BY TOM HALEY
BARRE – If the Mount St. Joseph girls basketball coaches had a concern before Saturday’s Division IV girls basketball game, it might have been about the Law of Averages. The Mounties had beaten the West Rutland Golden Horde seven straight times. But this was about the Law of Defense. The Mounties tightened up the defense, closed on the Horde’s 3-point shooters and won 50-36, taking the home the state crown for the third straight year.
Jenna Eaton keyed that defense, hounding Westside’s ball handlers and scoring 17 points on top of that.
“We were down by four at the half and just needed to come out with everything we had,” Eaton said. “We played great defense and we made our free throws. Free throws win championships.”
When the Golden Horde got behind and was forced to foul, the Mounties cashed in. They made 22 of their 36 free throws.
Shannon Elms was a workhorse on the board for the Mounties and added 11 points.
Seniors Elms, Eaton, Olivia Corbett, Gabby Giancola, Izzy Harvey and Bethany Garrow were part of a special run as the Mounties went 86-6 over the past four years. Another senior, Bryn McClallen, a 100-goal scorer in soccer, came out for the first time this season.
“We couldn’t get a shot to fall (in the second half),” West Rutland coach Carl Serrani said. “And for some reason we lost control of the boards.”
The game shifted dramatically in the first half with MSJ winning the first quarter, 10-5, and the Golden Horde battling back to take a 19-15 halftime lead. Raiche converted a layup off a turnover to give the Horde its first lead, 10-8, and they built that into their halftime advantage.
It did not take the Mounties long to establish their superiority once they came back upstairs for the third quarter.
Westside’s all-time girls leading scorer Brooke Raiche rang up a hoop to extend the lead to 21-15, but then came the charge by MSJ.
Garrow scored inside and Eaton connected on a 3-point field goal to put the Mounties into a 22-21 lead.
Callahan canned two free throws to put the Horde back into the game but then Garrow scored inside and the Mounties had the lead for keeps.
MSJ put a stranglehold on the game early in the fourth quarter. Eaton made two free throws and Shannon Elms knocked down an 8-footer, compelling Serrani to call a timeout with the score 32-25.
But they could not stop the bleeding. Two free throws by Garrow gave the Mounties their first double-digit lead with 4:35 to go.
Raiche sliced it to 36-28 with a 3-pointer but the Horde never got closer.
“We preached defense in the second half,” MSJ coach Dan Elliot said. “We wanted to defend the 3-point line.”
“It was definitely our defense,” MSJ freshman Lyndsey Elms said. “We tried to close out on the 3-point shooters because they made some in the first half.”
It was special for Lyndsey to be able to play in a state championship season with her older sister.
“Last year I went to all the practices and sat on the bench as an eighth grader,” Lyndsey said. “To be able to come out here and do this with her was great.”
Garrow followed Eaton and Shannon Elms in scoring with nine points. Harvey and Lyndsey Elms added five each.
Kelsey Wedin led West Rutland with 12 points. Raiche had eight, Callahan seven and Julia May six.
It was also a memorable ride for another freshman. Angela Perry was the goalkeeper on an MSJ soccer team that lost in the quarterfinals and now she was at the pinnacle of the D-IV hoop world.
“All the coaches were so great this year,” Perry said. “Keith Fortier was my goalie coach and all the basketball were just great.”
Perry said having beaten the Horde both times during the season was a confidence booster while they were trailing at halftime.
“I think we were pretty confident because we had already beaten them. It didn’t mean we had it, but we knew that we had what it took,” Perry said.
No. 1. Three straight titles, A spectacular 86-6 mark the past four years. A remarkable resume.
It’s one they want to keep building.
The Horde? Softball practice begins on Monday. This group wants an elusive state title that has been eluding them all of their high school career. There’s always the next thing.