Eagle girls press past Tigers, 45-21
BRISTOL — Pressure defense by the host Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team proved to be too much for visiting Middlebury on Tuesday, when the Eagles forced 17 first-half turnovers and 28 total in a 45-21 victory.
The 8-5 Eagles also showed signs of the more balanced scoring that Coach Connie LaRose has been seeking to support senior guard Chloe Johnston, especially now that it is official that sophomore forward Grace Harvey will not return from a Jan. 23 knee injury.
Johnston still led the way with 15 points, but four other Eagles contributed between five and nine points apiece, and generally they showed a greater willingness to be more assertive on the attack.
LaRose was pleased with the development.
“We’ve been talking about that for a week and a half. Teams have been face-guarding Chloe. They’re double-teaming her. That means somebody else has some options out there, and we need to be looking at them,” LaRose said. “And whether they went in or not, they were taking good shots for the most part. We’re working hard on practice that when you make those cuts and you get the ball, you’re head is up on the rim … and I could visibly see it happening a few times tonight.”
Coach Jen Heath’s 3-10 young Tigers — two freshmen, two sophomores and a senior started — have made progress, but the Eagles’ 2-2-1 press proved to be too big a hurdle as the Eagles took a 15-3 lead after one period.
“They have a good press, and we practice for it, but nerves come into play. It also led to us not having enough shots,” Heath said.
Heath said the Tigers have fared best when they can use their speed and athleticism in transition, and the Eagles’ press and disciplined 3-2 zone was not a good matchup, although Heath said her team also played good man-to-man defense — the Tigers forced 19 turnovers.
“We never got into an offensive groove,” Heath said. “I feel like we played some really tough defense. I thought our intensity was great.”
Sophomore Ivy Doran hit a free throw to give the Tigers a lead in the first minute, but the Eagles responded with 15 points over the next seven minutes. Johnston drove for two and hit a three on a feed from sophomore Abby Reen, junior Savannah Scrodin drove for two points, Johnston nailed another three and Reen added a move in the lane and a three set up by Johnston. A late putback from Tiger freshman Ele Sellers set the score after one period.
The Eagles stretched the lead to 21-5 midway through the second on four more points from Johnston and two Cami Masse free throws, offset only by Tiger sophomore Hannah Turner’s baseline jumper set up by Doran. Sellers scored five points in the final 2:30 of the quarter, while freshman Maia Jensen scored in the lane for the Eagles, and it was 23-10 at the half.
The Eagles pushed their lead to 38-14 with a 15-4 third quarter. The Tigers managed just two free throws and a Sellers transition hoop assisted by junior Riley O’Neil. Meanwhile, five Eagles scored in the period, including four points from Johnston, and three each from Reen, junior Marley Keith and Jensen.
Sellers led the Tigers with 11, Turner scored five, and Doran added four. Those three and freshman Cady Pitner worked well on the boards as rebounds were even between the teams.
LaRose said the Tigers have improved.
“I thought Middlebury has come a long ways from when we played down there,” she said. “They did look better. I could see their kids getting a little more assertive.”
As well as defense and speed, Heath listed cohesion as a strong point for the Tigers.
“I think they’re really supportive,” she said. “And that’s what being a good team is. It’s not all about wins and losses, but it’s also about being supportive and being there for your teammates.”
For the Eagles, Reen contributed nine points and six rebounds; Masse, seven points, three steals and six boards; and Jensen and Keith, five points each. Johnston added seven assists and three steals to her 15 points.
LaRose said the Eagles will continue to emphasize taking better care of the ball, and she hopes Tuesday’s effort is a step forward in life without Harvey.
“It’s going to take a couple kids to help with the defense and replace what Grace could bring to the table, and likewise with the offense,” she said. “We’ve talked about it a lot. I’ve said we’re not looking for one person to do all of this, but take ownership of different pieces. If everyone here could get one more rebound, or one more layup, all those things are going to help us.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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