BY GENE DELORENZO
BRANDON – The Otter Valley girls basketball team defeated the visiting Hartford Hurricanes, 36-34, on Friday, January 28 at the “House of Noise” in Brandon. It was the second consecutive two-point win over an opponent in the gym. Otter Valley moved its record to 7-5 overall and Hartford dropped to 7-6.
The game started ominously for the Otters, when senior backcourt player Alice Keith had to leave the game after only two minutes at the 6:05 mark of the first period. Keith had apparently injured an ankle on a fall near the Hartford basket.
Otter Valley would struggle without its team leader on the floor, but two long three-pointers by Brittney Jackson and Elena Politano gave the Otters life as they finished the first quarter trailing by only two, 8-6. Keith would return for the second quarter after an emergency tape job. Despite being hobbled by the injury, she would provide enough stability for the home team to take an 18-11 lead into halftime.
Again, two threes, these provided by Jackson (again) and junior Anna Lee gave the Otters the seven-point cushion at the break. Hartford would only score two baskets in the second quarter as the Otters used scrambling defensive pressure against the hurricanes. Junior Ryleigh LaPorte was particularly outstanding all game long with her harassing defensive pressure on the Hartford guards.
The third quarter saw more of the same as the Otters expanded the lead to 12 at 24-12 with 4:05 left in the quarter. But a late mini run by Hartford cut the lead to 27-21 at the end of three as balanced scoring cut into the OV margin.
The fourth quarter saw more of the same as the Hurricanes continued their explosion. Scoring on four of the first five possessions of the quarter, the OV lead dwindled to two at 31-29 as Alice Keith would hit two free throws to hold off the Hurricane charge at the 6:14 mark. The determined senior would fend off every Hartford charge the rest of the way as Keith’s OV teammates kept getting the ball to Alice in the clutch situations where the Hurricanes had to foul, and the gutsy senior went to the line a total of 8 times and made seven of the free throws to ensure that the Otters would not lose the game. It was a terrific performance by a strong-willed player.
A late three by Sarah Howe of Hartford would cut the lead to one (35-34) with 58 seconds left on the clock but one more free throw by Keith would finish out the scoring. For Otter Valley, Keith and Jackson scored nine apiece, while Politano hit five points, Emily Peduto scored 8, Lee connected for three and Marissa Connors contributed two. Hartford was led by Elsie Davis with 12.
“I’m exhausted,” gushed a relieved Coach Ray Counter after the game. “Alice Keith is a very special player and she showed it once again tonight.”
He also offered congratulations to the contributions of the other starting players, who have improved considerably over the course of the season and did a great job during the game, particularly during Keith’s absence.
The next home game for the OV girls is Friday, Feb. 4 against Springfield.