MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team took charge in the second quarter of Thursday’s game against visiting rival Mount Abraham on the way to a solid 44-32 win.
The 8-4 Tigers have won six of eight and stand in third place in Division II. Included in their wins have been several games where they have not clicked offensively, but have managed to prevail with tough defense and key plays.
Junior center and tri-captain Nicole Brown said the Tigers’ formula for success has been their focus and their faith in one another.
“We’re working hard in practice, and definitely the one thing we have is chemistry on the court,” Brown said. “And I think we’ve had games where we have not shot well, but I think because of our chemistry we’ve definitely been able to pull through and win.”
The Tigers are also getting an outstanding season from junior guard Katie Ritter, who scored 19 of their 24 first-half points on Thursday and finished with a game-high 23. Brown stepped up in the second half with six of her nine points, and five Tigers scored a basket apiece after the break.
“It’s definitely fun when we can get everyone in and everyone contributing,” Brown said. “It’s also nice to have her (Katie) around.”
The 5-8 Eagles, meanwhile, dropped their seventh game in nine tries. Mount Abe once again got a solid effort from junior Jenn Loyer (15 points, seven steals, three assists), but the Eagles have been erratic on offense, and went 7:50 without scoring after leading, 16-14, early in the second period.
Coach Connie LaRose said she is looking for offensive consistency from the Eagles. She noted in another recent game, a 46-32 home loss to undefeated Milton, the Eagles led, 28-27, before going cold.
“It’s a huge problem when only Jenn can create for herself. Some other player has got to be able to take the ball and say, ‘I can do this,’” LaRose said.
There are signs of hope. Junior KC Cousineau and sophomore Lydia Stearns have each shown they are capable, and they combined for 11 points in Thursday’s first quarter.
“There are (flashes). I see a spark here, a spark there. I thought Lydia Stearns and KC Cousineau started out really strong in the first quarter,” LaRose said.
But their early efforts were not enough to offset Ritter, who scored all of the Tigers’ first-quarter points as MUHS took a 14-11 lead.
After Loyer hit a three and set up a Shanna Gebo hoop at 6:30 in the second to put Mount Abe on top, the Tigers’ zone and occasional press began to give the Eagles fits — Mount Abe committed 23 turnovers, 17 in the first half. Ritter, meanwhile, hit eight of nine first-half shots, including three threes, for her 19 points. In the second period, Brown scored in the post and sank a free throw, Courtney Johnson added a jumper, and the Tigers led at the half, 24-14.
Brown hit in the lane to make it 26-14 before a Cousineau putback finally broke the ice for the Eagles at 6:40 of the third period and made it a 10-point game. The closest Mount Abe could come the rest of the way was when Loyer stole the ball and went coast-to-coast at 2:00 of the third to make it 34-25. But jumpers by Tiger seniors Kayla Whittemore and Afton Anechiarico pushed the lead back to 38-25 entering the fourth.
For Mount Abe, Cousineau finished with nine points and a team-high nine rebounds, Gebo pulled in six boards, while Stearns scored four points and grabbed four rebounds.
LaRose said her team is working hard, and she is hoping that will translate into a break-through result.
“I keep thinking they’re confident enough,” LaRose said. “It’s just time to step up. They just need that really big game when they finish.”
For the Tigers, Whittemore had eight rebounds, Tiffany Danyow had five assists, Ritter added six steals, and Brown and Chrissy Ritter had five rebounds each.
MUHS coach Cindy Atkins certainly won’t take the Eagles lightly in the rematch on Feb. 11.
“Mount Abe is always tough. I was nervous about this game,” she said.
Atkins sees her team improving on taking care of the ball (19 turnovers on Thursday), rebounding, (a 35-34 edge), and in showing poise.
“If you can limit your turnovers and take care of the boards, it gives you such an advantage in a game, and I’m seeing some improved boxing out on our part,” she said. “We still have some more work to do, but this team is learning how to slow down and really process what is going on.”
In all, Atkins said she is happy with the Tigers’ record and their progress.
“We keep working on a lot of different little things, and it feels like we’re getting a little bit better each time,” she said. “I can’t complain at all, and I think the girls are really excited.”