Balance key as Vikings top EL girls

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AUBURN – With two teams that specialize on defense squaring off, the offenses were bound to suffer Tuesday night.

Oxford Hills and Edward Little each applied the smothering defensive grip, but the Vikings’ offense managed to find just enough breathing room in a 51-42 victory.

Oxford Hills shook off a dismal offensive first half and managed to overtake the Red Eddies in the fourth quarter. The Vikings then used their prowess from the free throw line to seal it with a 12-2 run.

“This was just a battle the whole time,” said Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier. “I told the girls at halftime that we hadn’t been playing well, but we were only down three.”

Both offenses were forced to improvise. The Vikings top scorers Kari Pelletier and Terry Bunce managed just seven points from the floor. Bunce finished with 13 while Megan Joyce added 10. Teira Durgin chipped in eight and Pelletier had seven.

“It’s going to come down to different people stepping up,” said Pelletier, who also got offensive contributions from Lauren Brett, Katie Martin, Kyla Martin and Alley Fox. “All the teams in the state know who Kari Pelletier and Terry Bunce are right now. We’ve got to get other people to step it up, and they have been.”

EL got 17 from Kirsten Prue and 15 from Brittney French. The Red Eddies didn’t have the full arsenal. Kelsey Nicolas battled foul trouble, which limited her inside game, while Allie Forgues was held to just two points from the perimeter.

“We worked the defensive game to perfection,” said EL coach Craig Jipson. “I was really happy, but a couple of kids who average really high didn’t score. Prue stepped up and was a leader, but we also had some unforced turnovers, and we can’t do that.”

EL had the early advantage, hitting its first four shots. The Vikings went 1-for-8 to start and shot 3-for-21 in the first quarter. The lead was as high as seven in the first, but the Vikings managed to battle back and get within 23-20 at halftime, thanks to rebounds by Joyce and Brett.

“That was huge,” said Joyce. “That really brought our confidence up. The first half we were up and down with our confidence level.”

Drives by Prue and Katelyn St. Hilaire had EL up by seven in the third but four points from Durgin and a rebound by Bunce erased that. The teams traded the lead as the third quarter ended. Two free throws by Joyce had the Vikings in front.

EL stayed within reach early in the fourth and were within one after two St. Hilaire free throws with 4:07 left. Joyce then scored in the post for a 41-38 lead. EL wouldn’t get any closer.

“That definitely helped us shoot right up,” said Joyce. “It really helped us get up there and want to win even more and try to come out with a win.”

The three-point lead was just the cushion it needed to force EL to foul down the stretch. Pelletier, Bunce, Fox and Joyce combined for 11 free throws in the final minutes. The Vikings hit 20-of-27 from the foul line in the second half.

Free throws are usually EL’s strong point, but the Red Eddies had just 10 points from the line and shot just 3-for-11 in the final quarter.

“Usually that’s our game, but part of that was losing Kelsey because she gets to the foul line 10 or 15 times a game,” said Jipson. “Not being able to play her much in the first half really hurt.”

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