Sports

Eagle girls’ hoop wins fourth straight game

THE MOUNT ABE bench leaps up to celebrate the final play of their team’s nail-biting victory over visiting Spaulding on Saturday. Independent photo/Steve James

EAGLE SENIOR MAIA Jensen goes high to put up a shot in her team’s dramatic victory over Spaulding on Saturday. Jensen finished with six points, six steals and four assists.
Independent photo/Steve James

BRISTOL — As the truism goes, strong defense and rebounding typically wins basketball games. 

Certainly, those elements appeared to be the difference when the host Mount Abraham Union High School girls edged Spaulding on Saturday afternoon, 40-39, in a rematch of the 2022 Division II title game — also won by the Eagles. 

Not only did Mount Abe pile up a 33-22 advantage on the boards, with sophomore center Mackenzie Griner grabbing 13 of those rebounds, but also after Griner’s late go-ahead hoop the Eagles pressured Tide standouts Yvonne Roberge and Sage MacAuley into missing shots. 

When MacAuley’s banked shot from the left block fell off the front of the rim as the horn sounded, the Eagles had won their fourth straight game. They improved to 9-8 and moved into sixth place in D-II heading into Tuesday’s game at undefeated first-place North Country. Even a loss there should allow them to earn a home playoff game if they play to their potential in their other remaining contests during the regular season.

That is, especially if the Eagles continue to hit the boards and get after their opponents defensively, said Coach Koran Cousino and senior guard Lucy Parker, who led a balanced Mount Abe attack with nine points vs. Spaulding.

Cousino said Saturday’s boardwork took away an important part of Spaulding’s attack. 

“We did rebound well, especially defensive rebounds. We didn’t give them the second chances that they love,” Cousino said.

Parker said the Eagles’ defensive pressure helped the offense get easy baskets, part of a recent trend in their winning streak. 

“It starts with defense. We’ve been focusing on defense in practices and games,” Parker said. “It’s turning us around.”

Cousino agreed.

“We spend a lot of time focusing on defense and rebounding. That’s the bottom line, and you can see it,” Cousino said. “In the beginning of the season we were scoring a lot of points, but we were giving up a lot of points, so I’ve tried to flip the switch.”

MOUNT ABE SENIOR Lucy Parker drives past a knot of Spaulding defenders during the Eagle girls’ home win on Saturday. Parker led the Eagles with nine points.
Independent photo/Steve James

It also helped on Saturday against a team that entered their gym with a 13-2 record that the Eagles got off to a fast start, forcing eight Tide turnovers in the first period and taking a 9-4 lead in the first 5:10. 

Four Eagles scored in the surge. Parker sank three free throws after being fouled twice in transition, Madi Gile hit in the lane, Griner converted in the post, and Maia Jensen added a fast-break bucket. 

For the Tide, Gracie Martin scored all five of her points in the period, and Roberge had four as Spaulding pulled to within 13-11 entering the second quarter.

The Eagles stretched that lead to 24-19 at the halftime break with a lift from sophomore Louisa Painter in the second period. Painter scored all five of her points and grabbed most of her six rebounds in the quarter, and Mount Abe’s 2-2-1 press and 2-3 zone defense held the Tide to eight points.

Cousino said she had watched film of Thetford troubling Spaulding with a similar approach, but tweaked it a bit.

EAGLE GUARD MORGAN Barnard handles the ball during the Mount Abe girls’ Saturday win over Spaulding. Barnard contributed six points to the Eagles’ balanced attack.
Independent photo/Steve James

“Even though it was a 2-3 zone, I thought it was more of a match-up look, where we were trying not to let 33, Sage MacAuley, or Yvonne Roberge get the ball,” she said. 

The Eagles threatened to run away in the third period as Parker and Jensen accounted for all eight of their points over the first four minutes as the lead grew to 32-23. The lead was still nine before Tide freshman Sophie Guariello stole the ball and laid it in with at 0:05 to set the score at 34-27 after three quarters.

EAGLE FORWARD MACKENZIE Griner goes up for two points during her team’s 40-39 home win over Spaulding on Saturday. Griner’s six points included the late game-winner, and she grabbed 13 rebounds.
Independent photo/Steve James

Then Tide tightened their player-to-player defense in the fourth, and Roberge broke loose for a jumper and a three-pointer, and it was 34-32 two minutes in. Payton Vincent scored inside to put the Eagles up by four at 5:20, but after buckets by Charlotte Young and MacAuley the game was tied at 36-36 at 3:25.

A Gile baseline drive at 3:12 put the Eagles back on top, but a Guariello free throw and a MacAuley hoop in the lane at 1:30 gave Spaulding the lead at 39-38. 

The Eagles answered. Gile and Jensen combined to work the ball to Griner on the left block, and she converted at 1:10. After unsuccessful possessions by both teams, Roberge missed under pressure with 10 seconds to go, and the teams scrambled after the rebound. 

The officials finally awarded the Tide a time-out under the basket with 2.3 seconds to go. MacAuley got a decent look, but the shot didn’t fall, and the Eagles celebrated what was so far their biggest win of the season.

Roberge led the Tide with 13 points, MacAuley and Aliyah Elliot were next with six each, and Guariello and Martin added five apiece.

Parker added four steals and two assists to her nine points. Jensen finished with six points, six steals and four assists; Griner with six points to go with her 13 boards; Gile with six points and three assists; and Morgan Barnard with six points and two steals. 

What doesn’t show up in the stats is what Cousino and Parker called improving team chemistry.

“We’re talking a lot more on defense and communicating,” Parker said. “The overall team bond has gone up, and it’s really shown on the court.”   

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