AUGUSTA — Defense hasn’t usually betrayed the Spruce Mountain girls’ basketball team, even at times when the rim and the range are uncooperative.
That tendency unraveled repeatedly Monday night in the Mountain Valley Conference championship.
When a Madison shooter was furnished two footsteps worth of elbow room to unleash an outside shot, she drained it. When the Bulldogs faced full-court pressure, they escaped it. When a half-court trap was the puzzle, they solved it.
And for its part, Madison shut out Spruce Mountain for the final 4 minutes, 56 seconds and cruised to a 55-39 victory at Augusta Civic Center.
“We said if we settled down and were fundamentally sound in the half court, we would give ourselves a chance to win the game playing man-to-man. We broke down more times in this game than we have in the last six games,” Spruce Mountain coach Gavin Kane said. “My emphasis is on the defensive end of the floor, so I am disappointed in how we played on that end.”
Madison started the game just as efficiently. The Bulldogs didn’t miss a field goal or a free throw in the first five minutes.
With few exceptions, they maintained that hot hand throughout, connecting at 21-for-38 (55 percent) from the field.
“We were really looking forward to stepping on this court and playing on this court. We liked it,” said Madison junior guard Sam Bruce, who poured in a game-high 22 points for the Bulldogs.
After its own scorching 6-for-10 start, the Phoenix sank only six of their last 23 and committed a total of 28 turnovers.
Bruce had nine points in the first period and seven in the fourth. Emily McKenney knocked down six of her seven points in the final five minutes, keying Madison‘s 13-2 run to the finish.
Madison avenged a 44-37 loss in Jay during the regular season.
The teams won’t meet in next week’s state tournament. Madison is seeded No. 2 in Western Class C and plays a quarterfinal here next Tuesday, Feb. 21. Spruce Mountain (17-2) is No. 5 in Western Class B and must take care of Poland in a home preliminary game Wednesday in order to clinch a quarterfinal berth at Portland Expo.
“We have only two players who have really been on this court in the tournament,” Madison coach Al Veneziano said. “Coming in here that deer-in-the-headlights look is tough to overcome sometimes. They responded very well tonight.”
Madison held Spruce Mountain to nine points after opening a 32-30 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs summoned few answers for Spruce Mountain’s Kathryn Ventrella before that. The Phoenix’s senior point guard poured in 13 points in the first quarter and had 16 at the half on the strength of four 3-pointers.
Ventrella was kept off the scoreboard in the third quarter. She finished with 20.
“She hit a couple of 3s in the first half that were quite a ways out there and she was wide open,” Veneziano said. “We had to do a better job against that.”
“We just had to work hard and help out on the other players,” Bruce added.
Alexi Deering chalked up six points and five steals before fouling out for Spruce Mountain. No other Phoenix player had more than two field goals or five points.
Alex Jarvais and Cristie Vicneire each nailed a 3-pointer for Madison in the first half. Melissa White and Lyndsay Weese scored big baskets in the opening period.
“I thought they played extremely well and had a lot of kids contribute for them,” Kane said “They played the game a little harder than we did and played with greater determination to win this game.”