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Ponies' defense tramples Comets
Times photo: Mark Nesbitt Monticellos Mersadi Hilliard goes up for a shot with hands in her face during Tuesdays win over Albany.
MONTICELLO - Junior Taylor Klitzke knew that the Monticello girls basketball team had to clamp down on transition defense against Albany.

Klitzke scored eight of her team-high 10 points in the second half and the Ponies received a dynamic defensive performance from sophomore Becky Nelson to beat the Comets 41-32 Tuesday night.

"We knew someone had to step up and everyone did," Klitzke said. "We don't rely on one person. I thought it was pretty big. The last time we were beat by them by 28 points. We have gotten better."

The improvement for Monticello (7-9, 4-5 Six Rivers East) was evident on defense. Nelson scored seven points, but her biggest impact came on the defensive end where she held Albany junior Hayli Peach scoreless.

"She is a kingpin when it comes to defense," Monticello coach Tom Eveland said. "Wherever you see the ball, that is where you will see Becky. She is definitely top notch."

Klitzke made some big plays down the stretch. She scored down low and was fouled with 1 minute, 26 seconds left. Klitzke converted the three-point play at the free throw line to give the Ponies a 28-25 lead. She scored a layup on the break and scored down low with 3:18 to go to give the Ponies a 32-27 lead.

Albany junior Hillary Best answered by scoring down low to cut the Ponies' lead to 32-29.

Nelson came up with a clutch steal with 42 seconds left and the Ponies made 7 of 9 free throws over the final 1:26 to seal the win.

Albany (10-8, 5-4) shot 31 percent from the field (11-for-35). The Comets were plagued by some free throw struggles as they shot 9 of 19 from the foul line.

"Our free throw shooting was terrible," Albany coach Mike Brunhoefer said. "I don't know what it was. All of a sudden, we couldn't put the ball in the basket. To their credit, they made their free throws. That's the difference in the game."

Both teams got off to cold shooting starts in the first quarter. The Ponies turned the ball over on their first three possessions and didn't make a field goal until senior Haley Blum hit a jumper with 1:56 left in the period. The Comets and Ponies played a seesaw game throughout the second quarter. Peach grabbed an offensive rebound late in the second quarter and she passed to junior Courtney Pfeuti who drilled a 3-pointer to give the Comets a 17-12 lead. Monticello senior Kelsey Bernet answered when she buried a 3-pointer right before the buzzer to cut the Comets' halftime lead to 17-15.

"We played a lot better defense than last time," Eveland said. "We boxed out. That's what killed us down there against them. We have worked on it in practice and it paid off tonight."

Bernet and Taylor Pfeuti each scored eight points for the Ponies. Monticello senior Mersadi Hilliard scored all six of her points in the third quarter and helped the Ponies take a 22-19 third-quarter lead after she scored down low.

Courtney Pfeuti, who scored a game-high 13 points, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to pull the Comets within one, at 22-21.

However, the Ponies clung to a 24-23 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"We needed the defense," Nelson said. "We came out and played as a team. We knew we had to come out and play hard."

The third quarter set the stage for Klitzke to take over in the fourth quarter.

"She's been building a lot of confidence," Eveland said. "She's very quick. She has a nice soft touch."

Albany will try to rebound when the Comets host Juda Friday night.

"I tried to talk to them about not looking ahead to Juda," Brunhoefer said. "I'm not saying they did. We just have to get back to practice tomorrow and get ready for Juda because I know they will be ready for us."