Otter Valley girls outlast Mount Abe basketball, 35-33

BRANDON — Early last week, Otter Valley Union High School girls’ basketball Coach Steve Keith watched his team lose in heartbreaking fashion at Middlebury and fall to 0-3 despite being competitive in every game.
Keith said his hardworking team deserved a win.
On Thursday at home vs. a Mount Abraham team that had been an OV nemesis, the Otters earned that victory, 35-33, by scoring nine unanswered fourth-quarter points to take a seven-point lead before surviving a late Eagle rally.
Senior OV forward and four-year veteran Amy Jones, who scored a team-high 14 points and sparked OV on the boards, said that 9-0 run might prove to be pivotal for the Otters’ season as well as Thursday’s game.
“We’ve come so close and worked so hard. And to have it pay off today, it was a turning point for us,” Jones said. “I think just getting over this hump to win we’re just going to go rolling.”
The OV surge came in response to an Eagle 7-0 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters and erased OV’s 24-19 lead. Eagle sophomore Emma Carter (14 points, nine rebounds) scored five points in that surge. The run coincided with a five-minute OV scoreless stretch in which the Eagles’ fullcourt press finally began to take a toll on the Otters, who committed eight of their 16 turnovers in the third period.
Keith said the Otters’ ability to bounce back from adversity on Thursday bodes well for his team. 
“The biggest thing is it gives the kids the confidence that even if we’re down, it’s not over,” Keith said. “We’ve preached that and preached that, but you have to have it happen once to have it sink in.”
On the other side, Eagle Coach Connie LaRose fielded a young lineup: Senior guard Jessie McKean (four points, four assists, six rebounds, four steals) was joined by Carter and two other sophomores, guards Abby Mansfield and Emma LaRose, and freshman forward Jalen Cook (nine points and four boards).
LaRose said while the Eagles did good things on Thursday, the inexperience also cropped up.
“We’re going to do young things at times, and we did some of them tonight. We’d make a good play, steal the ball, deflect a pass and then get it, and then turn around and throw it way,” she said. “We’ve got to learn to value every possession.”
The Eagles took a 9-6 lead after one period by closing the quarter on a 7-0 run while OV went scoreless for 4:30. Cook scored all seven of those points, two on clever assists from Carter — although Carter, the Eagles’ leading scorer, was well-contained by OV’s man-to-man defense, with senior defensive specialist Maia Edmunds drawing the assignment.
“Jalen Cook really kicked us off to a strong start, and she’s going to play a lot of minutes,” LaRose said.
But the Eagles struggled to find the mark in the second quarter, getting only a Carter three-point play and a McKean jumper. OV took a 10-9 lead when Gabby Poalino assisted a jumper by freshman Julia Lee, and a late Jones hoop snapped a 14-14 tie and put OV on top at the break.
With the press becoming effective, points from Cook, Carter and Mansfield with only a Jones hoop at the other end made it 19-18, Eagles, at 6:04 of the third. While the Eagles went cold, a Jones putback and jumper and a Lee jumper put OV on top, 24-19, at 3:10.
Then the Eagles ratcheted up the pressure and got a Carter jumper and free throw before the quarter ended, and it was 24-22 entering the fourth.
In a rebound battle under the OV hoop to open the fourth, McKean came up with the ball and laid it in, and at 6:34 Carter hit two free throws to give the Eagles a 26-24 lead.
Then the Otters righted the ship, in part thanks to junior Courtney Bushey. The Eagles’ zone as well as their press had frustrated OV, but Bushey found a couple openings. At 5:53 she took a pass from the right across the top of the zone and drove hard to the hoop, finished with her left hand, drew the foul and hit the free throw to put OV back on top.
On the next trip, Bushey worked the ball to Poalino on the right baseline for an open jumper that the sophomore swished. At 4:20, Poalino (seven points, strong rebounding) drove for two more, and at 2:10, Sophia Bloomer (five points) also attacked the basket, and the lead was 33-26.
Keith said Bushey also helped the Otters break the press.
“Courtney came in and did a hell of a job,” Keith said. “She understood where to feed the ball and where the open spot was going to be.”
But the Eagles were not done, and the Otters made just two of seven free throws in the final minute. At 1:53 Carter hit two free throws, and Eagle senior Dani Forand swished a pair of shots in the final 0:30, a long two and a three-pointer. The trey came at 0:15 and made it 35-33.
OV missed two free throws at 0:7.9, and the Eagles grabbed the rebound and called time at 0:5.1. They tried a long pass to Carter, but Poalino knocked it out of bounds at halfcourt with three seconds to go, and the Eagles’ final desperation heave missed.
LaRose said the Eagles still have things to sort out, but is confident her young team will improve as the season progresses.
“We’re young, we’re struggling,” she said. “But I think we’re getting better.”
Keith said the result shows his team’s determination and its system is paying dividends.
“It means what we’ve been doing is starting to work,” Keith said. 
Jones said after the Otters fell behind early in the fourth, they were determined not to accept another close loss.
“We just knew we had a little something extra in us to give. We’re at home, we were just going to push until we won. We weren’t going to let them beat us,” Jones said. “It wasn’t going to be another game like the past.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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