MANCHESTER — A stifling defensive effort in the second half of Tuesday’s Division I girls basketball playoff game powered No. 5 Burr and Burton over No. 12 Brattleboro 45-34.
The first half was a seesaw affair, with six lead changes and four ties throughout the first 16 minutes, resulting in a 21-21 tie by halftime.
That’s when BBA began to focus its defensive attention on point guard Reese Croutworst. The Brattleboro freshman began to heat up in the second quarter with a pair of deep, contested makes from behind the 3-point line. The Colonels are at their best when Croutworst is orchestrating the offense, and BBA coach Erin Mears schemed to stop that with a variety of different defenses — and matchups — which keyed the Bulldogs to victory.
BBA switched to a box-and-one after Croutworst’s second triple at the 4:25 mark of the second quarter gave the visitors a 13-12 lead. Josephine Powers, Isabella Lam and Julia Decker all took turns sticking on Brattleboro’s main offensive threat, and collectively, it worked. Croutworst was held to a single basket in the third quarter as the Bulldogs went back to man-to-man. On the other end of the floor, BBA found its offensive rhythm thanks to contributions across the board.
BBA’s Piper Morgan was the star of the second half. The sophomore forward scored all nine of her points in the final two quarters. Her scores were the product of running the lanes and crashing the offensive boards for second and sometimes third chance baskets. While Morgan’s scoring was timely, her relentless pursuit of rebounds against a smaller Brattleboro squad was the true difference maker as BBA won the third quarter 12-3 to give itself a bit of separation, 33-24 after three.
“She gave us unbelievable minutes off the bench,” Mears said of Morgan. “You can always trust her for good energy. She’s had great practices this week.”
Senior guard Nevaeh Camp had her usual impact, scoring four of her team-high 11 points in the third quarter. Camp’s points came on an offensive rebound putback and a steal and fastbreak score after getting her hand in the passing lane and deflecting the basketball for an easy basket.
“I think Nevaeh really set the tone with her energy, and her rebounding,” Mears said.
The Bulldogs continued their run into the final quarter, scoring the first seven points in the fourth to take a commanding 42-24 lead with under five minutes remaining. The Colonels snapped a nearly quarter-long scoreless drought with a pair of Abby Henry free throws at the 3:35 mark.
Croutworst poured in eight points in the final two-plus minutes of the game to add to her game-high 16 point night, but the damage was already done.
Brattleboro was coming off a 36-32 win over the Bulldogs on Feb. 16, but it was BBA who got the last laugh, ending their Southern Vermont League foe’s season in the playdown round.
Brattleboro coach Chris Warden said everything changed immediately following halftime, and it was too much to overcome.
“They knocked down some shots and we didn’t,” Worden said. “We had a couple defensive breakdowns, didn’t get back in transition — just kind of everything that was sort of going right for us in the first half was sort of falling apart a little bit in that third quarter.”
BBA junior guard Ainerose Souza was the main threat from deep, with all nine of her points coming via the 3-ball. Macy Mathews also connected on a pair of 3-pointers for the Bulldogs, finishing with six points.
Brattleboro started two freshmen in Croutworst and Henry, and only lose one senior next year in starting guard Emily Worden, who finished Tuesday night’s game with three points. Warden views the game as valuable experience for his younger team.
“That’s why you go to the playoffs and why you play in these games, to get the experience,” he said. “This will help us next year, right from the very start.”
The Bulldogs advance to the Division I quarterfinals, where they will travel to No. 4 Essex, who also advanced Tuesday with its 65-35 victory over No. 13 Mount Anthony.
BBA beat Essex 55-52 back on Dec. 20. The rematch is set for Friday at 7 p.m. with a trip to the Division I semifinals at stake.