VERGENNES — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team picked up a much-needed win on Tuesday, 42-18, at the expense of visiting Vergennes.
The Tigers used smothering defense — VUHS did not score in the first quarter — and what Coach Cindy Atkins called a more poised and patient approach on offense to snap a six-game losing streak and improve to 3-6.
“I saw a lot of growth tonight. I’m really happy. I saw some nice things offensively, and we showed more of a spark defensively,” Atkins said.
The Tigers’ setbacks had included close games at home to Otter Valley and Colchester and at struggling Milton, which had lost to VUHS.
Atkins said the Tigers had kept their morale up, but the added confidence from Tuesday’s better performance will boost their confidence.
“We’ve had three games where I feel they should have won, and they feel they should have won,” Atkins said. “They’ve bounced back. This will certainly help. They needed this really big-time tonight.”
Coach Billy Waller saw his Commodores drop to 3-8. They were coming off a 56-34 win at Missisquoi and other encouraging recent results in their past six games, including wins over Milton and Harwood and a six-point loss to Division 1 Mount Mansfield.
But Waller said the better results are tied to strong starts, and wants his team to show more toughness when they fall behind early.
“We’ve practiced very well now for seven or eight straight practice days, and then didn’t play a very good game. When you have a game that doesn’t match how you just practiced and played, it’s disappointing,” he said. “Any game that we start quick we win. And if we don’t start quick, we don’t fight enough. You’ve got to buckle down.”
Waller said at times the Commodores seem to lose focus.
“You can only say it’s one of those nights if it’s one of those nights, but we’ve had a few of those nights,” Waller said. “So it goes beyond that. It goes into adjusting to all the surroundings and into stop trying to control the things you can’t control.”
Waller also credited Middlebury’s “good, physical guards” for not allowing the Commodores to get into their offensive sets. VUHS turned the ball over 26 times against MUHS, 15 times in the first half, which ended with the Tigers leading, 24-7.
“One of the things we can control is taking care of the basketball, which we didn’t do a good job of tonight,” Waller said. “In our last game we were able to get the ball to spots on the floor that made our players effective. And tonight we just didn’t do that. We really need to get the ball below the foul line as often as possible. And we just didn’t do that.”
The Tigers led after one, 13-0, as guard Katie Ritter knocked down seven of her game-high 19 points. Forward Rachel Scholten contributed a putback and a nice assist on one of center Nicole Brown’s two hoops. Meanwhile, VUHS turned the ball over nine times and saw leading scorer Ali Provost pick up three quick fouls.
A three-point play by forward Chrissy Ritter and a converted steal by Katie Ritter pushed the MUHS lead to 18-0 early in the second quarter before junior center Hannah Curler’s free throw at 5:38 put VUHS on the board. That free throw sparked a 7-2 run that gave VUHS some hope: Curler converted a three-point play and hit another free throw, and Provost sank two free throws.
But Provost soon picked up her fourth foul, when Jordyn Smith alertly took a charge. MUHS closed the quarter with a Brown free throw and a Katie Ritter three-point play at 0:08, and the lead was 17 at the break.
Four points apiece by each Ritter gave MUHS an 8-0 run to open the second half, and it was 32-7. Soon Curler and VUHS point guard Alexa Higbee also had four fouls — it was clearly not the Commodores’ night.
Brown added 11 points for MUHS, and Chrissy Ritter finished with eight. Curler led VUHS with seven, Provost had five, and Brooke Bougor finished with four. VUHS ended with a 30-28 edge on the boards, thanks largely to Curler.
Waller said the Commodores also held their own on defense.
“Forty-two points, that’s a workable number,” he said. “Most times when you hold a team in the low 40s, you should give yourself a chance to win.”
Atkins said the Tigers have been talking about taking the games after last week’s exam break as a second chance to establish themselves.
“Our message has been we’ve got to keep working to get better ... We’ve got 12 games left (before Tuesday). This is a new season,” Atkins said. “D-II is wide open. We’ve just got to put this together and move forward.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]