TOPSHAM, Maine — The Hampden Academy girls basketball team, the defending Eastern Maine Class A champions, was hit hard by graduation, with only two players returning to the lineup with significant playing experience.
The Broncos showed they’re a proud team, but the taller Mt. Ararat Eagles showed their strength inside and at the foul line in pulling away for a 51-41 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference win on Tuesday.
The victory gives coach Kelly LaFountain’s squad a 7-2 record, good for the No. 2 spot in Eastern A behind undefeated Cony at the halfway point of the season, while Hampden dropped to 4-5 and still holds the ninth and final playoff spot.
“They lost a lot of seniors from last year’s team, but they’re still good and fundamentally sound,” said LaFountain. “Their defensive intensity picked up, and we were trying to slow it down. We had some turnovers  today.”
Mallory Nelson led the way for Mt. Ararat with 19 points, including 11 of her team’s 17 first-half points as the Eagles held a low-scoring 17-12 edge at the break.
Thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Hampden Academy’s Jordan Maxwell and six second quarter points from Helene Sherburne, the Broncos managed to stay close despite shooting just 20 percent (four of 20) from the field in the first 16 minutes.
Mt. Ararat didn’t exactly light it up, making just seven of 22 shots (31 percent) while holding a 14-8 rebounding edge.
Nelson scored seven points in the first quarter, including a hoop-and-harm with 36 seconds left for an 11-6 Mt. Ararat advantage. Nelson’s putback upped the Eagles’ lead to 13-6, but Sherburne drained a trey and later completed a conventional three-point play to bring the Broncos to 15-12 before Nelson completed her big first half with another putback.
The Eagles picked up the pace in the third quarter, outscoring the Broncos 14-5 for a 31-17 lead.
Both teams came out firing in the fourth quarter.
“They hit five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to get within three (37-34),” said LaFountain.
But Mt. Ararat held on, thanks to a 15- of-16 effort from the free-throw line in the final frame.
“We hit 15 straight at the line and finished 25-of-30 in the game,” added LaFountain, whose team is slated to visit Brewer at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Caitlin LaFountain chipped in 10 points (eight of 10 from the foul line) for Mt. Ararat, with Kristi Willey adding eight, and Leah Hitchcock and Chelsea Crawford six points apiece.
The Eagles shot 37 percent (13 of 35) from the floor, led by Nelson’s eight rebounds, with Willey pulling down eight caroms. Mt. Ararat forced 15 turnovers, with Caitlin LaFountain picking up three steals. Willey and Estes dished out two assists each.
Hampden put up 25 3-pointers, making eight (32 percent), but struggled with Mt. Ararat’s height, making just five of 21 shots (23 percent) from close range. The Broncos finished 13 of 46 (28 percent) from the field and made seven of eight free throws.
Maxwell had 13 points, including four treys, with Sherburne adding 11 points and Ashley Danforth 10, all coming in the second half.
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