BARRE —

The Spaulding girls basketball team is just one quarter away from inking its first victory of the season.

The Crimson Tide fell, 46-41, against Mount Mansfield on Tuesday. But the real story is that they're competitive. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that it's the best team Spaulding (0-7) has fielded in several years.

Despite a stretch of losses, senior Samantha Owen, now playing in her fourth year, remains optimistic.

“I think the hardest thing is knowing that we have a group of girls who can do it and try their hardest every single day,” Owen said. “Just being so close is hard, especially with all the heart we give and that this team has. We pride ourselves in the fact that no matter what the score is, we play our hearts out every single game.”

Caitlin Liutjens scored 18 points for the Cougars as they held off a furious rally from the home team. Natalie Folland scored 17 to lead Spaulding.

After a second quarter in which the Crimson Tide managed to score just two points — both from the foul line — they turned that same trick over on their opponents in the third. Much of the credit for that turnaround goes to Spaulding freshman guard Emily Poulin (eight points, 6 of 8 free throws), who proved to be a defensive pest and free throw wizard as she led her team on a 13-point run that was capped when Folland drained a three-pointer to pull the team to 40-37. Folland then turned in the shot of the night with a fake and step left, draining a jumper from the elbow to make it 40-39 on the next possession.

“I think we all got to see what Natalie can do in just that one play,” Spaulding coach James Carpenter said. “This has been the tale of our season so far though. We don’t seem to step up our energy until we’re facing adversity. Our defense is solid in spurts, but we just haven’t matched the intensity of our opponents. Emily has great energy and is a bit of a mad dog defensively and was a great sparkplug for us. Her defensive instincts are the best on our team.”

The Spaulding comeback didn’t surprise MMU coach Mark Pfaff, and he reminded his team during a timeout that getting out with a win wasn’t going to be easy now that Spaulding had found their bite.

“It was a battle and I give Spaulding a lot of credit,” Pfaff said. “They just kept coming at us. I felt we were executing our offense and were getting some dump-ins in the fourth but we just couldn’t hit those chippies. We like to run and didn’t much opportunity to do that today. They really slowed this down, but I love this group I have and the way they don’t roll over.”

MMU’s offense in the fourth came primarily from the free throw line, where they managed to hold on as they made enough plays on the boards and forced Spaulding to foul down the stretch.

“I think we have the talent to play with teams we just have to believe in ourselves,” Carpenter said.

MMU (4-4) will face Colchester on Friday. Spaulding (0-7) travels to Essex.

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