Tiger girls’ hoop can’t quite seal deal vs. Thunderbirds

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School basketball team came up just short of its first win on Monday, when visiting Missisquoi held the Tigers to 11 second-half points and hung on for a 31-26 victory.
The Tigers, playing without injured leading scorer Keagan Dunbar, a freshman guard, took a 15-11 lead with 1:01 to go in the second quarter, but struggled to score the rest of the way after MVU called off its full-court press.
The Tigers had turned the ball over against the press, but also had beaten it several times to score in transition. Once they were forced into a half-court game they found the going more difficult.
As well as turning the ball over 31 times, the Tigers also ran into foul trouble. Sophomore guard Payton Buxton, who had a hot hand and scored eight of her game-high 10 points in the first half, picked up her second foul late in the second quarter and then her third and fourth fouls early in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Coach Jen Heath had to sit her after each of those crucial infractions.
The Tigers also hurt themselves by hitting just four of 17 free throws, one of seven in the fourth quarter when they were trying to rally.
But overall Heath saw the competitive game as a step forward for her young 0-7 squad.
“I think we played well. I think we ran out of time at the end. We missed free throws, and we missed some high percentage shots in the first half, some layups. We were getting the shots we wanted, we just missed some of them,” Heath said. “But other than that, I thought we put four quarters together. I was pleased with how everyone played.”
MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School sophomore Payton Buxton puts up a jumper and scores two of her team-high 10 points against Missisquoi on Monday. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
She was particularly happy with a man-to-man defense that held the 3-5 T-Birds to eight field goals, the last two of which came on fortunate bank shots. MVU’s other points came on a 14-for-28 performance from the free throw line.
“We stepped up our defense. I thought we communicated well. We moved our feet,” Heath said.
MVU took a 7-2 lead in the first five minutes, with only a Buxton layup set up by senior guard Krisandra Provencher on the scoreboard for the Tigers. Then the MUHS bench gave the team a lift. Junior forward Hannah Buttolph hit back-to-back layups in transition on feeds from sophomore guard Lily Smith and Buxton, and Smith hit a late jumper to make it 8-8 after one period.
Buxton and the Tiger defense took over in the second, as the Tigers outscored the T-Birds, 7-2, over the first 6:59 to take a 15-10 lead. Buxton sank a jumper, stole the ball and converted a layup, and then hit in the lane on a feed from Smith at 2:33, forcing MVU coach and MUHS grad Jim Daly to call for time and call off the press.
Buttolph hit a free throw at 1:01 to make it 15-10, but two late turnovers led to two Olivia Reynolds free throws at 0:26 and an Emma Getty putback at 0:07 that made it 15-14 at the break.
The Tiger lead vanished in the third quarter as they turned the ball over 10 times and fell behind, 24-21. Provencher hit a pair of jumpers and sophomores Riley Fenster and Ally Larocque each hit a free throw to keep the Tigers in range. A banked three-pointer from the T-Birds Adrianna Lagrow at 1:30 snapped a 20-20 tie and gave MVU the lead for good.
A strong move by Fenster made it 24-23 10 seconds into the third quarter, but another unplanned bank shot, a jumper by Meagan Leadbeater, pushed the MVU lead back to three at 4:35.
The Tigers then missed three free throws over the next three minutes and Buxton saw a layup roll off the rim, while the T-Birds went one-for-four from the line, that one being from Leadbeater at 1:32 and making it 27-23.
Fenster stole the ball and was fouled and hit a free throw at 1:10 to make it 27-24, and an MVU free throw at 1:00 made it 28-24. Buxton converted an offensive rebound at 0:47 to make it 28-26, and was fouled on the play. She missed, but Buttolph grabbed the rebound, only to see her short, potentially game-tying, bank shot bounce off the front of the rim.
The T-Birds rebounded, and Leadbeater hit a free throw to make it 29-26. After a Tiger miss, MVU’s Autumn Beyor iced the win with two free throws.
Buxton and senior forward Lejla Mahmuljin each hauled down a team-high six rebounds, and Buxton added team-highs of five steals and three assists; Smith matched that assist total. Buttolph finished with five points and three boards; Fenster scored four points, grabbed five boards, matched Buxton’s three assists and added two steals; and Provencher scored four. Ashley Benson and Tricia Wright led MVU with six points apiece.
Heath said Dunbar will be back at some point to help with the scoring and ballhandling, but said most importantly on Monday she saw improvement.
“We’re still trying to figure things out, but we’re doing some good things,” she said. “We’re progressing.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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