VERGENNES — Given that the Vergennes Union High School girls’ basketball team features only two seniors on its roster, Coach Billy Waller says a major concern is that the Commodores show progress.
After Friday night’s home game vs. Missisquoi, Waller can probably put a check mark in that box.
After spotting the T-Birds the opening hoop, the Commodores erupted for a 16-0 run that featured crisp ball movement, balanced scoring and tough defense.
The 3-6 Commodores led the T-Birds by 16-4 after one and by double digits the rest of the way in a 48-21 victory.
Even granting MVU’s 1-9 record, the win was impressive. By way of comparison, Mount Mansfield, which in December defeated VUHS in Vergennes by 20, only defeated the T-Birds at MMU by 17. MVU also only lost to 6-2 Milton by 12.
Junior Commodore point guard K.C. Ambrose — who scored 11 points and contributed seven assists and six rebounds on Friday — said she saw the progress.
“That is one of our best games,” Ambrose said, “and we’re capable of doing that.”
The Commodores and their coach also said their 42-16 loss two days before at powerhouse Mount Abraham game them confidence. Ambrose said they refused to wilt under the Eagles’ relentless pressure, and maintain that intensity helped on Friday.
“Even though the score was a little off (on Wednesday), we played our hearts out,” Ambrose said. “It prepared us for tonight … We went out thinking we could do it, and we did.”
Waller said the Commodores learned and grew facing Mount Abe.
“(That) team plays defense so well, I think the girls felt some space tonight, and they were rewarded when they took some shots,” Waller said.
Those shots started to fall at 5:20 of the first, when Ambrose set up senior guard Breanna LaPan, who sank the first three of her 10 points to make it 3-2. Next, Ambrose went coast-to-coast before swishing a three-pointer from the corner.
Ambrose next assisted a three-pointer by senior Taylor Paquette — who recorded game highs of 12 points and nine rebounds — and then hit a three-pointer of her own to make it 12-2.
The Commodores capped their run with a Paquette jumper assisted by Ambrose and a fast-break conversion by sophomore Sarah Poirier-Thayer that came after she stole the ball, one of the eight T-Bird turnovers the Commodores forced in the first quarter.
Early on Waller appreciated how well the Commodores passed and kept their feet moving against MVU’s man-to-man defense.
“The thing that I liked tonight was we set the tone the first quarter by moving the ball so well,” Waller said.
Two late free throws by MVU’s Meghan Leadbetter set the score at 16-4 after one period, and when T-Bird forward Sadie Reynolds (11 points) opened the second quarter with a short jumper over the Commodores’ 2-3 zone, it was 16-6.
VUHS answered. Freshman Shay Pouliot hit a jumper and LaPan sank a three-pointer, both after catching passes from Ambrose, and it was 21-6.
The Commodores then went into an offensive funk, with only a putback from sophomore center Nikki Salley (seven points, five rebounds) or the next five minutes. But in that stretch T-Birds mustered only six points, in part because they hit only two of eight free throws. Late in the half VUHS still led, 23-12, as both teams padded their rebounding stats by pulling down missed shots.
Finally, a drive by Poirier-Thayer and a Paquette putback restored order and made it 27-12, VUHS, at the half. The two VUHS putback hoops in the period were no accidents: Including team rebounds, VUHS earned a 48-37 edge on the glass, with sophomore Brianna Gebo and juniors Paige Coyle and Jane Russell contributing on the boards.
The Commodores opened the second half with LaPan scoring in the lane assisted by Salley, two Paquette free throws, and a Salley hoop on the break to make it 33-12.
Reynolds scored seven points in the period for MVU before fouling out, while VUHS went through another dry spell, but the Commodores still led after three, 37-19. In the fourth, they put the defensive clamps on the T-Birds and outscored them, 11-2.
In all, Poirier-Thayer racked up four steals, while Pouliot, Gebo and Paquette added two apiece to help contribute to the 28 MVU turnovers.
Waller, who also hopes to see valuable sophomore post player Tamara Aunchman return from injury in the next couple weeks, said he appreciated the fact that so many of his players contributed on Friday, something he said has increasingly been a trend.
“I play a lot of kids. And I think we’re at that point of the season where everybody knows their role and they’re confident in their role,” he said. “They’re all doing their part. And they’re getting along and they’re playing hard.”
The Commodores’ schedule does not lighten up, but Waller forecasts continued improvement.
“I like the growth,” Waller said. “We have a tough schedule. If you don’t get a W against South Burlington or Colchester or Milton or Mount Abe, c’est la vie. But you’ve got to make sure you keep moving in the right direction. And I think even in our losses in our last couple losses, we’re moving in the right direction.”
“We have a lot more games to come,” she said, “and I think we can just improve from here.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]