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Hurricanes Get a Rough-and-Tumble Win in Opener

White River Junction — During a second-half pause in yesterday’s girls basketball game between Hartford and visiting Union-32, the sound of a coin bouncing on the hardwood echoed throughout the gymnasium. Heads turned while Hurricanes senior Kelsey Kehoe tried to surreptitiously retrieve the 2010 quarter that had popped out of her shorts.

Kehoe was hoping to stuff the money back in her waistband before the officials noticed. After an awkward pause, however, she handed the alloy piece to her father, befuddled Hartford coach Ed Kehoe, who didn’t realize his daughter had found the quarter face-up before the game or that she’d tucked it in on her person.

Kelsey Kehoe’s coin wasn’t the only thing hitting the deck during the afternoon tilt. Fulfilling Ed’s exhortations to press and bang, charge and scuffle, the Hurricanes clobbered their way to a 26-23 victory that was sometimes as painful to watch as it must have been to play.

“You didn’t know rugby was a Vermont varsity sport, did you?” Hartford Athletic Director Joe James joked moments after the teams concluded their season opener.

Ed Kehoe previously coached the girls teams at Mascoma and Sunapee and has inherited a defending Vermont Division II championship squad that graduated three talented scorers earlier this year. With no players listed at taller than 5-foot-10, Kehoe has instituted a high-pressure, physical style that left observers wincing and marveling yesterday. The teams combined for 25 first-half fouls and more than a dozen jump balls were whistled.

“This is half basketball and half roller derby,” remarked another area coach, scouting the Hurricanes for his team’s matchup with them later this season.

Said Kehoe: “We’re in it to come at you for four quarters. We need to cut down on some of the reaching and bumping, but our (style) this year is going to be to outwork and outhustle you, and sometimes that gets into rough play.

“When you leave Hartford, you’re going to know you played us. We’re going to inflict our will on people.”

The problem with that approach, if it’s taken too far, is that it can turn into a self-inflicted wound. U32 led 13-12 at halftime primarily because it made 11 of- 16 free throws. The Raiders sank just one of their eight field-goal attempts before intermission and only 4 of 25 during the game, but if they could have maintained their accuracy rate from the charity stripe, the outcome might have been different. The visitors made only 4-of-12 free throws during the second half and missed four of their last five.

“I’m not worried as much about (opponents’) free throw shooting as I am about some of our kids getting in foul trouble,” said Kehoe, whose team hosts Burr & Burton on Tuesday. “But we played 10 kids today and if some of our starters foul out, we have others who could come in and and play the same style without missing a beat.”

Hartford was led in scoring by senior forward Stephanie Grobe and sophomore guard Taylor Johnson, who each had seven points. Forward Heather Illingworth and guard Chelsea Dow, both sophomores, each contributed four points. U32 received 11 points from junior center Madison Bennett.

Hartford made only 4 of 18 field-goal attempts during the first half and was 4 of 17 on free throws, but its pressure defense forced 12 turnovers before intermission and 23 during the game. The Hurricanes took the lead for good at 16-15 midway through the third quarter, then pushed their lead to 22-15 after Johnson hit her team’s lone 3-point shot of the afternoon and Dow added a 2-point bucket.

The Raiders twice cut their deficit to four points during the fourth quarter, at 24-20 and 26-22. After the first instance, however, they turned the ball over with a chance to pull even closer. Following the second, U32 missed four consecutive free throws.

“For a first effort, that’s not bad,” Kehoe said. “I thought our defense was solid in the full and half court. That was a pretty good team that had some good ball-handlers. We (scrimmaged Mount St. Joseph) and just overwhelmed them. They couldn’t even bring the ball up against us. Those are the teams we’re going to try and prey on.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 602-727-3227.