WALES — Oak Hill led for much of its girls basketball season opener against Madison, but the Bulldogs never lost their resolve. 

Madison coach Albert Veneziano lauded his team’s heart after its 42-41 win Friday, and it was evident at the end when Lauria LeBlanc grabbed an offensive rebound and made a layup while being fouled with nine seconds left in the game to tie it at 41-41. 

LeBlanc hit the free throw to complete the three-point play and give the Bulldogs a 42-41 lead and, seconds later, the win. 

“The plan was to run offense as long as we could and hopefully get a basket once we ran through the offense,” LeBlanc said. “I knew I had to get a shot up because my defender was really on me, so I knew if I got it up she was going to foul me anyways, so I knew we had a chance at points.”

Just before Madison’s final possession, Oak Hill’s Audrey Dillman found teammate Desirae Dumais on a cut into the paint for a layup that gave the Raiders a 41-39 lead with 31 seconds left.

Oak Hill had a six-point lead with five minutes left in the game, one point away from its biggest lead of the game, so LeBlanc’s score was the finishing touch on a gritty comeback. 

Before the game-deciding free throw, LeBlanc was anxious but said that knowing the game was tied eased her mind.

“I was really stressed at first, but then all my teammates came around me and said, ‘Relax, you got this, you can shoot it,’” LeBlanc said.

After LeBlanc made the free throw, the Raiders found Emily Dillman in the corner for a good look at a 3-pointer, but the shot was off and Oak Hill couldn’t get another one up before the buzzer. 

“The league is going to be pretty even this year, so there are going to be a lot of games that are going to be barn burners and you gotta do a couple more plays than the other team,” Oak Hill coach Mike Labonte said. “They were solid, that’s a good team and a great drive at the end and she got the roll tonight.” 

Shots just weren’t falling for the Bulldogs early in the game and the Raiders jumped out to a 12-5 lead after the first quarter. Dumais finished the first frame with three of her 10 points along with two assists and three rebounds. The Oak Hill senior was a focal point of the Madison’s defense that started out in a zone before switching to a man-to-man in the second half. 

LeBlanc was all over the court on defense from the start, jumping passes and deflecting balls off the dribble. She made four of her eight steals in the first quarter. 

“We knew we had to get out in front and look where they were passing and get in those gaps,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc’s defense helped the Bulldogs slow down Dumais, the only healthy senior on the Oak Hill roster. 

“(LeBlanc) was all over it,” Veneziano said. “We challenged (Dumais) and she’s one of their better players so hopefully we build from this and make it so that we are improving from this point forward.”

Madison fought back in the second quarter behind the offensive outburst of senior forward Katie Worthen, who scored five of her game-high 18 in the period. 

The Bulldogs’ defense, meanwhile, held Dumais scoreless and decreased the deficit to 21-18 by halftime.

Gabrielle Chessie paced Oak Hill with five points in the second.

At halftime, Madison switched its defense to man-to-man and reaped the benefits.

“We were pressing zone and got back and played zone, and I thought that was effective but I think when we went to man it got us moving a little bit more and I didn’t think we rebounded especially well out of the zone,” Veneziano said. “Once we got into man we got moving and boxing out, and things went better from there.”

Madison outscored Oak Hill 13-9 in the third and took a one-point lead into the fourth. Brooke McKenney and Emily Edgerly each scored four points to help the Bulldogs carry much-needed momentum into the final quarter. 

Things got dicey in the fourth for Madison when Oak Hill’s Emily Dillman stole the ball at half-court and scored, then on the next possession hit a straight-away 3-pointer to put the Raiders up 37-31 with five minutes left. 

Madison weathered the storm, and back-to-back scores from Worthen brought the Bulldogs back into the game before LeBlanc’s game-winner. 

Labonte said the Raiders’ youth became a problem late in the game. 

“Basketball has its ebbs and flows, and they had a little run and we had a little run and they made the last shot,” Labonte said. “I think we had a little bit of energy in the first half and I think maybe we got a little worn down a little bit because of us having younger girls as well.”

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