FARMINGDALE — The Spruce Mountain and Hall-Dale girls basketball teams went at one another furiously last season, splitting a pair of games as they set the standard for play in the Mountain Valley Conference.
They picked up where they left off in Saturday night’s season opener, albeit with a number of fresh faces in each starting lineup. In the end, Spruce Mountain forced too many turnovers (37) as they pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 54-39 victory.
The visiting Phoenix took the lead at the end of the first half and never gave it up although Hall-Dale pulled to within a point midway in the third quarter. Spruce Mountain sophomore Kailee Newcomb scored a game-high 20 points, including eight in the fourth quarter while teammate Emily Keene, another sophomore, added 13.
“Even though we’re young, I don’t like to play that youth card,” Spruce Mountain coach Gavin Kane said. “We’re confident in our abilities. A lot of our sophomore class got pretty significant time as freshmen last year.”
Senior Natasha Brown led the Bulldogs with 19 points, including three 3-pointers, while junior Allison Crockett hauled down 17 rebounds.
“I started last year but this year it’s changed dramatically,” Brown said. “I’m not used to having a younger team. But it’s coming along good and this isn’t the last you’ve seen of us.”
The Phoenix threatened to run the Bulldogs out of their own gym in the first quarter as they pressured the ball full-court and jumped out to a 10-0 lead. But Hall-Dale hung tough. Following a timeout,Hall-Dale coach Brandon Terrill switched defenses from man-to-man to a 1-3-1 zone and it flustered the Phoenix. Brown scored nine points as the Bulldogs finished the quarter with a 12-0 run to take a two-point lead at the break.
“It looked for a minute there like they were really going to pull away,” Terrill said. “So I was really proud of the way our kids settled down and chipped away at it.”
Hall-Dale ran its lead to six (22-16) when Brown banked in a 3 from the top of the circle but the lead was short-lived. Newcomb scored twice as the Phoenix closed the half with an 8-0 run to take a 27-24 lead, one they never relinquished.
The Bulldogs forced 21 Spruce Mountain turnovers with a combination of full- and half-court pressure, but they were still minus 16 in the turnover department.
“That’s our philosophy,” Kane said. “More times than not we’re going to try to go at it with a lot of full-court pressure for 32 minutes.”
It was still a game when the Bulldogs trailed 45-39 with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left, but the Phoenix spread the floor, made a couple of layups and converted their free throws.
“This is our first game and we’re going to learn from that,” Brown said.
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638