DALTON, Mass. — It is hard to say what was bigger for the Mount Greylock girls basketball team on Monday night: the bank or the block.
Whichever one you choose, it was all about the Benzinger.
Mounties junior center Jenna Benzinger used the glass on a foul shot to give her team a one-point lead with 43 seconds left and then blocked a shot with two seconds left to preserve that lead and a 37-36 win over Wahconah in the season opener for both teams.
Benzinger finished with 10 points, 22 rebounds and three blocks.
But no play was bigger than the one that came after she missed a pair of free throws with 11.5 seconds left that would have given the Mounties a three-point lead. Instead of hanging her head, she hustled back on the defensive end and swatted a shot from the right wing to force Wahconah to set up a desperation shot with two ticks remaining
A 3-pointer over two defenders hit the front of the rim, and the Mounties celebrated their victory.
“Jenna is a real good player, and we’re going to rely on her a lot this year,” Mount Greylock first-year coach John Jaccobe said. “She made the free throw and then made some nice defensive plays.
“She’s a real solid player and tonight because of the press and our inability to attack it, we were unable to get it inside to her, and they did a really good job covering her with their speed. But Jenna was the key to the game, especially with Ari [Walden] and Sarah [Stripp] fouling out.”
In fact, Benzinger and Lauren Howard were the only starters on the floor for Mount Greylock in the final minute of the game. Starters Stripp and Walden each fouled out, and Caroline Flynn left two minutes into the game after taking a nasty spill on the defensive end.
Mount Greylock overcame her departure and led by as many as 14 points in the first half thanks to Benzinger’s rebounding, good ball movement from Walden and Stripp and eight Wahconah turnovers in the second quarter.
“i think that was the most frustrating part, to be honest with you,” Wahconah coach Liz Kay said. “We’re much better than that. There’s certainly pre-game, first-game jitters, and you hope they’re not costly jitters.
“The reality was when ball security doesn’t happen, and you miss a lot of layups, it’s very difficult to bring yourself back up because it’s contagious. We just couldn’t get in a rhythm. Whether that’s first game or just good coaching on his part and their execution and our lack of execution. Obviously, it’s something we have to learn from.”
After going to the locker room down 27-15, Wahconah executed its pressure defense better in the second half. Mount Greylock managed just 10 points in the second half — three in the fourth quarter.
Jaccobe said part of the problem was the foul trouble, but part of it was a failure to stay with what worked in the first half.
“I thought in the first half, we came out really nervous and turned over the ball, but we calmed down and started to beat the press with the pass,” Jaccobe said. “And in the second half, we went back to the dribble and got ourselves in trouble.
“If you have enough space, you can dribble through a press, but [Wahconah is] pretty athletic, and they closed down our space pretty well. We need to enjoy this win and learn from it, because, as a coach, you’re happy for the win, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘What do we have to work on?’ “
Ashley Zink scored nine of her game-high 13 points in the second half for Wahconah, and Lily Pudlo grabbed seven rebounds in the second half.
Zink hit a pair of foul shots midway through the fourth quarter to close a 7-0 run and get Wahonah within four, 34-30.
After Mount Greylock freshman Maddie Albert converted an assist from Stripp to give the Mounties a 36-30 cushion, Wahconah scored the next six — all at the line. Zink and Emmy Cote (10 points) each converted both ends of one-and-ones, and Pudlo hit both shots after being fouled on a shot in the post with 56 seconds left.
On Mount Greylock’s next trip, Benzinger earned a trip to the line after being hacked on the attempted putback of an offensive rebound. She hit the front end but missed the back to leave the score at 37-36 with 43 seconds left.
After a charging violation gave Mount Greylock the ball, the Mounties missed a pair at the line with 27 seconds on the clock. Benzinger then grabbed a defensive rebound and got fouled with 11.5 on the clock, earning a trip to the line for two. She missed both, and Jacqueline Barnes missed a follow for the Mounties.
Kenna McIlquham grabbed the rebound for Wahconah and started a break that led to a shot from the right wing that Benzinger swatted to save the game.
Wahconah gets right back on the court on Tuesday against Easthampton. Mount Greylock travels to Lenox on Wednesday.
They might make that trip without Flynn, who hit her head hard on a fall early in the first quarter. The Mounties already lost senior captain Haley Reinhard after an injury suffered in a scrimmage last week.
“She plays the game hard,” Jaccobe said. “Unfortunately, going in harda, she got hit and fell. Injuries are part of the game, and we’ve got to learn to adjust without Haley and now, probably, for a little while, without Caroline. I feel bad for [Flynn] because she’s been doing good and working really hard, and game one she goes down. We’ll see how bad it is.”