Mountain Valley’s Alana Young (11) dribbles while being defended by Dirigo’s Grace Robbins (32) during a game in Rumford on Monday. Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal

DIXFIELD — A Monday matchup after holiday break can be a recipe for a lethergic play.

That wasn’t the case, though, for Mountain Valley, which came out attacking in its full-court pressure defense and took control early against rival Dirigo. The Falcons never let up and finished off a 43-23 home victory in a MVC girls basketball clash at Puiia Gymnasium.

Autumn Freeman gave the Falcons (3-1) energy in the first quarter, including nine of her game-high 16 points as Mountain Valley jumped out to a 14-2 lead.

“Autumn can play 32 minutes of relentless basketball,” Mountain Valley coach Craig Milledge said. “We look to her as not just a scorer but as a leader in all facets of the game.”

Dirigo coach Reggie Weston called Freeman an “energizer bunny” for the Falcons.

“She keeps going and going,” Weston added. “She wears you down.”

The Cougars (2-2) were missing two of their starters — point guard Jayce Brophy and top defender Alyvia Perreault, who Weston said would have been tasked with stopping Freeman.

Weston said Dirigo had little time before Monday’s matchup to prepare for the Falcons’ pressure defense.

“We didn’t get a chance to really work on who’s going to bring the ball up and take care of that pressure that Mountain Valley does so well at. We have some certain plays where we can burn them, but they did a good job of covering,” Weston said. “… We got to still do better at handling the pressure.”

Mountain Valley wasted little time using that to its advantage, forcing numerous turnovers in the first quarter, including two steals by Freeman that she turned into points at the other end of the court.

“The reality … is that gyms are quieter than they typically are during this COVID time,” Milledge said. “We talk about generating our own intensity as a team and not relying on the atmosphere, the gym, to do that for us. Fortunately, we have a team, and we go about 10-deep, and all of them play intense, man-to-man defense. And we try to score as much in transition because at this point in the season we don’t do a real good job of scoring in the half-court.

“So that intensity is crucial to what we do. We know we have to come out with it, we can’t wait until the second half. And (the girls) did a good job of jumping on them early tonight, under the circumstances.”

The Cougars steadied the ship some in the second quarter, led by senior Abby Stevens, who scored five of her team-high seven points in the period. Grace Robbins hit a late 3-pointer for Dirigo, but Mountain Valley’s Emma Clukey nailed a buzzer-beating long 2-pointer to send the Falcons into halftime with a 24-10 lead.

“You saw Emma Clukey tonight hit some really big shots for us,” Milledge said. “… I call her a ‘glue girl.’ She only does things to help us win. She makes the right plays defensively, she rebounds, she guards the better players on other teams. Tonight, she hit some big shots and that was huge for us.”

Mountain Valley’s Emma Clukey (22) drives against Dirigo defenders. from left, of Megan Fletcher (25), Destiny LeClerc, Grace Robbins (32) and Emily Woods (2) during a game in Rumford on Monday. Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal

Both teams were stout defensively in the third quarter, during which the Falcons scored only five points — all by sophomore Brooke Brown — and the Cougars were held to three.

The Falcons spread the scoring out in the fourth, including Freeman’s final four points, and cruised to the lopsided victory.

Brown finished with eight points for Mountain Valley, Clukey added seven and Emily Richard finished with six.

Destiny LeClerc equaled Stevens with seven for Dirigo and Grace Robbins hit a pair of 3-pointers for six points.

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