DALTON — Jenna Benzinger made a big free throw then recorded an even bigger block to help the Mount Greylock girls basketball team escape Wahconah with a 37-36 win on Monday night.
The Mounties, up 27-15 at halftime, watched the lead slip away into a tie game with under a minute to go, but then Benzinger banked in a free throw to put her team back up, and with two seconds to go she made a rejection on the baseline that wiped away a clean Wahconah look to help the Mounties win their season opener.
"Jenna is a real good player and we are going to rely on her a lot this year," Greylock coach John Jacobbe said. "She made the free throw, then made some nice defensive plays."
Greylock needed all 10 points and 22 rebounds from the junior. With starter Haley Reinhard out injured, Greylock lost another starter, Caroline Flynn, in the first quarter, then two more starters — Ari Walden and Sarah Stripp — fouled out before the end of the game.
"I saw a bunch of new girls being called into big roles," Jacobbe said of pulling out the win. "Struggling with the high pressure of a northern Berkshire tournament team that has a lot of good athletes playing in their own gym.
"Wahconah worked their butt off to get back into the game, give them credit. ... It wasn't pretty, but it tells us that we have a lot to work on."
The Warriors also have some kinks to iron out after dropping their opener, although some of the issues resolved themselves a bit when Wahconah outscored Greylock 21-10 in the second half.
Mostly, it was turnovers. While the Warriors were the team in a press defense, it was the Mounties that forced early turnovers and built up the lead.
"I think that's the most frustrating part, to be honest with you," Wahconah coach Liz Kay said of the turnovers. "We are much better than that. There is certainly a first-game jitters, but you hope they aren't costly jitters. When ball security doesn't happen and you miss a lot of layups, it's hard to bring yourself back up."
Wahconah scored the first field goal of the game through Ashley Zink (13 points), but the Mounties took the first-quarter edge when Sarah Stripp (5 points) canned a 3-pointer on a pass from Lauren Howard to make it 9-5 after one.
In the second quarter, Greylock broke out a 10-3 run over the first four minutes of the half, capped Stripp passed to Benzinger who then handed it back off for the finish. At halftime, Greylock held a 27-15 edge.
In the second half, the press finally started getting to Greylock as Wahconah whittled the lead down to 34-25 after three on a steal from Emmy Cote (10 points) that ended with a layup by Zink.
"I thought in the first half we came out really nervous and turned over the ball," Jacobbe said. "We calmed down, started beating the press with the pass. In the second half, we went back to the dribble and got ourselves in trouble."
In the fourth, the Warriors kept piling on the pressure and got the score tied at 36-36 with a minute to go on free throws from Lily Pudlo (5 points), but Benzinger was able to make the first of her two free-throw attempts to put Greylock back in the lead, then after some back-and-forth between the two sides Benzinger stuffed a 3-pointer on the baseline — after missing a pair of freebies back the other way — to help seal the win. Wahconah got one last look through Zink as time expired, but her shot fell short.
"[Benzinger] made the really big plays at the end — frankly most of the game — whether a rebound or a putback," Kay said. "But there were a lot of little things she did that were like daggers at times."
Cote finished with eight steals for Wahconah in the loss. Benzinger had three blocks total, while Stripp had five assists and four steals before fouling out.
MOUNT GREYLOCK (37)
Benzinger 4-2-10, Howard 4-0-8, Stripp 2-0-5, Walden 1-1-4, Byrnes 2-0-4, Albert 2-0-4, Cerveira 1-0-2. Totals 16-3-37.
Zink 4-5-13, Cote 2-5-10, Pudlo 1-3-5, Dougherty 3-0-8. Totals 10-13-36.
3-point goals — MG 2 (Walden, Stripp). W 3 (Dougherty 2, Cote 1)