By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — Early on the visiting Otter Valley girls’ basketball team on Friday looked determined to take it to Middlebury, using tough man-to-man defense to force a batch of turnovers and a balanced attack to bolt to a 11-4 lead after one period.
But that surge didn’t last.
Tiger senior forward Ele Sellers erupted for 30 points, the Tigers dominated the boards for the rest of the game, and outscored the Otters by 20-6 in the second period on the way to a 54-35 victory.
OV came within four points in the fourth quarter behind the scoring of senior Emily Peduto, but the Tigers’ dominance on the glass ended the rally: Tiger freshman forward Solstice Binder scored 10 points in a game-clinching 13-4 run.
Tiger Coach Chris Altemose pointed to the second quarter as even more pivotal than that run, however. Sellers scored 15 of her points after missing every shot she took from the floor in the first period, and she, Binder and junior forward Kaitlyn Brown controlled the boards in the second quarter.
In the opening period, OV had taken its seven-point lead as Peduto scored four, senior Ryleigh LaPorte converted a layup in transition and also set up classmate Elena Politano on the break as the Otters capitalized on forced Tigers turnovers, and sophomore Matelin LaPorte sank a three. The lead could have been larger, but OV missed five out of six free throws.
Then the Tigers countered. Altemose pointed to one sequence that provided a spark: The Tigers grabbed three offensive rebounds before the Otters finally fouled Sellers on the fourth. Sellers then hit two free throws to bring the Tigers to within 13-7.
“That’s what kind of turned it around,” he said.
In that period, Sellers hit two three-pointers as well as five free throws and couple of buckets in the lane. As the Tigers picked up their defensive intensity, others chipped in on offense: Sophomore Jazmin Hurley hit a jumper off a feed from senior Cady Pitner, sophomore Kassidy Brown hit a free throw, and senior Makayla Swan capped the period with a layup on a pass from Binder after an offensive board.
Altemose said better defense gave the Tigers confidence.
“We started applying some defensive pressure, which got them on their heels a little bit,” he said.
OV Coach Ray Counter had a short list of what turned the game around in the Tigers’ favor.
“We were boxing out a little better early on and getting in position on rebounds. We stopped doing that,” Counter said. “We stopped moving on offense, and we didn’t have an answer for Ele.”
Altemose described his message to his team as “stay the course” after the first period.
“It’s a long game. There’s going to be ups and downs. Stay positive, stay focused, stay together, and keep doing what we’re doing,” Altemose said. “And they did that.”
Early in the third period, OV pulled to within six when Ryleigh LaPorte stole a pass and cruised in for a layup. But the Tigers responded with a 9-4 run to close the period and lead by 35-24. Putbacks from Politano and Peduto kept OV within shouting distance.
Peduto then sparked a 9-2 OV run over the first 2:38 of the third quarter, hitting a three, two free throws and a jumper. Freshman Breanna Bovey added a pair of free throws, and with only a Sellers hoop answering, it was 36-32.
Enter Binder. Over the next 2:33 the freshman made five layups, four after offensive boards and one on a feed from Pitner. Sellers added a three-point play during the decisive 13-4 run. OV answered in that span only with a three from freshman Hannah Desabrais and a free throw from senior Anna Lee.
Binder complemented Sellers’s 30-point night with 12 points, and Swan added seven; they led seven Tigers who put points in the scorebook.
Peduto led OV with 14 points, and Ryleigh LaPorte was next with six.
Counter believes the Otters will iron out the wrinkles and be a better team when MUHS visits Brandon on Dec. 23, not to mention by February.
“We have got to be better rebounders, because we’re not great shooters. We have to create offense from all different aspects of the game. I’ve got confidence the girls will do it,” he said.
The Otters play at Fair Haven on Thursday.
Altemose said he appreciated the defensive intensity of his bench players — Hurley, Brown, Binder and sophomore Margaret Orten in particular made in impact at that end of the court — as well as that of his starters.
“We change up some defenses, and we were constantly changing personnel,” Altemose said. “I think we’re clearly getting some leadership from our seniors and also some spark from the people coming off the bench. And I feel like it’s a nice combination.”
A tough test at Division I Essex awaits Middlebury on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
“We’ve got to just keep plugging away and getting better and better,” Altemose said. “What I love about this group is they have positive energy, they’re in it for each other, and they’re scrappy.”