Eagle girls outlast Hartford

BRISTOL — A big lift from the bench helped the No. 2 Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team get past scrappy visiting No. 17 Hartford on Tuesday, 31-24, in a first-round Division II playoff game.
Freshman forward Emma Carter scored six of her game-high 13 points in the final 1:57 of the second quarter to help erase a Hurricane lead and forge a 16-16 halftime tie.
Also on the floor during that stretch and during the entire second half, during which the Eagles allowed just eight points, was junior guard Dani Forand, usually a reserve.
Forand sparked the Eagle second-half defense, finishing with six steals while adding a team-high four assists and chipping in four points as Mount Abe improved to 15-6.
“I couldn’t take her off the floor,” said Eagle Coach Connie LaRose. “She was the player of the game.”
Although the Hurricanes entered with a 3-17 record, they defeated Division I Rutland earlier this year and just last week surprised D-II No. 7 seed Fair Haven, 28-25. Fair Haven (12-9) will visit the Eagles in a Friday quarterfinal and owns a 32-26 home victory over Mount Abe this past December.
The Hurricanes played aggressive man-to-man defense and outrebounded the Eagles. In the first quarter, they allowed only buckets by senior center Isabel Brennan and Carter in taking a 6-4 lead.
In the second period, Eagle senior guard Keegan Jackman drove the lane for a strong left-hand finish and a three-point play, and at 5:15 Carter’s putback put Mount Abe on top, 9-7.
But Hartford responded with an 8-0 run: Karla Medina scored on the break, Melissa Robson converted in the post, Heather Robinson put in an offensive board, and at 2:10 Kelsey Fogg went coast-to-coast to make it 15-9.
Then Carter, Brennan and Forand answered. Carter hit two free throws at 1:57 and then a jumper before Kristen Davis sank a free throw for Hartford to make it 16-13. In the final minute Forand stole the ball and was fouled. She hit the first of two free throws, and when she missed the second Brennan rebounded, was fouled and hit a free throw to make it 16-14 at 0:44. At 0:12, Brennan assisted a Carter hoop, and the game was tied.
But the momentum did not at first carry over to the third quarter, although Eagle senior Jen Gordon gave Mount Abe an 18-16 lead at the five-minute mark. The Eagles still couldn’t get rolling offensively and a Davis free throw, a Lexi Johnson three, and a Robison putback at 2:20 gave Hartford a 22-18 lead.
A late three-pointer by Eagle senior guard Ashley Boise made it a one-point game entering the fourth period, and the Eagles took a quick 23-22 lead when Brennan sank a jumper after taking an inbounds feed from junior guard Jesse McKean.
Neither team scored for four minutes. One stat shows the difference between the first half, when the Hurricanes scored 16 points, and the second, when they scored seven. Hartford handled the Eagle pressure in the first half, committing just seven turnovers, but the Eagles forced 16 turnovers in the second half.
“When it feels like all the wheels are falling off the bus offensively, you can always play defense,” LaRose said.  
Carter broke the ice with two free throws at 3:18, and even a 25-22 lead looked large. Hartford managed just one more basket, by Megan Newton with nine seconds left, and by then Brennan and Forand had hit enough free throws to put the game out of reach.
Brennan contributed six points, six rebounds and three steals. Gordon and Carter added four rebounds each, while McKean was credited with two assists, two steals and four forced turnovers. Medina led Hartford with five points, while Johnson, a cousin of former Middlebury Union athletes Patrick and Kristen Smith, played well at the Hartford point.
Brennan put up her numbers despite a nagging illness that has slowed her in recent weeks.
“Isabel is still not feeling well, and it shows. But even if she isn’t, she’s got to be out there,” LaRose said.
Other Eagles have also been ill or have had nagging injuries, and the team has struggled to find its mid-January form.
LaRose believes that form would be good enough to defeat the Slaters at 7 p.m. on Friday, but that the Eagles have some work to do before then.
“We definitely have to execute better in the half-court offense,” LaRose said. “We’re not doing a good job with that, and it’s both ends — the kid with the ball and the kid looking to receive the ball.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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