of time and dedication.
“Like Connie says, it starts every day in practice,” Brennan said. “If we just keep grinding in practice and keeping our team chemistry going and encouraging each other and learning from our mistakes and playing as hard as we can against each other in practice, we’ll definitely have a good shot at a good season this year.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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