BENNINGTON -- When a team is languishing, sometimes all it takes is a spark to get on track.
Or even a couple of sparks.
Mount Anthony Union High School junior Kate Goodell scored nine points and had five steals in her first full game back after injury and Kendra Pembroke scored four timely points at the end of each half to lead the Patriots to a 44-31 win over Mill River.
"[Kate's] a huge part of our team and part of our problem in the beginning of the year was trying to find our identity without her," said MAU coach Courtney Reif. "She's one of our best players, and it's why having her on the floor is such an asset. She gives our team a boost of confidence."
Just as impressively, MAU's defense held the Minutemen (4-9) without a basket in the fourth quarter and only three free throws.
Overall, the Patriots made 20 steals to just three for Mill River.
"I think we were in better shape and our defense wore them down and kept the pressure on for the fourth," Reif said. "Those 20 steals gave us 20 more chances to shoot."
Near the end of the first half and down by four, Pembroke stepped up, scoring on back-to-back shots to tie the game at 19-19. Then Makayla Farrara, who led all scorers with 12 points, drained a 3-pointer with a handful of seconds left in the first half to take a 22-19 lead into the locker room.
"It was huge [to take a halftime lead]," Reif said. "I thought we were flat in the first half after two good days of practice. Ending the half like that was something we needed and we were able to build on that at halftime."
Halfway through the third, Nikki Harrington (six points) knocked down a trey to give MAU a 28-22 lead. Mill River pulled within two, but MAU never trailed again.
"We had to take care of the ball on offense and go hard on defense," Goodell said. "A good work ethic helps in getting stops and steals and transitions into offense."
Farrara put MAU up eight at the beginning of the fourth and After two Mill River free throws, Harrington hit her second trey and Pembroke scored twice more in the final two minutes to salt away the Patriots' fourth win.
"Pem gives us some size and against undersized teams, she gives other teams a mismatch," Reif said. "She has a nice touch aroudn the basket and a good finish. She played really well and stepped up big time for us."
Mount Anthony improves to 4-9, needing six victories to qualify for the postseason. The goal, Reif said, has always been to reach the playoffs.
"I think we'd lost motivation because we've lost so many games, but i think this win can help us re-focus and definitely help us bring it every game," Reif said.