TOWNSHEND -- A basketball player named Jordan led their team in points and made a pair of clutch free throws down the stretch.
Freshman guard Jordan "Air" Gouger went 2-for-2 from the charity stripe to give the Leland & Gray girls a one-point lead with 1:49 remaining and the host Rebels held on to defeat Mill River Union, 26-24, on Thursday night.
"Whenever I’ve told a freshman right before game time in the past that they are starting, they looked at me like a deer in headlights," said Leland & Gray coach Gregg Morrow. "But when I told Jordan, she goes, ‘good, I’m ready.’"
She wasn’t kidding.
On a night when scoring was very rare, the Rebels had to feel really good about their five-point lead with eight minutes to go. But Mill River whipped the ball around Leland & Gray’s half-court zone in the fourth quarter, resulting in an 8-2 surge that gave them a 24-23 edge with 3:11 showing on the clock.
However, the Minutemen weren’t able to add any more points down the stretch. And they were often limited to just one shot, as Haley Buffum and Ashley Goddard continually yanked down defensive rebounds.
Gouger calmly sank two free throws with 1:49 remaining to put the Rebels ahead 25-24. And Chelby Nystrom would later tack on another freebie for the two-point lead.
It all came down to a Mill River inbounds play in the final seconds, which turned into an 18-foot shot by Jessica Audy that went in and out.
"She had a good look. We’re just fortunate that she missed it," said coach Morrow, who said his team pretended they were going man-to-man on the inbounds play before switching to a 2-3 zone.
With Alex Morrow, Buffum, Goddard, Nystrom and Gouger playing good team defense, the hosts opened up an 11-5 advantage in the first eight minutes. And the Rebels ended the first quarter with an 8-2 rally -- Nystrom kissed home a deep deuce, Gouger scored on a drive and with a trifecta, and Morrow swished a 15-footer.
Mill River’s Nicole Ames and Audy each had a couple of steals in the second quarter, which began with Ames burying her second 3 of the game. A bank shot by Buffum was Leland & Gray’s lone make from the field, before they went to the break up 15-8.
Morrow was in on a couple of third-quarter highlights, including a nice backdoor feed to Goddard for an easy bucket and another 15-foot jumper. Trisha Burden carried the Minutemen, as she drilled a mid-range shot and later delivered on the low post.
But the home crowd still felt comfortable with a 21-16 lead and just eight minutes showing on the clock.
Burden sparked Mill River’s 8-2 run to begin the fourth quarter, when she took a bullet pass from Kyle Weatherhogg and converted the bunny. Karissa Shaw, Weatherhogg and Audy would all hit a pair of free throws as the visitors went ahead 24-23 at the 3:11 mark.
That’s when Buffum and Goddard became animals on the defensive boards, and a freshman named Jordan stepped to the line to give Leland & Gray the lead for good.
Gouger (7 points), Goddard (6) and Morrow (6) paced the winners offensively. Ames and Burden each scored eight to lead Mill River.
The 1-1 Rebels will play at Bellows Falls on Monday.
Shane Covey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 163.