HAMPDEN, Maine — Oxford Hills High School coach Nate Pelletier wasn’t pleased with his team’s man-to-man defense against Hampden Academy in the first half so he dipped into his bag of defenses at halftime and came out with a 2-3 zone for the second half.
He certainly made the right decision.
The defending State Class AA champs held Hampden Academy to three third-quarter points and a 1-for-14 shooting performance from the floor and rattled off 13 unanswered points themselves to earn a 52-41 victory in a battle of 4-0 teams.
“We had to find something that was going to work. Hampden is very good against the man-to-man. They have a lot of cutters and they shot the three very well in the first half,” said Pelletier. “It seemed to slow them down a bit.”
Junior guard Sierra Carson paced the athletic Vikings with 18 points and four rebounds. Senior guard-forward Chloe Estes contributed 13 points, 11 coming in the second half.
Molly Corbett produced nine points and four rebounds, Brooklyn Alexander had six points, six rebounds and two steals, and Ella Pelletier, Nate’s freshman daughter, notched nine rebounds and two points.
Junior guard Bella McLaughlin’s game-high 21 points led the Broncos. She also grabbed eight rebounds. Lauren Voteur had seven points and three rebounds and Emma Haskell registered six points and four rebounds. Camryn Neal had five points and three rebounds before leaving with a knee injury with 2:53 left in the game.
Lucy Wiles corralled nine rebounds and had a basket and Taylor Gardner grabbed four rebounds.
Carson said the key to the 2-3 zone was their communication and movement.
“We stopped their cuts. We had to do something they weren’t used to. It was hard for them to adjust,” Carson said.
“We had shots but we just didn’t make them. We became impatient. We became a one-pass offense. We moved the ball around in the first half and had some long possessions,” said Hampden Academy coach Nick Winchester.
“Oxford Hills made some adjustments. They took away our perimeter shots in the second half,” he added. “They’re a championship team. They took advantage of our miscues.”
“Our offense is definitely made for [man-to-man],” McLaughlin said. “We were moving the ball decently well but we were taking shots and not making them. If we had put a couple in, it might have been a little different. But we couldn’t convert and then they had that run and we couldn’t recover.”
The teams battled on even terms in the first half with Hampden Academy building three four-point leads before Carson hit two free throws with three-tenths of a second remaining in the half to pull the Vikings within 30-28 at the intermission.
Alexander dropped in an offensive rebound to open the second half for Oxford Hills but McLaughlin answered with a 3-pointer for Hampden to make it 33-30.
The Broncos never scored again in the period.
Pelletier’s two free throws began the 13-0 run and Estes nailed a three to give the visitors the lead for good.
Corbett followed by looping a pass over a Bronco defender to Estes for a layup.
The final three baskets were on nifty drives by the talented and quick-footed Carson.
“I just tried to use my speed to get by them and get open shots,” Carson said.
“That was Sierra being Sierra,” Pelletier said.
“She’s tough,” said McLaughlin, who scored all 11 of Hampden’s second-half points.
McLaughlin’s free throw and layup off a Haskell pass began the fourth quarter to pull Hampden Academy within 43-36.
But following a Corbett free throw, Estes drove the lane for three unanswered baskets to sew up the win.
“[Hampden Academy] was closing in on the ball and that left me open in the post,” Estes said.
Pelletier was pleased with the win.
“I was very impressed with the resiliency of our girls,” Pelletier said. “Hampden has a great team. They’re going to be in the mix at the end.”
“I told our girls that Oxford Hills’ pedigree for finishing games is super high,” Winchester said.
And he proved to be right.