Tigers pull away from Commodores

VERGENNES — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team rallied past host Vergennes on Friday, 44-31, to keep the Tigers’ hopes for a Division II home playoff game — or possibly even two — alive.
At 7-10, the Tigers are now in fifth, just behind U-32 (8-9) and just ahead of Fair Haven (7-11). They have left two road games — at winless Missisquoi on Tuesday and at Mount Abraham (11-7) on Thursday — and a tough home game vs. D-I Rice on Saturday.
Avenging their home loss to the Eagles may be key to their hopes of moving up in the standings. Coach Cindy Atkins believes it is possible — if the team that scored 31 points in Friday’s second half shows up, not the one that tallied 13 in the first half.
“It’s been a really interesting year,” Atkins said. “I like our chances at Mount Abe if the girls can just feel a little more comfortable offensively and we can get into a rhythm.”
At 4-14, Coach Billy Waller doesn’t believe his Commodores should be counted out. They almost upset the Eagles recently, and held 8-0 and 14-8 leads over MUHS on Friday. Waller believes VUHS can compete in D-II.
“Two through 12 … Any of those teams can beat the other based on one quarter,” Waller said. “If we can put together that fourth quarter finally, maybe we can surprise somebody.”
Against MUHS, center Hannah Curler (nine points) sparked VUHS early with two hoops and an assist to Dani Stapleford. Ali Provost set up one Curler hoop and finished an 8-0 game-opening run at 5:20 by converting a steal.
VUHS cooled off, however, and settled for a 9-6 lead after one period. A jumper by Chrissy Ritter (seven points) and two hoops by Nicole Brown (10) finally got MUHS on the board.
The teams combined for 15 turnovers in a ragged second quarter, which ended with VUHS up, 14-13. A trey by Provost (13) and a transition hoop by Lexa Higbee (five) gave VUHS a 14-8 lead at 2:45 after Brown opened the quarter with a hoop. Then the final 1:45, Ritter hit two free throws, Katie Ritter (15 points, 13 in the second half) converted a steal, and Jordyn Smith hit a free throw to pull MUHS to within one.
In the third period MUHS began to pick apart the VUHS zone, which Waller put in place for this game after the Tigers chewed up the Commodores’ usual man-to-man defense in January. Atkins moved Brown to the high post, freeing both Ritters, Tiffany Danyow and Rachel Scholten for hoops underneath. Katie Ritter also sank a trey.
“Once they entered the ball at the foul line, it gave us a little bit of trouble,” Waller said.
MUHS took a 28-22 lead, but back-to-back drives by Provost in the final 1:10 made it 28-26 entering the fourth. The Tigers then opened the final period on a 10-2 fun in the first 3:20, with points from Danyow, Katie Ritter, Brown and Scholten. That made it 38-28, and VUHS came no closer than eight after that.
Atkins praised VUHS for playing hard, and said she was happy the Tigers executed the change in offensive tactics well and that her defense dug in after surrendering the eight quick points.
“They hung tough. They were down, and they picked it up defensively,” she said.
Waller noted the strong rebounding of Curler and Stapleford, and said he saw a more complete effort on Friday than he did in the Commodores’ win two days before at Missisquoi.
“We played awful two nights ago and won, fortunately, and tonight we played pretty good for three quarters and we lost. So I actually feel better about tonight,” he said. “These are the (kind of) games we’re going to see in the playoffs.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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