BANGOR — Sometimes, all it takes is one small spark to ignite a basketball team.
Leading 18-9 just past the midway point of the second quarter, the Bangor girls appeared poised to beat rival Hampden Academy at Red Barry Gymnasium.
But the Broncos scored 11 of the half’s final 12 points, and sophomore guard Michaela Stephenson made key plays on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor in the second half and the visitors galloped out of Bangor with a 44-41 season-opening victory Friday evening.
The Rams’ full-court pressure flustered the Broncos out of their offense in the early going, and Hampden found themselves rushing shots and not getting good looks at the basket as Bangor raced out to a 12-4 lead after the first eight minutes.
“I thought we were just nervous and jittery,” said HA coach Ben Greenlaw. “Once we got into a little bit of a rhythm it evened out.”
Kayla Webb drained a pull-up 3-pointer early in the second quarter to pull the Broncs to within 12-7 but the Rams embarked on a 6-2 run which gave them their biggest lead of the half.
Hampden then picked up its defensive pressure, turning three Ram turnovers into nine points while Ashley Danforth’s putback with 32 seconds left in the first half gave Hampden a 20-19 lead heading into intermission.
The teams went back-and-fourth in the third, and the Rams took a five-point lead with 1:02 remaining, but once again the Broncos came back, as Katie Chambers and Whitney Moore both converted putbacks to bring HA within 32-31 entering the fourth.
“They were getting a lot of second shots. We didn’t do a good job on the boards,” Bangor coach Tom Tennett said.
The diminutive Stephenson scored five of her team-high 11 points in the fourth quarter, including what turned out to be the game-winning bucket with 2:12 remaining.
Stephenson, who was also a force on the defensive end with five steals, worked around a screen to the low right block and banked home Julia Snyder’s inbounds pass.
The Rams’ last chance in the final minute was snuffed out by sophomore Snyder, who picked off an entry pass along the right wing and Whitney Moore sank both ends of a 1-and-1 to ice it.
“That was really big because it was going to come down to a one- or two-possession game,” Stephenson said.
Greenlaw was a bit worried about his Broncos running out of gas down the stretch, but it was Hampden’s athleticism that wore down the bigger Rams.
“This is one of the most athletic teams we’ve had, we’re in great shape and I think that’s one of our strengths,” said Webb, one of just four seniors on the varsity roster.
Hampden did a better job of attacking the Rams’ man pressure in the second half, generating more open looks.
“Their defense was man on, lots of pressure on the ball then off the ball, [and] sometimes they get up the open shots and we were hitting them,” Stephenson said.
Moore finished with eight points and six rebounds off the bench for the Broncos while Snyder tallied six.
Kate Freudenberger led all Bangor scorers with 11 points while Stephanie Comstock had eight points and five rebounds.