Faster starts and stronger inside play top Montgomery's areas for improvement, and the Vikings dialed in both for a convincing win over Petaluma in the girls' NBL-SCL Challenge on Monday.
A step quicker at both ends, Montgomery was getting the open shots and forcing Petaluma into rally-sapping turnovers. Keeping the Trojans off the scoreboard for half of the first period and responding to a pair of Petaluma runs, Montgomery pulled away for the 58-39 win.
"We wanted to stop them inside. Overall we did a pretty good job on defense and attacking on offense," said Montgomery center Claire Donnelly, an anchor in the post.
One of the Empire's hottest teams, Petaluma was reminded that taking care of the ball is critical to success against top teams in the North Coast Section playoffs.
"We could have done better. It was frustrating," said Petaluma point guard Kierra Lizama. "We've got to step up our game for the playoffs."
With two of the Empire's top girls programs again playing well, the matchup figured to be one of the more competitive games in the NBL-SCL Challenge, played at Windsor High. In the end, Montgomery had another solid win for the NBL, which went 6-0 on the day.
Montgomery raced to an early lead with Ashlee Wilson and Madison Nordby combining for a dozen points in the first quarter. Petaluma played even after Lisa Guptill broke the ice with a 3-pointer.
Stronger ball movement helped Petaluma cut the lead in half with Katy Bisges scoring 5 of her 8 on the night in the second quarter. But the Trojans too often lost track of the ball on defense, allowing open shots Montgomery often hit.
Fouls were a factor in Petaluma's rugged first half. Montgomery was in the double bonus with nearly six minutes to go in the second quarter and scored 10 points on free throws in the first two periods.
Finishing the half on a 14-3 run, Montgomery pushed the lead back into double digits. Wilson scored 14 in the half on the way to 21 for the night. Nordby scored 9 of her 11 the first two periods, providing a spark off the bench with a nose for loose balls and setting up teammates for scores.
"Somebody different steps up certain games," Donnelly said of Nordby. "She was impressive. She's got some fire."
With a senior-laden rotation — Nordby is the lone junior — Montgomery players have challenged each other to finish the season strong.
"We're working on consistency. But they never give up and (they) play hard," said Montgomery coach Steve Bell.
Defense and energy have been Petaluma's strengths. Yet letdowns guarding the basket and lapses in passing hurt the Trojans in this contest.
"This game helps you kind of find out where your team is," said Petaluma coach Doug Johnson. "We're young. We haven't reached our potential yet."
Petaluma's strongest stretch of defensive play came in the third period. Forcing turnovers and snagging steals, the Trojans went on a 9-0 run, often getting inside for scores or fouls with center Allison Scranton leading the push.