RUMFORD — An audible gasp went through Puiia Gymnasium on Friday night as Spruce Mountain’s Victoria Ouellette crumbled to the floor when her knee buckled.
For her teammates, it was an emotional free fall as the Phoenix watched one of their leaders go down suddenly.
Sophomore guard Vanese Barnes was put onto the floor in place of Ouellette, and made sure she changed the mood.
“It was like, we all had the mood like we all fell down,” said Barnes. “Once I got in, I tried to put in the effort that Vic puts in. All of us worked together. “
The Phoenix proceeded to shut out Mountain Valley in the first quarter and dominated the first half, building a 23-point lead that led to a 44-23 victory.
“When she came in she really keyed what I thought was an outstanding first half,” said Spruce Mountain coach Gavin Kane of Barnes.
Ouellette suffered a dislocated kneecap in the early moments of the game. Barnes tends to be a spark off the bench, but she knew she needed to step up her game in that instance.
“Vic always has that spirit that lifts everyone up,” said Barnes. “I wanted to keep the intensity going. We didn’t know if she’d be coming back in. So I wanted to keep that intensity.”
Barnes finished with a game-high 13 points. She also had eight steals, seven coming in the first half, and seven rebounds. Her quickness and tenacity are typical aspects of her game, but her energy Friday night lifted her club as the Phoenix (8-0) built a 13-0 lead after one and a 30-7 advantage at the half.
“Vanese certainly could be a starter for us,” said Kane. “I like her coming off the bench for us because she provides such a spark for us, especially on the defensive end of the floor. She does a tremendous job in our traps and up front in our pressure defense.”
Spruce Mountain’s pressure gave the Falcons (2-5) fits. The Phoenix forced 23 turnovers in the first half and held Mountain Valley to 3-for-23 from the floor, including 0-for-8 in the first quarter.
“They’re quick,” Mountain Valley coach Tammy Gallant said. “They’re a well-coached team. Their press really stymied us in the first half and totally took us out of the flow of our offense.”
Mountain Valley didn’t get a field goal until a Brooke Dolloff rebound 1:23 into the second quarter. The Falcons were already down 17-0.
“We have a tendency to do that,” Gallant said. “It’s like we didn’t get off the bus yet, even though we didn’t travel on a bus today. That happens. All you can do is try to take a step back and try to do things right.”
In addition to Barnes 13 points, Emily Keene had 12 and Kailee Newcomb added 11.
Barnes had six points in the first after Spruce Mountain had struggled to turn steals into points. She helped lead the defensive charge. That followed four points from Newcomb and a 3 from Keene.
In the second, a steal by Barnes and a short jumper by Amia Pelletier had the lead up to 17-0. Spruce Mountain hit five of its first seven shots of the quarter.
After the Falcons got the basket from Dolloff, Keene drilled a pair of 3’s and Barnes converted a steal and pass from Nicole Hamblin to make it 25-2.
“Everybody could feel the momentum once we got basket after basket,” said Barnes. “We all wanted to keep scoring. “
Free throws from Keene and a basket by Newcomb had the lead at 30-7 at the half.
The Phoenix got sloppy in the second half. Spruce Mountain had 15 turnovers and the Falcons got a surge going, scoring eight straight in the fourth. Dolloff had six during that stretch to finish with eight.
Samantha Richards and Newcomb scored to answer that run. Then Barnes and LaDesta Tracy scored late to maintain the lead.
“I’m extremely pleased with the first half but our challenge to the kids was that we have to play the whole 32 minutes with the same intensity,” said Kane.