AUBURN – Edward Little couldn’t beat Morse with a hand behind its back and two sets of sneakers left behind in the locker room. Watching the Red Eddies try was worth the price of admission, though.

Saturday’s season-opening showdown between two expected Eastern Class A contenders came down to the final minute before the Shipbuilders snuck away for a 62-57 girls’ basketball victory.

Junior Jill Henrikson scored 26 points for Morse, including three free throws in the final 54 seconds. Maggie Smith sank seven of her 14 points in the fourth quarter.

“They’re tough. Craig’s (Jipson) teams come at you and just play great defense,” said Morse coach Tom Morong. “To come out of here with a win is a great way to start our season.”

EL promises to be less hospitable once antibiotics, bed rest and ankle braces are removed from its equation. Six players missed preseason time due to injury or illness, and two prominent sophomores – Abby Downs and Kim Lawrence – remain out of the mix for another week or two.

Senior Brittney French and freshman point guard Kirsten Prue are still on the road to recovery, but only their coach would have known it. French led the Red Eddies with 15 points. Prue added eight and directed the offense with nine assists.

“We probably left them out there longer than we should have,” Jipson said. “They were dying at the end. But no excuses. Every team goes through it.”

Fortunately for the Red Eddies, there are no season-ending maladies in the bunch. And judging from this entertaining start, both EL and Morse have the potential to match or exceed last year’s journeys to the regional quarterfinals.

Morse never lost the lead after scoring the final six points of the first quarter to go up 11-6. But EL fought back to a tie on three separate occasions in the second period, and the Shipbuilders needed two Henrikson free throws with five seconds remaining to grab a 27-25 halftime edge.

The Red Eddies cut an eight-point deficit to three in the third quarter and whittled an 11-point gap to four in the fourth. Morse consistently counterpunched, usually in the form of an offensive put-back or a 3-pointer.

Kate Ross scored eight of her nine points in the third quarter for Morse, including a pair of the Shipbuilders’ six 3-pointers. Ross and Sonya Dickinson each hauled in 11 rebounds as Morse took advantage of Downs and Lawrence’s absence underneath.

“We started the game with six healthy bodies,” Jipson said. “I couldn’t ask any more of my kids in that situation.”

Allison Forgues put up 13 points for EL, highlighted by three 3-pointers. Kelsey Nicolas contributed 12 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

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