Linden — If you are a Linden Eagle, there’s no better game than one against your area rival to play one of your best games of the season.

 That’s what the Linden varsity girls basketball team did on Friday night when the Eagles faced area rivals Fenton.

 The Eagles nailed 12-of-23 shots from the field in the opening half, earning them a 36-22 halftime lead, and then held on in the second half to earn a 63-45 home victory against the Tigers.

 The Eagles’ offense was effective in two ways. They pressured the Tigers defensively and it resulted in many transition points. The Eagles scored 23 points of Fenton steals during the contest. And when the Eagles were forced to play a halfcourt offensive game, they were unselfish and passed the ball for several well earned assists.

 “I loved the teamwork,” Linden senior Paige Leedle said. “We’ve been struggling sometimes to work as a team, just like being a whole unit, but tonight, we really worked well as a unit and got it together.”

 “That was definitely our mindset going in,” Linden varsity girls basketball coach Zack Darling said. “We want to be an uptempo team. We want to be a pressuring team and then we want to run. We would rather get all of our buckets on transition baskets and not have to set up an offense. Obviously, that doesn’t happen, but when we were setting up our offense, we were making good passes, and we were looking for the right shot at the right time.”

 Linden was on fire from the start, netting 7-of-16 shots in the opening quarter. The game opened with an Olivia Mawhinney steal and a three-pointer just 35 seconds into the game. Linden never trailed. The lead grew to double-digits quickly. It happened for the first time a 18-6 when Leedle was fouled taking a three-point shot. She made all three free throws and the Eagles led 18-6 with 48.6 seconds left in the contest. Leedle scored 12 points in the opening quarter and the Eagles led 20-8 entering the second period.

 In the second quarter, the lead grew to as many as 33-13 on a inside hoop by Mawhinney with 3:11 in the half, but the Tigers started to fight back at that point. The Tigers ended the half on a 9-1 run, capped by two converted free throws by Tammy Craven. The Tigers had cut the gap to 36-22 entering the break.

 Linden entered the second half with some foul trouble, and Fenton took advantage, cutting Linden’s lead to as little as 43-33 on a three-pointer by Allison Bartholomew with 1:58 left in the third quarter. However, the Eagles were able to pump their lead back to 48-36 at the end of the third quarter on a Leedle jumper.

 Fenton never really got back into the contest again after that. Linden opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run on a pair of two-point buckets by Kayla Widner, a hoop by Kelsey McLennan and a converted free throw by McLennan, pretty much icing the game away. Linden led 55-36 with 5:12 remaining on the contest.

 The win really opens up the Flint Metro League Stripes Division race. Fenton and Linden (both 4-1 in the Stripes Divison) are a game behind first-place Flushing in the race, but with another round of contests remaining among the division teams, all three have control of their own destiny for at least a co-division title if they win out. But on Friday, it was about beating Fenton for Linden.

 “It’s everything,” Leedle said. “I love when we can go out there and destroy a team. Our hard work really paid off. (Beating Fenton) is everything, especially as a senior. It’s your rival. It’s the biggest and best game of the season.”

 “They are our crosstown rival and to beat them the way we did just gives us all the confidence in the world,” Darling said. We just need to continue to build on it, and that’s a great stepping stone to build on.”

 Fenton varsity girls basketball coach Don Kutchey said they were willing to give Linden the outside shots to defend the paint. However, the Eagles just hit too many outside shots.

 “We had a game plan, and we kind of stuck to it, but their girls made their shots,” Kutchey said. “It’s hard to stick to the plan when the other team flat out makes shots.

 “What I loved about the game is not one of my girls quit, ever. Every single kid played hard and that’s what we are going for. If we are going to raise to the next level, we have to go hard every night.”

 Leedle led the Eagles with 19 points while McLennan chipped in 14 points and Mawhinney netted 10 points. Widner also had seven points. Nine Eagles scored.

 Madison Slezinski led the Tigers with 11 points while Grace MacCaughan netted 10 points. Tammy Craven had seven points. The Tigers had eight girls score points.

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