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No. 1 Eagle girls outlast U-32 Raiders

BRISTOL — As Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball Coach Connie LaRose says of her Eagles this year, they keep finding a way.
Make that 19 times in a row.
The latest win came in Friday’s home Division II quarterfinal against No. 8 U-32, which gave the top-seeded, 20-2 Eagles all they could handle before Mount Abe scored seven points in the final 2:20 to prevail, 29-25.
To put those seven points in perspective, the scrappy Raiders and their compact 2-3 zone held the Eagles to four points in the first 13:40 of the second half, took a 20-19 lead on two Mikayla Farnum free throws at 3:13 of the third, and forced the Eagles into 19 turnovers.
But it is the Eagles who will play No. 4 Lake Region in a D-II semifinal in Barre on Monday at 8:15 p.m., not the 11-11 Raiders, who had split two regular-season games with Mount Abe.
The Eagles took the lead for good at 2:15 of the third, when senior Jalen Cook looped a pass to junior guard Chloe Johnston on the break for a layup to make it 21-20.
The Eagles own tough defense then kicked in: The Raiders turned the ball over 17 times, nine in the second half, and they went without a basket for almost eight minutes of the second half after tying the game at 18-18.
After being outrebounded for three quarters, the Eagles also hit the boards harder in the fourth. A Chloe Johnston free throw at 5:08 followed her offensive board after senior center Cora Funke also snared an Eagle miss.
And that was the only point in the quarter until 2:20, when Cook finally found a seam in the Raider zone and hit a short stop-and-pop jumper in the lane to make it 24-20.
U-32 guard Payton Gariboldi answered with a drive that was the first U-32 hoop since 5:50 of the third, but the Eagles finally managed to find the six-foot Funke in the post, and she laid the ball in at 1:30 to make it 26-22.
Gariboldi again attacked the basket to cut the lead to two. Johnston hit a free throw for a three-point lead, but Raider Casey Flye earned a trip to the line with 19 seconds to go. She hit the first, and then the Eagles rebounding became crucial. Funke snared the miss, was fouled, and hit the first of a one-and-one at the other end.
THE RAIDERS SLOW the advance of Eagle senior Cora Funke during the first quarter of Mount Abe’s D-II quarterfinal on Friday in Bristol. Below, Funke pots a crucial basket to put the home team ahead by four points late in Friday’s 29-22 victory over U-32 in Bristol.
Independent photos/Steve James
When she missed the second, Cook and senior Jess Murray forced a jump ball, and the arrow favored the Eagles. U-32 had to foul Cook, and she hit the first to make it 29-25. The Raiders rushed down the floor but couldn’t get a shot off, and Cook cradled a loose ball as time expired.
LaRose said the Eagles — who returned only Cook from among the 2018 title team’s starters after graduating eight seniors — are not firing on all cylinders offensively, but their effort and grit keep creating success.
“We’re clearly not in a good rhythm right now, but we… keep clawing and scratching and hitting a few free throws,” LaRose said. “I’m hoping we can smooth some things out.”
For the Raiders Emily Ehret led the way with nine points, including five straight to open the second half and make it 18-18. The Eagles had taken an 18-13 halftime lead when Murray and Cook each hit threes late in the second quarter, Cook at 0:10, to erase a 13-12 Raider advantage.
Cook’s 10 points and six rebounds led the Eagles, while Johnston chipped in eight points, seven steals, three rebounds and three assists. Funke scored six, Murray grabbed five rebounds, senior Molly Murray contributed good defense and three boards, and freshman Grace Harvey came off the bench to offer solid defense and ball movement.
Lake Region (18-4), an easy winner over No. 5 Randolph in its quarterfinal, posted similar results to Mount Abe’s against three common foes: U-32, South Burlington and Missisquoi. Monday’s winner will face either No. 3 Fair Haven or No. 7 Springfield in Barre at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday.
LaRose expects the Eagles to face more zones, and said better ball movement will be vital.
“We don’t do a good job of finding the open shooters,” LaRose said. “We’ve got to find a way to see things quicker.”
On the other hand the Eagles have held six straight and 10 of their past 12 opponents to 32 points or fewer.
“We work hard at it every day in practice. A lot of games it’s keeping us in it,” LaRose said. “Defense wins championships, I hope.”
 Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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