After a closely-contested 18 minutes, the Essex High School (EHS) girls’ basketball team used stellar defense and a few outside shots to pull away and defeat BFA St. Albans 72-59 on Feb. 4.

The Hornets outscored their opponents by eight in the third quarter, and they were able to hold on through the late going to capture their fifth-straight win.

“We had to show a little bit more grit and mental toughness in this win--which was good for us,” said EHS head coach Shawn Montague. “I think that really gave us some momentum. When we play like that, it really energizes the kids, and they lock in even more.”

Hornet senior Noelle Lyon led the team with a season-best 19 points with the forward knocking down a pair of 3-pointers. She also had 6 steals and 4 rebounds in the win.

“Noelle was everywhere,” Montague said of his captain. “She was rebounding, bringing the ball up… I have complete confidence in her ball handling and what she can do. She was the glue in that game for us--no doubt.”

Classmate Emma Whitney followed Lyon with 13 points while junior Anna Sabourin came close to double digits with 9.

Foul trouble saw Montague go to his bench players more often than he might have planned with sophomore Paige Winter drawing her third late in the second quarter and Sabourin getting her third early after the halftime break. The EHS coach was proud of his reserve players--making note of the performances by junior Emma Sabourin and sophomore Mary McClintock.

“They come in, and they contribute like they’re starting,” Montague commented. “I don’t think they look at it necessarily as, ‘I’m a support person.’”

He also pointed out the play from junior Cindy Sheeran which extended beyond the stat sheet.

“She didn’t have 19 [points], but she had two huge plays that were momentum-building for us,” he said. “It’s little things like that which other people might not see.”

EHS combined for 12 baskets from downtown--the eighth being when senior Mary Finnegan hit a triple right before the buzzer to give her team a 31-30 upper hand at the break.

However, Montague doesn’t depend on his team connecting from deep in order to win.

“If it’s there, we’re going to shoot it,” he said. “I think we rely on pressure defense just as much as we do the 3.”

That pressure defense came through in a big way during Essex’s second-half run while the Hornets garnered some separation. Following a Lyon 3-pointer from the right edge, the EHS full-court press forced a turnover and quickly converted it into a Whitney long-range bucket from the left edge of the arc.

McClintock would then make a nice move and drive baseline for a layup while drawing a foul late in the third; she missed the free throw, but Lyon snagged the rebound and put it back up to put EHS on top 50-41.

A 3-pointer by Emma Sabourin from the left corner moved it to a 14-point difference in the fourth quarter, and the Hornets then took their biggest lead of the night with 5:05 left to play; McClintock dropped a triple and made a steal on the ensuing possession before Winter sent it home for the 62-45 upper hand.

BFA wouldn’t go away, however, and slowly chipped away at its deficit. The visitors eventually cut it to a 66-56 ballgame, but Montague wasn’t worried about his team being able to respond.

“I wasn’t nervous,” he said. “I have faith and confidence in our kids; they’re pretty smart basketball players.”

The Hornets were able to limit their mistakes through the waning minutes and capitalized at the free throw line to keep BFA from getting within double digits--extending their winning streak to five consecutive games.

“I’m really psyched for the girls,” Montague added. “They work really hard every single day. I feel like: in practice, they set the bar high for themselves in terms of their work ethic, and they continue to meet it--and exceed it--all the time. It’s an exceptional group of kids in terms of how hard they work and their attention to detail; it’s really cool.”

The Hornets were scheduled to hold their Pink Zone-Cancer Awareness Game against South Burlington Feb. 7, but that evening had to be rescheduled due to the extensive snow storm.

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