Sports

Mt. Abe girls’ basketball surge late past visiting Solons

SHOOTING TAKES FOCUS, and that’s what Eagle junior post player and leading scorer Mackenzie Griner shows her as she keeps her eyes on the basket despite being whacked on the arm by Montpelier’s No. 15. Note in the background the Solon coach is holding her arms straight up as she tries in vain to tell her players not to foul Griner. Independent photo/Steve James

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham girls’ basketball team started and finished strong against visiting Montpelier on Tuesday, and that was enough for the Eagles to get past both the Solons and a few of their own mid-game struggles in a 40-30 victory.

The Eagles looked like they were on their way to a romp in the first quarter, in which they took a 15-4 lead. The Solons crept back into the game slowly and twice cut the lead to two points, the second time at 23-21 with 2:45 left in the third quarter. 

Mount Abe then responded with a clinching 13-1 run over the next 4:05. During that surge junior center Mackenzie Griner and junior guard Hazel Guillmette combined for 12 points.

Coach Koran Cousino said afterward there remain wrinkles to iron out on both offense and defense, but didn’t dispute one fact. 

“We’re 3-0,” Cousino said. “A year ago we were 0-3.”

The first quarter showed what the Eagles are capable of. Their aggressive player-to-player defense, new this season, and full-court press forced nine Solons turnovers in the period, and Griner dominated inside, with eight points, including two three-point plays. Griner finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.

Then came a second quarter both teams would probably just as soon forget, or at least chalk up to early-season inconsistency. 

The Solons were a little happier by halftime: They managed four baskets, two each by seniors Ireland Donahue and Willow Sterling-Proulx, and hit three of 11 free throws to score 11 points in the period. 

MOUNT ABE JUNIOR Louisa Painter goes up for a transition layup during the Mount Abe girls’ hoop team’s Tuesday defeat of visiting Montpelier.
Independent photo/Steve James

Meanwhile, Griner’s short baseline jumper 1:20 before halftime was the only Eagle basket in the period, and the team combined to make just four of 12 free throws. At least both teams padded their rebounding stats: They combined for 25 in the period, 13 by the Eagles.

As for the numbers that mattered most at the half: The score was Eagles 21, Solons 15.

Both Guillmette and Eagle junior Abba Parker found themselves in foul trouble, which Cousino said hurt the Eagles’ energy and ability to contain Donahue in the second period and in the third. 

“We don’t stay in this game without Abba Parker playing defense on their No. 20 (Donahue),” Cousino said.

That halftime lead twice shrank to two points in the third period, first when Donahue scored four unanswered points in the first four minutes.

Meanwhile, in the first 4:48 of the quarter only senior guard Piper Guillmette scored for the Eagles, that on an offensive rebound. Those were Guillmette’s only points, but she gave the Eagles a spark by hustling, standing out on defense, grabbing eight boards, and adding four assists and three steals.

Piper Guillmette’s bucket followed the Donahue points that had cut the Eagle lead. Then at 2:45 Sterling-Proulx, who finished with six points, banked in a jumper, and the lead was back down to two at 23-21. 

The Eagles kept hitting the boards, and after three offensive rebounds, one by Guillmette, Griner drew a foul and hit a free throw at 1:28 to make it 24-21. 

Mount Abe still needed someone to start putting the ball in the basket. If they were not missing, they were passing up open shots. Enter Hazel Guillmette. At 1:05 she nailed a three-pointer, the Eagles’ first of the game, and suddenly the lead was six. Then the Solons fouled junior guard Louisa Painter as time expired in the period. She hit one free throw, and the Eagles led, 28-21, after three quarters. 

 

If there was any doubt about the outcome, Hazel Guillmette and Griner soon removed it. Twenty-five seconds into the fourth quarter, Guilmette hit another three to extend the lead to 10 points.

After a Donahue free throw, Griner converted another three-point play on an offensive rebound, and at 5:40 she hit a layup on an inbounds play, and the Eagles led by 36-22. 

MOUNT ABE JUNIOR guard Hazel Guillmette goes for the steal against Solon Willow Sterling-Proulx during Tuesday’s girls’ basketball game in Bristol. Guillmette hit two key three-pointers in the Eagle win.
Independent photo/Steve James

Donahue kept the score respectable by scoring six more points and assisting a bucket, but Griner hit inside on feeds from Piper Guillmette and Parker to dash any Solon hopes for a miracle. 

Hazel Guillmette finished with eight points. Painter was second on the team with nine rebounds, and Barnard handled ballhandling chores well, led with four steals and added three assists.  

The Eagles have two tough games at Fair Haven’s annual tournament next week, on Wednesday taking on Burr & Burton, a team they edged at home last week, and on Friday tackling the host Slaters, considered a Division II title contender.

Cousino said the Eagles actually might match up better with those faster paced teams than the Solons, especially if the Eagles’ new one-on-one defense continues to improve. She believes that look should be ideal for their quickness and tenacity and become a weapon. But she said early in the season it remains a work in progress, with foul trouble an issue. 

“We like to reach. We’re busy and we’re active, but we’ve got to understand the officials are going to set the tone,” Cousino said. “I’m giving them time. It’s just raw right now.”

Cousino also hopes the Eagles learn to shrug off missed shots and not let them affect the other elements of their play. 

“Once we miss a shot we second-guess ourselves, and then that nice catch-and-shoot becomes a ‘Should I shoot, or should I not,’” she said. 

The coach remains confident the team’s chemistry and work ethic will overcome those early-season issues. 

“These girls are incredibly hard-working. They’re incredibly good teammates. They’re a fun, positive group,” she said. “We’re just going to keep growing.”

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