Elite Eagle girls’ team tops Tigers, 37-25

MIDDLEBURY – The Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team on Friday won for the ninth time in 10 tries, but it wasn’t easy.
The visiting Eagles (11-5) had their hands full in a 37-25 win against a young Middlebury team, which has a 1-14 record that does not show the progress the Tigers have made in recent weeks.
While the Eagles looked like they were getting ready to defend their Division II title, the Tigers looked like they are making strides. Although too few shots dropped, they defended the Eagles well and remained poised against the Eagles’ trademark full-court press.
“We’re starting to peak at the right time. We’ve been taking baby steps all along,” said MUHS coach Jen Heath. “We’re moving up to where we want to be.”
The third quarter proved to be the difference for an Eagle team missing flu-ridden center Isabel Brennan and still without injured seniors Steph White and Angela Dupoise.
Senior forward and co-captain Jen Gordon (12 points and a half-dozen blocks) and senior guard Keegan Jackman (11 points, three steals) scored six points apiece in that period as Mount Abe outscored the Tigers, 12-2, and also took charge on the boards after being outrebounded. Gordon and freshman forward Emma Carter rebounded well for the Eagles.
Gordon said the Eagles talked about offensive composure and rebounding after they went into the break nursing a 17-13 lead.
 “We really talked about slowing down and running our plays and getting what we wanted out of it,” Gordon said, adding, “We focused on everyone boxing out and trying hard to get on the boards, especially defensively.”
Coach Connie LaRose credited the defense of Jackman, senior guard Ashley Boise (six points) and junior guard Jesse McKean (six steals, four assists). LaRose asked them to keep track of Tiger leading scorer Keagan Dunbar, a freshman, on the perimeter of Mount Abe’s 3-2 zone, and they helped limit Dunbar to 10 points, seven in the opening period.
“They executed what we asked them to execute,” LaRose said. “I was really proud of them tonight.”
LaRose also noted the Tigers’ progress.
“Maybe it’s not showing up in the wins and losses, but I thought they did a much better job at stuff tonight,” she said.
TIGER SOPHOMORE LILIA Smith drives to the basket. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The Eagles took an 8-2 lead in the first five minutes, largely due to Gordon’s six quick points. But Dunbar hit a three-pointer at 2:45, and later her jumper cut the Eagle lead to 9-7 after one. Junior forward Hannah Buttolph set up that late hoop by grabbing her own miss and feeding Dunbar.
The Tiger defense then dug in. They switched back and forth from man to zone looks, and paid special attention to Carter, an Eagle offensive threat. Carter notched two points early in the second quarter to make it 11-7, but the Eagles did not score again until 2:30 remained in the period.
Meanwhile, the Tigers took a 13-11 lead with a 6-0 run. Dunbar converted her own miss, senior forward Krisandra Provencher (five points) finished in the post, and at 3:20 junior forward Abby Larocque hit in the lane on a feed from sophomore guard Payton Buxton.
Then Boise came up big with two three-pointers in the final 2:30 to make it 17-13 at the half. The Tigers hurt themselves by going zero-for-five from the line in the half.
After the break Provencher hit a jumper to make it 17-15, and after a Jackman putback made it a four-point game, Provencher sank a free throw at 5:36 to make it 18-15. But the Eagles took charge at both ends to close the period with a 10-1 run. Gordon hit three straight shots in the post, and Jackman twice converted MUHS turnovers into buckets. Meanwhile, MUHS managed just one free throw in four attempts, and it was 29-17 after three periods.
Heath said the Eagles dominated the quarter, but said the Tigers were otherwise competitive.  
“They’re a good team. Credit to them. They came out and scored in the third quarter,” Heath said. “Other than that we did what we wanted to do on defense.”
In the fourth, Carter finally broke loose from the defense of Provencher, Larocque and senior forward Lejla Mahmulin for six of her eight points. For MUHS, Mahmulin scored all four of her points, Larocque added a bucket to finish with four, and Buxton took advantage of what the Eagle defense had been offering by swishing a weak-side jumper.
Heath was happy with the young Tigers’ increasing poise. She believes their improvement will pay off down the stretch and in the future.
“It’s getting experience. It’s gaining confidence. It’s being in close games,” Heath said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games this year. We can’t make that up in practice. We need that game experience.”
For the Eagles, it was the second straight win without Brennan. Gordon said with all the absences that many players have been stepping up, something that could help Mount Abe in the long run.
“These past four games there have been a lot of contributions from different people, which has been nice to see,” Gordon said. “It gives other teams a really hard time defending us.”
The Eagles have been dealing with injuries and illnesses all season, and LaRose said, “It just seems like we never get totally whole.”  
But the Eagles have been learning about themselves through the adversity, she said.
“We’re making little adjustments,” LaRose said. “Maybe down the stretch some of these things will turn out to be a good thing because we had to do something different.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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