Mt. Abe girls’ basketball gets past Colchester

BRISTOL — It wasn’t as easy as anyone expected when the Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team hosted 4-14 Colchester on Tuesday, but the 17-2 Eagles eventually pulled away late for their 17th straight victory, 32-24.
The defending Division II champion Eagles have officially clinched the top tournament seed for the second straight year. The Vermont Principals’ Association will make it official on Monday morning, but second-place Lake Region (15-3) cannot overcome a 13-point deficit in the VPA standings in its two games.
But the Eagles’ 16 turnovers and 11-for-38 shooting performance vs. the Lakers is not something Mount Abe Coach Connie LaRose hopes to see in the playoffs, although she might not complain about a similar 14-7 fourth-quarter scoring edge and 7-0 closing run in the final minute.
“We have to make better decisions with the ball. Most of those turnovers we had out there tonight — I don’t know what the number was, but it was too many (16, in fact) — they’re not forced turnovers,” LaRose said. “We have to maintain our composure. In the end they keep scratching and clawing, and so far they keep finding a way, but one of these nights it’s not going to work. You get into the tournament, and you don’t get a chance to come back and fix it.”
To the Lakers’ credit, they played hard and kept compact in a 2-3 zone that made it difficult to work the ball inside to senior forwards Jalen Cook and Cora Funke.
Still, Funke scored twice inside in the first quarter, both on feeds from junior guard Chloe Johnston, as the Eagles took an 8-2 lead. The Eagles still struggled to score in the second as they committed nine turnovers in the first half, but pushed the lead to 14-4 at 2:24 on a Johnston three.
But the Lakers then came to life. Ariana Jacobs and Brooke Tucker hit baseline jumpers, and Emmakate O’Donnell nailed a late three to make it 14-11 at the half.
The Eagles still looked out of synch in the third, and Laker Jessica Laquerre sank two from behind the arc while Mount Abe failed to score for five-and-a-half minutes, and Colchester led, 17-14.
“Their zone stayed solid. They made it tough for us to find any path in there. During one of the timeouts I said we need to find our perimeter shooters when they’re open, and we need a couple to go in,” LaRose said. “I’ve got confidence in every one of my kids from the outside.”
That finally happened when Mount Abe went on an 11-0 run. Johnston started it with a three from the left flank at 1:33 of the third, and Cook hit a free throw to make it 18-17 after three quarters.
LaRose — who had won the 450th game of her coaching career the previous Friday — then moved Cook from under the basket to the perimeter. Cook responded with five points in the first 1:30 of the fourth, a three-pointer and a drive to the bucket.
“They had her pretty well bottled up,” LaRose said. “We had to get some offense out of her, and we can’t get offense out of her if she can’t get the ball.”
Senior Molly Murray added a jumper to make it 25-17, but the Lakers responded with a 7-0 run over the next four minutes: an Ashley Emmons putback, an Olivia Moore jumper, and an O’Donnell three at 1:34 that cut the lead to 25-24.
But as has been the case all season the Eagles answered down the stretch. With a minute to go they missed a free throw, but Funke and Cook forced a jump ball, and the possession arrow favored Mount Abe. Eight seconds later Cook hit Funke cutting to the bucket for two, and the lead was three.
Murray then stole the ball, and the Lakers had to foul. Cook hit the first of two, and Funke rebounded the miss and fed Cook, who was fouled at 0:29 and sank both to make it 30-24. Johnston then blocked a Laker three-point attempt. Senior Jess Murray grabbed the loose ball and nailed two free throws to create the final score.
Laquerre and O’Donnell led the Lakers with seven apiece.
Cook scored 11 to lead the Eagles, while Johnston scored eight and added four assists and five steals. Funke scored six, grabbed 10 boards, blocked three shots and changed several more, and Molly Murray finished with four steals.
LaRose said the Eagles continue to work hard in practice — and win, despite graduating four starters and a couple key reserves, and losing another key sub from this year’s team to a study-abroad program.
“I’m proud of where we are. I told them I’m not going to lie to you. Myself, I thought we would be a slightly above .500 team,” she said. “But they keep finding a way.”

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