AUGUSTA — Mountain Valley girls basketball coach Ryan Casey has been wondering all season what his team’s identity is, and he’s even challenged his own players with the question.

On Tuesday, the Falcons were ready with an answer.

Mountain Valley erupted for a 24-point second quarter, helping the Falcons to a 56-43 victory over Madison in the Capital City Hoops Classic at the Augusta Civic Center.

“For us, it’s a huge win,” Casey said. “We’ve talked a lot about trying to figure out who we are. We play really hard, but we lost some players that have very significant roles, leaders on our floor, people that settle our offense.

“Tonight was a rewarding game to watch us play with a little bit of composure on offense.”

Ashley Russell finished with 21 points, 15 of them coming in a second quarter that saw the Falcons (3-2) outscore the Bulldogs (4-2), 24-10.

“Mountain Valley put a lot of pressure on, and we responded to it some, but I think we need to respond to it a little bit harder and try to attack the basket a little bit more,” Madison coach Al Veneziano said. “We didn’t do that, so we didn’t get good looks at the basket.”

After a back-and-forth first quarter, all traces of drama were removed in the second. Russell single-handedly buried the Bulldogs by scoring the first 10 points of the frame, six coming on baskets from the point, two from free throws and the final two from a deep jumper after an offensive rebound kept the possession alive.

“She’s an all-around great player,” said Casey. “We’re trying to help her develop the offensive end of her game. Over the years she’s had to run our offense for us. This year, she’s had to do more of the (scoring).”

An Ashley Emery 3-pointer allowed Madison to end the run, but with a 23-13 lead, the damage was done.

“I thought we played hard, I just thought they were obviously on and they hit some baskets,” Veneziano said. “I’ve got to give them credit, they did a good job today.”

Mountain Valley also got five points from Emily Laubauskas (15 points) in the quarter, showcasing an offense that shot 8-of-17 from the field while both reliably hitting jumpers and countering Madison’s full-court press with long passes to set up easy baskets underneath.

“I really think that was probably our best quarter so far this year,” Casey said. “Madison’s a great team, they’re well-coached, and we knew they were going to come at us with everything. … Defensively, we knew they were going to pressure us, so we had to look up the floor.”

The second quarter put Madison in trouble, but the Bulldogs had some life left. Madison held the Falcons without a point for the first 4:13 of the third quarter, then cut the gap to 37-26 when Sydney LeBlanc hit first a free throw and then a 3-pointer after an offensive rebound with 5:37 to play in the frame.

The comeback was short-lived. Chelsea Allison hit a 3-pointer to cap a 9-0 run that made it 46-26 with 3:07 to go in the third.

“They started meeting their challenge,” Veneziano said of the team’s brief rally. “That’s all you can ask them to do.”

Emery had 16 points for the Bulldogs, while Lauren Hay, one of their top scorers, had 10 while battling foul trouble. She picked up her third infraction with 3:58 to go in the second quarter.

“When one gets into foul trouble, we need to make sure that we get subs in for her,” Veneziano said. “Make sure she has some rest at that point, and get her back in. She played hard throughout the whole game. She finished with four fouls, she didn’t foul out, so I thought she played hard and didn’t let the foul trouble bother her.”

Disappointing as the loss was, Veneziano had no intention to wipe it from his team’s memory.

“Obviously, you’ve got to learn from it,” he said. “You learn the aggressive style that they played, and we’ve just got to match that style. I think we can do that.”

The same goes for Casey, who hopes his team gained confidence points that could carry it through the rest of the season.

“This was definitely a test of where we stand,” he said. “We’ve seen three of the best teams in the (Mountain Valley Conference) already. We saw Boothbay, we saw Monmouth. It’s a chance to have in our heads that we can play with these tough teams.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM