Tiger girls’ hoop nipped by Spartans, 19-17

MIDDLEBURY — Visiting Winooski went on a decisive 11-4 run over the final four minutes of the third quarter on Saturday and then hung on for a 19-17 victory over the Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team despite not scoring a point in the fourth quarter.
That Spartan third-quarter surge in the opener for both teams included a 7-0 run in the final 1:17 that erased a 13-12 Tiger lead and gave the defending Division III champions a 19-13 advantage entering the final period. Junior Spartan forward Christina Dang scored nine of her game-high 13 points in the third period.
The Tigers cut the lead to 19-16 on a three-pointer by senior point guard Hannah Hobbes in the first minute of the fourth quarter. A free throw by senior forward Julia Cluss after an offensive rebound (one of her team-high nine boards) cut the lead to 19-17 at 5:13, but the Tigers could not get the tying hoop.
A collision — a Spartan foul — with about two minutes to go that forced Hobbes, the Tigers’ best ballhandler, to the sidelines hurt the team’s chances to set up good shots down the stretch.
Despite 25 turnovers (to the Spartans’ 15, a key factor) and the lack of production in an offensive set her team is just learning, first-year coach Jen Heath saw things to like in the Tigers’ effort.
“I thought we did some good things. Definitely there are some things to work on, as there are going to be every game, but I thought we were patient with our offense,” Heath said. “I thought defensively we did pretty good, holding them to 19 points.”
And the Tigers did execute well enough, despite a couple late turnovers, to stop the clock with quick fouls, get the rebounds, and then get potential game-tying shots off. 
“I also thought we handled the end-of-the game situation pretty good,” Heath said. “We haven’t gone over that in practice, and I thought we were calm.”
That six-point Winooski lead after three periods was the largest either team enjoyed all afternoon. Each team only scored once in the first quarter: Dang gave Winooski a 2-0 lead with 3:30 to go, and freshman Payton Buxton sank her first career shot, a three-pointer, at 1:00 to make it 3-2 after one. The Tigers controlled the boards in the first period, with Cluss and Krisandra Provencher both doing well.
But in a sloppy second period in which each team committed seven turnovers, three apiece in the first minute, the Spartans hit the glass harder and got second-chance points from Dang and Amanda Nattress, plus a steal conversion from Riley Corrigan. The Tigers answered with jumpers in the lane from Hobbes and Provencher, and it was 8-7, Spartans, at the half.
Cluss hit the glass hard early in the third period and went strong to the basket for a hoop, and Provencher hit twice in the post to offset a pair of Dang baskets inside and make it 13-12, Tigers, at 1:35.
But Dang hit two free throws after being fouled in the post at 1:17, and then stole the ball and went coast-to-coast to convert a three-point play at 1:00. Nattress tacked on two free throws to make it 19-13 after three.
The Tigers then tried to rally, but came up just short despite what Heath called a poised effort.
“It was a close game the entire game, and I thought we were calm and composed and did the things we were trying to work on,” she said.
Heath played all 10 members of her roster, including three freshmen who looked like they belonged. One, Riley Fenster, chipped in with four rebounds, and Buxton picked up a steal and a pair of assists. Senior Carsyn Buxton led the team with three steals.
Heath said at least at this point of the season she will give all the Tigers plenty of time.
“We’re definitely still experimenting, as well as trying to get people to go in for a few minutes and give us everything they have and then get a rest,” she said. “And I’m sure as time goes on that will change a little, but we’re trying to figure it all out as we go along.”
 Heath’s goal this week — which brings potentially challenging 7 p.m. home games on Monday and Friday vs. Mill River and Burr & Burton, respectively — and beyond is to see the Tigers improve.
“We were happy with how we played, and (we’re) just looking to bounce back,” she said. “We have a game on Monday and on Friday, and we’ll try to tweak a few things tomorrow in practice.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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