By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team rode one offensive surge and a third-quarter defensive stand past visiting Vergennes on Tuesday, 48-30.
The win evened the Tigers’ record at 6-6, a record that follows last year’s 5-15 campaign and the 6-14 mark of the winter before.
The team’s only senior starter, guard Joey Kelley, said the Tigers are thrilled to have taken a step forward, and that unity has helped bring a .500 season within their grasp.
“This is really exciting for us. We are all really working well together. We’ve gotten a lot closer as a team,” Kelley said. “And I think we share the ball really well. We just play team basketball this year more than we have ever.”
Kelley also agreed the Tigers’ speed and quickness have also helped.
“We want to keep up-tempo as much as we can, and keep after them on defense,” she said. “We try to pride ourselves on defense.”
Despite their youth, the Tigers also returned many key players. That’s not the case for Coach Billy Waller’s Commodores, who graduated all five starters from last season’s Division II final four team. The Commodores’ efforts have not always been rewarded this year — they are 2-9.
But Waller said, that record has not been for lack of hard work by the Commodores, many of whom have understandably faced growing pains while dealing with new roles and responsibilities.
“A lot of these kids have to play different roles than they’ve ever had to play in the past,” Waller said. “Some of our kids are still adjusting to those roles ... It’s never as quick as you want it to be, but it’s not because of a lack of effort.”
And on Tuesday, the Commodores hung with the Tigers in the early going. It was 10-10 after the first quarter, but then the Tigers’ went on their big run, a 14-0 spurt to open the second period.
In that outburst, the Tigers used screens to free their guards for layups and open jumpers against the VUHS man-to-man defense. Waller said VUHS overall defended well, and credited the Tigers’ execution.
“I really think the guards did a pretty good job tonight, except in the half-court we got caught up in some of their screens, and (MUHS coach) Jared (Bailey) gets a lot of credit for that,” he said.
In the first period, VUHS sophomore guard and leading scorer Allison Provost (13 points) sank a trey and two driving layups, Brittany Quattrocci converted inside for two of her seven points, and Brittany Nevins (eight rebounds) controlled the boards early on. MUHS guard Katie Ritter (who tied for game honors with 13 points) scored three hoops to help forge the tie.
Then the Tigers erupted. Kayla Whittemore opened the second period with a jumper, and Kelley hit a layup and a trey on nice feeds from Jordyn Smith and Nicole Brown (4 points, a game-high 11 boards). Brown then stole the ball and fed Abby Scholten for a layup, and Ritter stole the ball and converted a three-point play. Three minutes in, Tanja Pixley stole the ball and fed Ritter on the break, and it was 24-10.
The Tigers then went cold, and the Commodores got a lift from reserve post players Kathleen Van Wyck (6 rebounds) and Hannah Curler (5 rebounds). The two combined for only three points, but hit the boards hard, and their points and two free throws by Margy Kerschner cut the Tiger lead to 24-15.
At 2:10, Brown snapped the Tiger scoreless skein with a sweet baseline drive, and added a free throw after an offensive board to make it 27-15 at the half.
The Commodores were still in striking distance, but not for long. They managed only a Provost trey in the third period, and the Tigers gradually pulled away to make it 36-18 after three. The Tigers got four hoops by attacking the basket in the quarter, one each by Ritter and Smith and two by Whittemore, one on a perfect back-door cut set up by one of Ritter’s six assists.
Bailey was pleased with the low total of 13 turnovers and said the Tiger defense picked up the pace after the first period. The Tigers also earned a 44-32 rebounding edge, including team rebounds. Tiger forward Afton Anechiarico (7 points, 8 rebounds) was a factor on the boards.
Waller said the Tigers played good defense, but as well as converting just 10 of 25 free throws, he noted the Commodores did miss a number of open looks.
He said VUHS will continue to work to develop scorers to complement Provost and to learn to score while getting the typical bumps that come with varsity defense; he expects them to make progress in those and other areas.
“In order for us to be successful, we have to a have lot of things go our way besides just being able to make baskets. We have to run our offense efficiently. We have to rebound. We have to get back in transition,” he said. “And that’s still a process for us. I give our kids a lot of credit for trying to do the right thing.”
Bailey was asked why the Tigers have improved this winter, and he said essentially that his more experienced team may be just a little further along in that same process.
“To me it’s the effort I see day-in and day-out,” Bailey said. “They all came into the season with a fresh mind-set of ‘Let’s got out and do the best we can every single day.’ And they’ve really done their best to walk that talk.”