JAY — The Spruce Mountain girls’ inaugural game certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was promising. Despite struggling at times offensively, the Phoenix displayed an energetic effort on the defensive end of the court in earning a 38-22 victory over the St. Dom’s Saints Friday night.
The Phoenix (1-0) shut down the Saints (0-1) in the second half, holding the visitors to just a pair of field goals and a free throw for a total of five points.
“I liked the half-court trap we had in the second half,” said Spruce Mountain coach Gavin Kane. “That will be an important part of our defense this year.”
The Phoenix took an 18-17 lead into the half and came out after the intermission with an increase in defensive intensity.
“Coach told us we had to pick it up on defense,” said senior guard Kathryn Ventrella who finished with a game-high 17 points. “Our defense would help our offense.”
Following a pair of free throws by Ventrella, she added a basket in transition to increase the Phoenix lead to five. After a baseline bucket and free throw by Emily Keene, Ventrella broke in from the left wing for a slashing layup to cap a 9-0 run.
An Olivia Cluff hoop put an end to the Spruce Mountain run, but St. Dom’s would get no closer. The swarming Phoenix created turnovers throughout the half with their press, but couldn’t always finish on the offensive end. That’s something Kane feels will improve.
“We’re a little bit limited on offense,” said Kane. “We don’t always get some consistent scoring from some of our players. We had some good opportunities. We definitely forced some shots, but we also missed some easy ones.”
The home team continued the stifling defense in the fourth quarter. A Ventrella steal turned into an Alexi Deering lay-in, and moments later it was Nicole Hamblin finding Ventrella open on a back door cut for an easy deuce.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Ventrella on the initial win.
The Saints played an impressive zone defense and kept things quite interesting in the first half.
“I knew what the scouting report was on Spruce Mountain,” said St. Dom’s coach Jon Berry. “I thought the zone gave us our best shot. I wasn’t happy with the scoreboard, but I was happy with the effort.”
The packed-in zone, with Allison Conley down low blocking shots, kept the inside offense of the Phoenix to a minimum in the first half. Not until back-to-back 3-pointers by Ventrella and another by Kailee Newcomb late in the first quarter did the Phoenix begin to get their offense flowing. Newcomb’s hoop increased the lead to 12-6.
The Saints would finish the first half with an 8-0 run, ignited by an offensive rebound and put back by Cluff. Conley followed with a jumper from the foul line to cut the deficit to 18-13. After Callie Greco drove to the hoop for a pair, point guard Mary Caron turned a steal into a buzzer beater.
“We have only three girls who had much varsity time last year,” said Berry. “I’m thrilled we got the shots we did against a good team like this.”
McKenzie Roy was the Saints’ leading scorer, netting six points.