AUGUSTA — A low-scoring affair was to Oxford Hills’ liking Friday.
The Vikings tend to play pretty pesky defense, keep scores down and find the offense to win. The problem for Oxford Hills against Mount Ararat in this Eastern Maine Class A girls’ basketball quarterfinal was that the offense wasn’t as forthcoming as the Vikings had hoped.
“I thought the game scoring-wise was the way we needed it,” Oxford Hills coach Nate Pelletier said. “A game in the 40s, we have a chance to win it, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
Mount Ararat took the early lead and fended off the Vikings, 51-37. Oxford Hills was within reach for much of the first half, but as the Eagles pulled away in the third, the Vikings struggled to keep up.
“One thing that’s been our Achilles’ heel all season has been scoring,” Pelletier said. “The kids have the ability to do it. It’s just doing it and getting over the jitters. I was surprised by it. I thought we were a little more prepared than that, but it’s tough. You don’t know how they’re going to react.”
It was the Vikings’ first trip to the Augusta Civic Center since 2010. Mount Ararat lost in the semifinals last year.
The Eagles’ seasoning showed early.
“Definitely I think experience was a factor,” Mount Ararat coach Kelly LaFountain said. “We made it to the semifinals, and we only graduated two kids. They’ve all been here. They all know what it takes to get to this level.”
Mount Ararat (13-6) got 22 points from Mallory Nelson and 16 from Olivia Swan. Alex Rowe led Oxford Hills (11-8) with 17 and Abbie Eastman had 11.
“All the credit goes to the way Mount Ararat played,” Pelletier said. “They executed their game plan perfectly, and that’s what they needed to do.”
The Vikings started slow and struggled to get the offense going. They missed a bundle of shots in the post and couldn’t get loose for shots from the perimeter. Oxford Hills had burned the Eagles in the regular season split with 3’s.
“We wanted to give up the two-points and not the 3s,” said LaFountain of the Mount Ararat zone that frustrated the Vikings.
Oxford Hills still managed to stay within reach. A pair of baskets by Rowe cut the lead to 14-13 midway through the second, but Swan led a 9-2 run with nine of her 12 second-quarter points from off the bench.
“You say we’re going to make somebody other than their big kid beat us, and she beat us,” said Pelletier of Swan. “Hats off to her. She went off.”
The Vikings were still within 23-15 at the half. Eastman hit a 3 early in the third that cut the lead to 25-20. From there, Oxford Hills managed just three points in the quarter. The Vikings had seven turnovers and shot 3-for-10 while Mount Ararat used an 8-2 run to pull away.
“We definitely wanted to slow them down,” LaFountian said. “We knew it was going to be a slow-down game. They don’t like a game higher than the 30s or 40s. We were trying to push the tempo, but it was hard with the turnovers back-and-forth.”
Leading 27-21, Mount Ararat got a basket by Swan followed by a three-point play by Nelson. After an Anna Winslow basket, Kristi Willey drilled a 3 to make it 35-23 after three.
“We were very stagnant,” said Pelletier. “We’d miss a couple shots. They’d come down and take one and get fouled and seven would go to 10 points real quick.”
Mount Ararat had the lead to as many as 14 early in the fourth, but baskets by Rowe and 3s from Eastman and Crystal West helped get the Vikings within 39-32 with 4:10 left. The Eagles finished the game with a 12-5 run, with eight of those points coming from the free throw line. Mount Ararat hit its first 15 foul shots and finished 21-for-23.Nelson sank eight of them in the fourth.
“We’ve been working hard on our free throws,” LaFountain said. “That definitely helps.”