FARMINGDALE — It could be an extra year of experience, more maturity, or simply better foul shooting. Whether it’s one reason or all of them, the Hall-Dale girls had a devil of a time closing out games last season, and now they’re getting pretty good at it.
This newfound strength has put the Bulldogs on a four-game win streak. The latest victory came Thursday night, as Hall-Dale held off an under-sized but certainly not under-talented Monmouth team, 49-42, in Mountain Valley Conference girls basketball action.
“We’ve done that four times now this year — winning close games and really executing in the endgame,” Hall-Dale coach Brandon Terrill said. “I think last year, we had a little bit of skittishness: ‘Oh, I don’t want to be stuck with the ball right now. I’m nervous! I gotta get rid of this thing!’ This year, I think we have more confidence, and we’re comfortable in those situations.”
Junior guard Nicole Pelletier led the Bulldogs with a season-high 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while senior center Allison Crockett contributed 12 points and 16 rebounds. Crockett also had two key blocked shots in the fourth quarter — one to spring Pelletier for a breakaway layup, and another that she grabbed and drew a foul to hit a clutch free throw.
Monmouth (6-5) had only two leads in the game, 2-0 and 23-20 when senior Paxton Lessard hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the third quarter. Lessard hit four bombs in the third quarter, and finished six of seven from long range for 18 points.
“She’s had a couple games that way,” Monmouth coach Scott Wing said. “She pretty much won us the Oak Hill game.”
Otherwise, Hall-Dale (7-4) played fine defense. Wing said the Mustangs usually score 15 to 20 points per game from the foul line. Despite using a full-court press and forcing 29 turnovers Thursday, Hall-Dale committed few fouls, and had a 21-5 advantage in free throw attempts.
“We practice not fouling people,” Terrill said. “We call fouls in practice, and we talk about technique and fundamentals of playing defense without fouling. We’re starting to execute that. We’re starting to play pretty smart basketball.”
Hall-Dale led 10-7 after one quarter, then used a 7-0 run sparked by Pelletier and Molly French to go ahead 17-9. Monmouth cut that to 20-17 by halftime, but a 9-0 Hall-Dale run gave the Bulldogs a 29-23 edge midway through the third quarter. With Lessard’s shooting keeping Monmouth close, the game was tied at 35 early in the fourth.
Behind Pelletier, Eva Shepherd, Dani Sweet and Crockett, the Bulldogs were 12 of 16 from the line in the fourth quarter and were able to build a lead from that tie. When Shepherd hit two foul shots with 1:03 to play, Hall-Dale was comfortably ahead at 47-38.
A nine-point lead with 63 seconds left is usually safe, but Monmouth wouldn’t quit. Kylie Kemp (11 points) drove for a basket and Sidney Wilson banked in a shot off a steal, making it 47-42 with 41 seconds to play. After a timeout, Kemp soared to pluck a long pass out of the air, but was whistled for traveling as the Monmouth fans hooted over the call.
“I think it was just an athletic play,” Wing said. “It might have been a travel by rule, but I think you’ve got to let kids play a little bit.”
With Lessard fouled out by that point, Monmouth was finally out of time. It was still a strong showing for the Mustangs, and more proof that Hall-Dale is a little bit different team this winter.
“Last year, we had a lot of young people on our team,” Pelletier said. “But this year, we’re all coming together. Everything’s kind of clicking, and it just makes sense and feels right.”