In girls’ hoop, Eagles pull away from Commodores

VERGENNES — The Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team on Friday had a fight on its hands for 19 minutes at Vergennes — the score stood at 17-17.
But then the 8-5 Eagles took charge in their 42-23 victory, Mount Abe’s sixth in seven outings.
To close the third quarter, Eagle senior center Isabel Brennan (nine points, nine rebounds and eight assists) scored six points in an 8-1 run that made it 27-18 after three. And then Eagle freshman forward Emma Carter erupted for 14 of her game-high 18 points in the fourth period as Mount Abe pulled away.
Brennan said in the first half the Eagles were not playing smart defense or running their offense properly, but got their focus back in the second half.
“We were not really thinking. It was our third game this week, so I think we were a little tired,” Brennan said. “We really picked it up and I think we all kind of got in the groove.”
Eagle coach Connie LaRose credited the defensive effort of the 3-10 Commodores, who were shorthanded due to a knee injury to junior forward Natalie Salley and the one-day medical absence of junior guard/forward Brianna Gebo.
“They had enough oomph to bother us,” LaRose said.
She said the Eagles executed better offensively and increased their effort defensively after the break.
“We talked about that as well in the locker room, that we had to pick up the intensity,” LaRose said.
Coach Billy Waller noted his team’s good defense, singling out senior forward Paige Coyle, junior forward Sara Stearns, junior guard Sarah Poirier-Thayer and sophomore guard Caroline Johnston.
Waller also pointed to the Commodores’ first-half rebounding against the taller Eagles: They held a 19-16 edge at the break, including team rebounds, before the Eagles took charge in the second half, 19-10. Junior center Nikki Salley (team highs of seven points and seven rebounds) led VUHS on the boards.
 “I thought the key, before the game started, was being able to rebound. Early in the game, our boxing out was good,” he said. “In the second half the tables were turned.”
Waller also said the Eagle guards — seniors Ashley Boise and Keegan Jackman and juniors Jesse McKean and Stacie Sabourin — sparked their team’s defense.
“I don’t know if their guards get a lot of recognition, but in the second half their guards were really scrappy,” he said. “We were having a hard time getting into the lane in the second half.”
Mount Abe led after one, 8-5, after two late Carter hoops offset three points from Salley and bucket in the post from junior forward Tamara Aunchman.
Senior guard K.C. Ambrose gave VUHS a spark in the second with a three-pointer and a pull-up jumper, and when Salley converted nicely on the break on a feed from Johnston at 4:00, the Eagle lead was down to 13-12. A minute later, Poirier-Thayer (two steals and a blocked shot in the quarter) took a feed from Ambrose and sank a short jumper, and VUHS led, 14-13.
But then VUHS went cold and kept missing a number of shots from close range. Waller said they have to reverse a habit that cost them in recent close losses to Colchester and Mount Mansfield, and that better shooting would go a long way for VUHS this season and next, when they will return eight of 10 rotation players.
“For every five layup opportunities we get, we make one or two. And the other teams make four out of five,” Waller said. “That’s the difference for us right now.”
Free throws from Brennan and junior forward Dani Forand gave the Eagles a 15-14 lead at the half. Coming out of the break, a Johnston free throw tied the game, and Boise (four points) hit a jumper at 6:10 to make it 17-15. Salley scored on an inbounds play at 5:30 to create the final tie, but then it was all Eagles. Jackman went to the line at 5:09 and missed both free throws, but hustled for the rebound and fed Brennan for the go-ahead jumper.
That 19-17 score stood until 1:30, when senior forward Jen Gordon (four points) scored on the break from McKean to make it 19-15. The Eagles then closed with six points in the period’s final minute, two hoops by Brennan and two McKean free throws at 0:12. Poirier-Thayer hit a free throw at 0:01 to make it 27-18 after three periods.
Then Carter erupted in the fourth. In the first 2:30 she drove for a hoop, converted in the post twice, and went coast-to-coast. VUHS sophomore guard Shay Pouliot put back in her own miss at 4:35 for the first VUHS hoop in 7:55, but Carter added three more hoops down the stretch as the Eagles pulled away.
The Eagles are in fourth place in Division II. Brennan said the team, including many new players after key cogs in their back-to-back D-II titles graduated this past spring, is coming together and becoming increasingly focused on a goal she was at first not sure was possible — a third straight crown.
“We’ve picked up the intensity. We’re working a lot harder in practice,” Brennan said. “I’m excited to see what the future brings.”
LaRose agreed the team’s newcomers are gaining confidence and her team is improving. But she said the Eagles will not reach their goal by looking too far ahead.
“We have to get better every day,” LaRose said. “If they keep doing that, we’ll see where it takes us.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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