AUBURN — The basketball season began with a late lead and an even later collapse.
Back in December, the Edward Little girls’ basketball team watched its hold on the season-opener against Mt. Ararat slip away.
Friday night, history didn’t repeat. The Red Eddies seized control of the lead early in the fourth and never let go in a 57-52 win over the Eagles.
“We can finish games,” senior guard Kate Sawyer said. “Early in the season, we had this problem, but we’ve had some growth. We’ve proven that we can finish at home. Now we have to prove it on the road.”
EL produced some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with solid defense for its fifth consecutive win.
“Ashlee Arnold hit some big shots,” Mt. Ararat coach Kelly LaFountain said. “She’s one of those players that’s going to do that. You’ve got to give her credit, and you’ve got to be able to counter it. We weren’t able to do that.”
Both teams are now 10-2 and battling for the top two spots in Eastern A. Friday’s win expanded EL’s hold on first place.
“We’ve won some games big but this win and the win over Lawrrence, these were close wins at home,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “(Mt. Ararat) may not lose another game. They could run the rest of their schedule. So I’m extremely happy with the girls.”
Arnold led EL with 19 points while Tianna Harriman and Kory Norcross each had 10. Sawyer finished with eight.
Mt. Ararat got 24 from Mallory Nelson and 11 each from Caitlin LaFountain and Kristi Willey.
“Give credit to Mt. Ararat,” Sawyer said. “Mallory Nelson is having a huge year. Kristi Willey hit some big shots. They played their hearts out too. We had to match their intensity.”
The Eagles opened the lead in the third. After being down 27-22 at the half, Mt. Ararat started hitting from the outside. A couple of 3s by Willey and drives by LaFountain helped build a 39-34 lead late in the third. EL battled foul trouble in the third and shot just 3-for-15 from the floor. A Sawyer 3 in the final minute cut the deficit to just 39-37.
After Harriman and LaFountain traded rebounds to start the fourth, Arnold sank two free throws for the lead. Then she drilled a 3 for a 44-41 lead with 4:36 left.
“Ashlee came up with some huge shots,” said Jipson. “I didn’t even know she had five 3s.”
After two LaFountain free throws made it a one-point game, Eraleena Hairston sank a free throw. Immediately following the free throw, Brooke Reynolds stole the ball and scored to make it 47-43 with 3:20 left.
“The big steal was when Brooke stole that pass,” said Sawyer. “That was the steal of the game.”
A minute later, Arnold hit another 3 and Sawyer sank two free throws for eight straight and a 13-2 run.
“That just gave them just enough of a breather,” said LaFountain. “It comes down to what you have on the floor for experience. We had experience and they did too and were just able to convert tonight.”
Nelson tried to lead Mt. Ararat back. She hit two free throws and scored on a drive to get the Eagles within 52-47 with 1:06 left. Mt. Ararat even got the ball back when Arnold fouled out on an offensive foul call. An EL steal nixed that and Norcross turned that into a three-point play at the other end for a 55-47 lead with 49 seconds left.
Mt. Ararat hit just one of its first 12 shots in the fourth and finished 3-for-17 in the final quarter.
“We struggled with our shots in the beginning of the game, which put us in a tough spot going through the rest of the game,” LaFountain said.
Mt. Ararat’s size inside gave EL trouble, especially when the Red Eddies had post players getting into early foul trouble. Hairston, who finished with four points, and Emily Jacques, who had four blocks, did a fine job off the bench.
“They had some huge minutes,” Jipson said. “Emily Jacques had some huge blocked shots. “
After a 14-14 first quarter, EL scored eight straight to open the second. Mt. Ararat answered with six straight before EL finished with the five-point lead at the half.