Tiger girls fight off Commodore rally

VERGENNES — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team led host Vergennes by 10 points in the fourth period on Friday, but had to hold off a Commodore rally to come away with a 50-46 victory.
The Tigers won two of three games last week to finish at 3-17 and unofficially earn the No. 14 seed. The Vermont Principals’ Association set playoff pairings early on Monday, and it appears MUHS will meet No. 3 Mill River on Tuesday or Wednesday.
On Friday, Tiger senior co-captain Krisandra Provencher said the team would savor its improved play and late wins.
“We’ve worked really hard, and we finally just put all the pieces together,” said Provencher, who chipped in 13 points vs. VUHS. “And we wanted it really bad.”
The Tigers were, as usual, led by freshman Keagan Dunbar, who scored 18 and added four rebounds. But Coach Jen Heath said Friday’s result was a team win: Many Tigers contributed and showed confidence.
Junior forward Hannah Buttolph recorded four points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals; sophomore guard Riley Fenster scored six points; sophomore forward Ally Larocque chipped four points and five rebounds; and sophomore guard Payton Buxton drove the baseline for a key fourth-quarter three-point play.
“We’ve been talking about making themselves a threat within what we’re trying to do,” Heath said. “I can think of things that each one of them did that we’ve talked about.”
The 6-14 Commodores will probably enter the D-II postseason with a No. 12 seed and face No. 5 Lamoille (11-7) in the first round.
TIGER SOPHOMORE LILIA Smith puts pressure on Commodore sophomore Caroline Johnston Friday night in Vergennes. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
They rallied on Friday despite seeing junior forward and leading scorer Nikki Salley and starting sophomore forward Tamara Aunchman both in foul trouble. Salley fouled out late after playing less than 16 minutes in a tightly called game.
Many players also contributed for VUHS Coach Billy Waller. Salley and Aunchman each scored 10, and five more Commodores scored, notably junior forward Sara Stearns (eight points) and sophomore guard Shay Pouliot (six points).
Waller said in earlier close games the Commodores made mistakes that led to setbacks. On Friday, he said the Tigers did enough to win.
“We had a lot of heart in the end to try to make that comeback. Kids were trying to make the plays that we were asking them to make,” Waller said. “We lost today because Middlebury made plays.”
The Tigers took a 14-10 lead after one period. VUHS senior Paige Coyle scored four points in the first period, while Dunbar scored eight as MUHS worked the ball well on the baseline against the VUHS 1-2-2 zone.
The Tigers led, 29-21, at the half as Provencher and Dunbar scored six apiece in the second period and Buttolph made an impact. Stearns led VUHS in the period with four points, converting nifty assists from sophomore guard Caroline Johnston and senior guard K.C Ambrose on the break.
Johnston opened the second half by driving for a three-point play, but Provencher and Dunbar combined on a 6-0 run to push the lead to 11 at 35-24. Waller then went to a box-and-one defense on Dunbar (Johnston and junior Brianna Gebo defended her well) that slowed MUHS, and the two late putbacks from Stearns (five rebounds) helped VUHS back to within 39-34 after three.
A Larocque jumper and a Dunbar three-point play made it 44-34 at 6:46 of the fourth. VUHS got two Pouliot free throws and a post move from Salley to make it 44-38, but Buxton’s three-point play made it a 47-38 at 4:03. VUHS held MUHS to a Provencher free throw over the next 3:39 while Pouliot hit two free throws and Sally and Aunchman converted offensive boards, and it was 48-44 at 0:50.
VUHS then saw a three-pointer rim out before Fenster hit one of two free throws to make it 49-44. Aunchman, who led VUHS with seven rebounds, hit in the paint at 0:15 to make it 49-46, but another Fenster free throw clinched the win.
Heath praised her team’s poise.
“Even when they came out in the box-and-one on Keagan, we still ran what we needed to do and kept our composure,” she said.
Provencher said the victory was a nice reward for a team that has maintained a good attitude. 
“We’ve had lots of practices, lots of hours, and we’ve really melded together,” she said. “Everybody just pushes for the other people. We want the other people to succeed just as we want ourselves to.”
Waller said he believes the Tigers and Commodores have bright futures.  
“I think that both of our teams have players headed in the right direction,” Waller said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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