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Eagles End Canes’ Reign

  • Hartford High senior Zach Temple, center, concentrates while watching the Hurricanes’ girls basketball team in its Vermont Division II semifinal against No. 1 Mount Abraham last night at Barre Auditorium. All of Temple’s rooting couldn’t prevent Hartford from dropping a 56-48 decision. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Hartford High senior Zach Temple, center, concentrates while watching the Hurricanes’ girls basketball team in its Vermont Division II semifinal against No. 1 Mount Abraham last night at Barre Auditorium. All of Temple’s rooting couldn’t prevent Hartford from dropping a 56-48 decision. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford’s Stephanie Grobe, center, yells in frustration losing possession of the basketball. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Hartford’s Stephanie Grobe, center, yells in frustration losing possession of the basketball. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mount Abraham’s Ashlie Fay, left, lunges for the rebound alongside Hartford’s Devon Day during the Eagles’ Vermont Division II girls basketball semifinal win over the Hurricanes last night. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Mount Abraham’s Ashlie Fay, left, lunges for the rebound alongside Hartford’s Devon Day during the Eagles’ Vermont Division II girls basketball semifinal win over the Hurricanes last night. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford High senior Zach Temple, center, concentrates while watching the Hurricanes’ girls basketball team in its Vermont Division II semifinal against No. 1 Mount Abraham last night at Barre Auditorium. All of Temple’s rooting couldn’t prevent Hartford from dropping a 56-48 decision. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Hartford’s Stephanie Grobe, center, yells in frustration losing possession of the basketball. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Mount Abraham’s Ashlie Fay, left, lunges for the rebound alongside Hartford’s Devon Day during the Eagles’ Vermont Division II girls basketball semifinal win over the Hurricanes last night. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Barre, Vt. — During the regular season, the Mount Abraham High girls basketball team didn’t spend much of its precious practice time shooting free throws.

But with increased gymnasium availability on their Bristol, Vt., campus over the last several weeks, the Eagles have spent more time rehearsing from the charity stripe and it showed in last night’s 56-48 Division II semifinal win over Hartford at the Barre Auditorium.

Top-ranked Mount Abe (22-1) hit 23-for-29 for the game — and a crucial 15-for-18 from the line in the final nine minutes — as the Eagles avenged last year’s championship game loss to the Hurricanes.

Riding a 10-game winning streak, fourth-ranked Hartford lost for the first time since January as the Canes finished 19-4 in their first season under Ed Kehoe.

The Eagles take on the winner of tonight’s BFA-Fairfax/Union-32 game on Thursday in search of their first title since 1997.

After the teams traded nine lead changes in the first half, Eagles’ junior captain Ashlie Fay stepped up and scored 15 of her game-high 19 points in the final two quarters as Mount Abraham pulled away with speedy guard play and accurate shooting.

The Eagles hit eight-of-13 field goal attempts in the second half, including 7-for-11 in a third quarter in which they outscored the Hurricanes, 21-8, to turn a 20-19 halftime edge into a 41-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

With Hartford in bonus foul trouble from the early stages of the fourth, Mount Abraham went into a stall, forcing the Canes to come out after the ball and foul to regain possession.

The Eagles then converted 13-of-16 from the line to help thwart a valiant Hartford comeback attempt in the final minutes.

“We only get hour-and-a-half practices at our gym, so it’s not very practical for us to spend a lot of time shooting free throws,” said Eagles coach Connie LaRose. “We’re one of the only teams in town still playing now, so we’re up to two-hour practices and we’ve been shooting (more) free throws. I think that’s helped us a lot in the playoffs.”

The largest lead by either team was three points in the first half as the teams traded layups and stifled one another with their respective press defenses.

Stephanie Grobe managed eight points in the paint in the first quarter, including a dribble-drive to tie the score, 10-10, and answer a 3-pointer from Mount Abe’s Meg Livingston (13 points).

Back-and-forth they went, with Grobe and Fay each hitting a pair from the line before a jump shot from Isabell Brennan (nine points) putting the Eagles up 20-17. Kehoe’s layup then made it 20-19 at halftime.

Mount Abraham’s four-guard offense gained traction in the third quarter, breaking Hartford’s press and sinking a pair of 3’s in the first 2:30 to make it 26-21.

That started a 15-6 Mount Abe run, with Fay scoring the last seven points of the rally on a 3-point play, a jump shot and steal and fast break layup to put the Eagles ahead by double figures at 35-25.

Devon Day’s putback made it 35-27, but Mount Abe added six more in the final minute of the quarter, including another steal and layup from Livingston at the buzzer to make it 41-27.

“Their girls were quick and started running by us,” said Kehoe. “They were the fastest guards we’ve played all year, and they were able to get some transition layups. We’re definitely a team of runs and a team that likes to run, and they kind of gave us a taste of our own medicine in that third quarter.”

It appeared Mount Abe might stall itself out of a win in the fourth quarter, giving the momentum back to a Hartford team that didn’t quit.

With captains Grobe (13 points) and Kelsey Kehoe (nine) both fouling out in the fourth quarter, the Canes hit five 3-pointers to draw closer. Chelsea Dow (nine points) sank a pair of 3’s to bring the Canes within 41-33 and, after Mount Abe sank six straight free throws, junior Taylor Johnson (13 points) hit three 3’s in a span of 34 seconds to make it 50-43 with 2:41 remaining.

But Hartford then turned it over a number of times in the final three minutes as Mount Abe closed out the victory.

“We started giving it to (Grobe) in the middle so our shooters would get outside,” Kehoe said. “We got it closer, but we just dropped too many balls and couldn’t get all the way back.”

Free Throws: In their final games, Grobe fouled out with 4:42 remaining and Kehoe with 44 seconds left. ... Mount Abraham attempted just two field goals in the fourth quarter. ... Hartford held a 25-17 rebounding advantage. ... The Eagles had 19 turnovers to 18 for Hartford. ... The Canes were one-win short of last year’s 11-game wining streak to finish the season. ... Mount Abraham is 1-6 in state final overall, including setbacks to conclude each of the last two seasons.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

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Hartford vs. Mount Abraham girls basketball semifinal game in Barre, Vt., on March 11, 2013. Mount Abraham won, 56-48. Valley News — Sarah Priestap …