Defense, post play lift Wildcats to victory

The Fruita Monument High School girls basketball team was hoping to lean on the flash of senior Lauren LaBonde early this season.

But with the first-team All-Southwestern League guard out of the lineup for the home opener Tuesday night, tough defense and post play lifted the Wildcats to a 63-46 victory over Eagle Valley.

That’s exactly the way first-year Fruita coach Richard Atkins wants to win.

“I always believe the biggest strength of any team is post play, regardless if you have a really good outside player,” Atkins said.

“You look at any school of any size, they try and get the ball inside. Those are easy, high-percentage shots. We want a lot of movement when we’re passing, and to play an up-tempo game. We’re always trying to score 70 points, and that happens feeding the ball into the post.”

Juniors Vanessa Herrera and Kassidy Fair, two 6-foot post players, led the Wildcat’s dominating post presence, combining for 20 points and helping hold Eagle Valley scoreless the first four minutes of the game.

Samantha Parks led the Wildcats on the perimeter with 13 points, shooting 6 of 9 from the floor. The Devils didn’t crack double digits until halfway through the second quarter, in large part because the Wildcats blocked eight shots.

Fruita’s man-to-man defense limited Eagle Valley’s chances in the lane, forcing 3-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc. Fruita also forced 28 turnovers and pushed the pace of the game with quick outlet passes.

“We just front and try to deny the ball,” Atkins said. “The key to our defense is the rotation. We always get the first rotation. It’s our second and third rotations that need work.”

Up 37-17 at halftime, Atkins was able to get his bench extended playing time. All but one player scored for Fruita.

“(The bench) came out and had great defensive pressure,” Atkins said. “I thought a lot of our points came from how we played defense. We were able to beat them up the floor on the break. It was just an overall victory for our team.”

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