Eagle girls top Raiders, to play Slaters for title

BARRE — In Saturday’s Division II girls’ basketball semifinal No. 2 Mount Abraham Union High School and No. 3 U-32 traded runs all game long.
But the Eagles struck first, taking a 17-4 lead after one quarter, and last, closing the fourth period with an 18-1 surge over the final 4:30 to win, 55-37, and answered the 19-4 Raiders’ final push.
U-32 fought back to within 39-34 after trailing by 14 midway through the third period, holding the Eagles scoreless for the first 3:30 of the fourth quarter.
And Mount Abe starting senior backcourt, point guard Emma LaRose and spark plug Abby Mansfield, were in foul trouble. The Raiders’ 7-0 run came with LaRose on the bench, and when Coach Connie LaRose put her team quarterback back in the first thing she did was turn the ball over.
And sure enough, seconds later Emma LaRose found herself on the foul line, shooting one-and-one at 4:30 with the Raider fans going nuts, the 19-4 Eagles nursing that five-point lead, and her team not having scored in the quarter.
Even though senior forward Emma Carter poured in 36 points in a tremendous effort to lead the Eagles, what happened next might have been just as important: LaRose sank them both.
And at 3:57, after a Raider free throw, LaRose nailed two more from the line. After that Carter and senior forward Emma Radler teamed up to force one of the Raiders’ 23 turnovers, and Carter powered through the lane for a bucket at 3:42. After another Raider turnover Carter swished two free throws at 3:26.
In a span of 1:04, after LaRose broke the fourth-quarter ice, the Eagles had pushed their lead to 12. With the Eagle D back in lockdown mode, in the final 3:10 Carter drove for a hoop again, senior guard Vanessa Dykstra sank two free throws, and Carter hit four more from the line as the Eagle students chanted, “I believe that we will win.”
LaRose, who finished with nine points, acknowledged nerves while at the line.
“Definitely I felt the pressure of it. But I just ignored all the noise, because it’s really loud in here, and said you’ve got to make these for your team,” LaRose said.
As important as that moment and Carter’s scoring were, the Eagle defense played as pivotal a role. Seven of the Raider turnovers came in the first quarter as the Eagle press rattled them early on.
After U-32 standout Emma Olmstead (11 points, nine rebounds) hit in the lane to open the game, the Eagles went on a 17-2 run. The Eagles were patient in the halfcourt against the Raiders’ 2-3 zone, and scored six of those points directly off turnovers.
“Our plan was definitely to come out hard with our press,” Emma LaRose said. “When we do our press right we do everything a lot better. And we know when we do our press right it really flusters the other team and it gives us an edge on our offense.”
Carter scored eight in the period; LaRose had five, including a three-pointer; and Mansfield scored the other four, stole the ball before Carter’s early go-ahead hoop, and set up LaRose’s three.
Neither of the other starters, Radler or junior Jalen Cook, were factors offensively overall, but Cook tied Carter for the team-high with six rebounds (the taller Raiders managed only a 26-22 edge on the boards), and both were instrumental defensively in containing the talented U-32 post players.
U-32 switched to man-to-man defense in the second period and slowed Mount Abe. Carter scored all 10 of the Eagle points, including in a 7-0 mid-period run that pushed the Eagle lead to a game-high 16, 27-11. But the Eagles weren’t spacing well on offense and turned the ball over five times, and the Raiders closed the half on a 10-0 spurt to make it 27-21 at the break. Olmstead and MiKayla Farnum (seven points) each scored four in that surge.
Coach LaRose said the Raiders caught the Eagles, who split two regular-season games with U-32 in which the Raiders did not play man, by surprise.
“We really hadn’t thought they were going to throw man at us,” LaRose said. “We’ve been working on their 2-3 for the entire week.”
It was the Eagles’ turn to surge to open the second half: They scored the first eight points in the first four minutes to lead by 35-21. Carter converted a coast-to-coast three-point play, Radler hit a free throw and set up a Carter hoop in the lane, and Cook capped it with a putback. The teams traded hoops for the rest of the period, with Reilly Flye (a team-high 13) ending it with a drive to make it 39-27.
Then the Eagles went cold, and the Raiders crept back. A bucket by Farnum, three free throws, and finally a Payton Garibaldi putback made it 39-34 at 4:42.
But then the Raiders put LaRose on the line, and the pendulum swung one last time — and toward the Eagles.
Coach LaRose noted that the Eagles had been battling bugs all week before they played on Saturday, with only eight of 13 players able to attend one practice. She said Mansfield, Dykstra and Carter played at less than 100 percent in Barre.
“I’m really proud of these kids,” LaRose said. “It was a great effort.”
Next up is No. 1 Fair Haven (20-3) on Tuesday at 8:15 p.m., back in Barre. The Eagles won at Fair Haven, 33-29, on Dec. 28. The Slaters are playing without injured standout Halle Colloutti, who has been replaced by her freshman sister, Ryleigh Colloutti, in the starting lineup.
Coach LaRose said the younger Colloutti’s three-point shooting carried the Slaters in their semifinal win over Randolph, and the Eagles will have to account for her and the other Slater outside shooters.
“Defense will determine the outcome of that game,” LaRose said. “We just have to make sure we don’t give her those kinds of looks.”
Emma LaRose said the Eagles will enter that game having faith in one another.
“The way we played today I’m very confident in my team,” she said. “Our group of seniors, especially, we’ve been doing this for so long together, it’s our time to take it.”

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