Eagles put it together against Milton basketball

BRISTOL — It probably wouldn’t be fair to call Tuesday’s visit from Milton a must-win game for the Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team.
But with the regular season winding down, it was close to one. The Eagles have been playing better after a brutal early schedule, but entering the game with a 4-10 mark that includes three recent losses to Division I teams, it was important to show they could defeat a competent, but not great, 6-7 D-II Yellowjacket team.
And the Eagles did, 53-37, with a solid effort in which they never trailed. They forced 16 first-half turnovers with their trademark 2-2-1 press, 10 of those in the second quarter, during which they took charge by outscoring Milton, 19-6, to take a 16-point halftime lead.
In that pivotal second period, five Eagles scored, two of them substitutes, and Mount Abe closed the quarter with an 8-0 run with only one starter on the floor to take a 33-17 halftime lead. Milton came no closer than 14 points in the second half.
Senior guard and co-captain Jesse McKean, who contributed five assists and in the second quarter became one of nine Eagles who scored, pointed to the team-wide effort behind leading scorer Emma Carter’s 23 points.
“Our biggest thing tonight was we got a lot of other people involved. Everybody was scoring,” McKean said. “That’s what we need.”
Coach Connie LaRose most often focuses on quality of play and effort, but agreed that it was time for the Eagles to translate improved focus into a victory.
“We talked about that at practice yesterday, it’s time to step up to the plate, it really is, and find out what we’re made of,” LaRose said. “It needs to happen tonight, it’s your home court, we play fairly well here, we’ve got good fans. We need to do some good things, and I thought they did.”
In the first period, Carter, a sophomore, scored 10 points and freshman forward Jalen Cook added four of her six as the Eagles took a 14-11 lead. McKean set up hoops by both as the Eagles snapped a 9-9 tie.
Milton forward Selena Patterson scored five points in the period, during which one pattern was established: the taller Yellowjackets ruled the boards and earned five second-chance points. Overall, 18 of their 37 points came after offensive rebounds, and including team rebounds they earned a 44-31 edge on the boards.
Boxing out remains an issue for her team, LaRose said.
“It’s tough getting walked under the basket before you try to get a rebound,” LaRose said. “We don’t stay low enough to hold them off.”
But meanwhile the Eagles took care of the ball, with only three turnovers a quarter through the first three periods, and moved it well to create good shots. And their press created transition points, especially in the second, when consecutive layups by McKean and sophomore forward Abby Mansfield after steals pushed the lead to 10 for the first time.
McKean said the press has begun to click.
“That’s what we’ve been focusing on in practice, being more intense up front,” she said. “Once the press is going the offense just comes to us.”
Those hoops capped an 8-0 run. Carter had hit early in the post, from Cook, and added a free throw at 6:30. Milton scored twice on the first 1:45 to make it 17-15, but then the Eagles rattled off the next eight points.
Mansfield (eight points and a game-high five steals) converted a three-point play off a McKean feed at 5:58, and hit another free throw at 5:25. Then McKean and Mansfield each stole the ball and hit layups, with Mansfield’s at 3:30 making it 25-15.
Patterson hit a pair of free throws at 3:21 to interrupt the surge, but then the Eagles went on another 8-0 run, this time with most of the starters on the bench. Mansfield hit one free throw twice, sophomore forward Emma Radler twice hit a pair, and senior guard Stacie Sabourin sank a jumper as the Eagles pulled away to lead by 16 at the break.
“We got good efforts out of different people,” LaRose said.
The Eagles easily held serve in the second half, continuing to force turnovers in the third quarter, and then finally evening out the board battle in the fourth, when junior forward Xzavia Berry helped out Carter, who led the team with nine boards.
Sophomore guard Emma LaRose chipped in three assists for the Eagles, including a well-run pick-and-roll with sophomore Olivia Young late in the third period.
Madalyn Leggett led Milton with eight points, and Patterson and Madison Chalmers scored seven apiece.
McKean agreed with LaRose on two points: The win was critical, as was the fact the Eagles played for 32 minutes with focus. 
“We’ve definitely been in a lot of games. It’s been really close, and we’ve had a hard time sticking it out and pulling through and winning the games,” McKean said. “So this is nice to see, a decent D-2 opponent, being able to play well the entire game and not having a letdown.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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