VUHS girls run past host OV in first round

BRANDON — Visiting No. 10 Vergennes played what may have been its most complete game of the year on Tuesday, and the result was a 55-45 loss for the No. 7 Otter Valley Union High School girls’ basketball team in a first-round Division II playoff game.
The Commodores — who will visit No. 2 Lyndon on Thursday night — got 26 points from senior guard Ali Provost and earned a 42-29 edge on the boards, mostly thanks to junior center Hannah Curler and senior forward Dani Stapleford.
The Commodores used that rebounding advantage to trigger their fast break, and piled up 20 points on the break, where junior guard Tabby Danyow (11 points) was particularly effective.
The Commodores’ other starter, senior guard Lexa Higbee, often triggered the break by tossing long passes to Provost or Danyow streaking down the court.
VUHS coach Billy Waller said he hoped going in his team could use rebounding and transition to its advantage.
“We talked yesterday,” Waller said. “They’re going to attack the rebounder, so if you make one quick outlet, that outlet is going to have a chance to get the ball to someone running deep. I thought because of the way Tabby and Ali were running the lanes that Lex was able to find them.”
When the Commodores couldn’t run, the Otters’ man-to-man defense gave them problems, and VUHS turned the ball over two dozen times. But Provost hit three three-pointers, and Curler (12 points) gave VUHS enough offense inside to help overcome those miscues.
Provost said the Commodores knew coming in they were capable of winning. To be fair, they had a tougher schedule than OV: Eight of their losses came against D-I teams with winning records, and four more came against the Nos. 3 and 5 seeds in the D-II tournament, Mount Abraham and Middlebury.
“All season we knew we could be this team, and we just had to prove it, and we finally did,” Provost said. “We just finally came together.”
OV coach Ray Counter also praised the Commodores for their man-to-man defense, especially on OV’s leading scorer, senior guard Kristy Pinkham.
“They did a nice job on Kristy. They knew who to slow down. My hat’s off to them,” Counter said. “I told the girls coming in they were going to be aggressive, and it was going to come down to defense and rebounding, and they beat us in both aspects.”
 The young Otters got balanced scoring, including a combined 26 points from three freshmen guards: 11 from Brittany Bushey, eight from Taylor Aines and seven from Jessica Frazier. Junior forward Kelsey Poljacik chipped in seven, and Pinkham added six.
The Commodores took control when Provost swished consecutive treys to close the first period and make it 13-7. VUHS never trailed after that.
After Frazier opened the second period with a jumper, VUHS went on a 7-0 run with points from Provost, Danyow and Stapleford to make it 20-9. OV closed the gap thanks to a couple Bushey hoops, but Provost beat the halftime buzzer on the break to make it 24-16.
The Otters came out flying in the third period, in which they outrebounded VUHS, 10-6. A Poljacik free throw, an Aines trey and a Bushey layup made it 24-22, and with the OV fans getting loud a comeback looked more than possible.
Instead, the Commodores, who had lost a few leads in games earlier this year, responded. Curler hit a three-point play inside on a nice give-and-go with Higbee, Danyow banked in a runner on the break, Curler converted a putback, and Provost tossed in a trey and a free throw in an 11-4 run that pushed the VUHS lead to 35-26.
Still, Poljacik beat the buzzer with a jumper at the other end, and OV was in range after three, 35-28.
Curler opened the fourth quarter with another putback, but consecutive jumpers by Poljacik and Pinkham made it 37-32 with a minute gone.
Again, the Commodores answered. Provost took an over-the-top feed on the inbounds play and drove for a hoop, and Danyow quickly stole the ball and converted another layup. Counter called for time at 6:45 with the lead back to nine.
OV scored 17 points in the period, including four each from Pinkham and Frazier, buckets inside from Michelle Maseroni and Angela Jeffrey, and a trey by Bushey.
But VUHS kept running, with Danyow and Provost combining for 10 transition points. Higbee also hit two free throws at 1:12 that made it 50-42 and all but sealed the deal.
Provost noted that all the Commodores contributed.
“We have so many talented players,” she said. “And obviously we had a good night. Everybody was hitting. Shots were falling for us.”
In the end, Waller said his team’s seasoning — he starts four seniors and a junior — and tough schedule may have made the difference against an OV team with a bright future.
“Between the experience and the schedule, that’s the difference between us and Otter Valley,” he said. “But … if I had that crop of freshmen coming up, I’d be pretty excited.”
Counter would have liked to see what would have happened if one or two shots had dropped while the Otters were surging in the third quarter.
Still, he said the young Otters came a long way this winter, thanks both to their hard work and the leadership of Pinkham.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this group of girls. They exceeded my expectations,” Counter said. “They’re just a joy to be in practice with.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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