RUMFORD — Things are coming together at the right time for the Spruce Mountain girls basketball team, and it showed down the stretch Tuesday night.
Senior Kathryn Ventrella directed the show, scoring 19 points, and the Phoenix played smothering defense, earning a 57-46 victory over Mountain Valley at Puiia Gymnasium.
There was a lot on the line between the only Class B teams in the Mountain Valley Conference. Spruce Mountain (14-1) and Mountain Valley (10-6) entered the contest ranked third and seventh, respectively. The Falcons also lost earlier this season to the Phoenix in Jay.
“Mountain Valley is an outstanding team,” Spruce Mountain coach Gavin Kane said. “This was an important game for us in earning Heal Points because we want to avoid a preliminary (playoff) game.”
Mountain Valley was led by Ayla Allen, who scored a game high 24 points, hauled in nine rebounds and added four steals. The senior is now only 38 points shy of reaching 1,000 for her career.
Spruce Mountain led 39-38 entering the fourth quarter, but a trio of freshmen and Ventrella combined to score 10 of the first 11 points of the fourth for the Phoenix. Samantha Richards made a basket and two free throws, while Kailee Newcomb (eight points) converted off a dish in the paint. Emily Keene (eight points) scored and Ventrella converted a Newcomb feed.
“My girls felt they played a strong game,” MV coach Tammy Gallant said. “But, Spruce Mountain is a good team. Kathryn Ventrella is an excellent floor general and was able to move the ball around well. We made some soft passes down the stretch and turned the ball over.”
The Falcons’ Brooke Dolloff (seven points, five rebounds, three steals) made a free throw early, but three consecutive missed shots and three turnovers hurt Mountain Valley. The Falcons were held scoreless until Chrissy Briggs (nine points) drained a three-pointer with 3:25 left in the game.
Spruce Mountain took the air out of the ball and freshman Nicole Hamblin was fouled and made two free throws. Allen converted inside, but the Falcons trailed 51-46.
“We felt Mountain Valley was (explosive),” Kane said. “In the game at our place, we used a man-to—man defense. Tonight, we took a chance with a zone and then switched back to man-to-man.”
The Phoenix had started out strong behind Alexi Deering (seven rebounds, five assists, three steals) and Micaela Baron to lead 16-6 after one quarter.
Spruce Mountain has bought into a defensive philosophy, and the Phoenix apply constant pressure with half-court traps. This type of strategy has been aided by depth on the bench, which allows for multiple rotations.
The Falcons made seven of their 17 turnovers and made three shots in the opening period. It turned around as Allen and Briggs scored all the points during a 15-4 run. The Phoenix led 29-23 on a Keene set shot, but Allen hit a jumper and Katlin Armstrong (four assists) hit a shot at the buzzer to help the Falcons close to within a basket, trailing only 29-27 at halftime.
“We thought Mountain Valley would primarily go man-to-man against us,” Kane said. “They switched up, but that didn’t matter because we were able to still execute well at times.”
The Falcons adjusted and guard Makayla White (five assists) tied the score at 33 in the third quarter. The Falcons shot 38 percent and made eight of 12 free throws, but Spruce shot 45 percent and were 18 of 25 from the line.