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Second-half spark helps Eagles’ girls basketball past Commodores

BRISTOL — The improving Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team used relentless pressure to pull away from visiting Vergennes in Friday’s second half and earn a 50-30 victory.
The Eagles won for the third time in four tries and moved their record to 4-8 by forcing 35 turnovers and, after a slow start, holding their own on the boards with the bigger Commodores.
Mount Abe played a tough schedule early this winter, and, as Eagle Coach Connie LaRose noted, guard Jessie McKean is the only senior in a starting lineup that includes three sophomores and a freshman.
But gradually things are coming together for the Eagles, with all five of her substitutes also contributing, LaRose said.
“We have flashes where we do some really nice things, and it’s been different kids,” she said. “Everybody’s got a role on this squad.”
VUHS Coach Billy Waller is looking at things from the other side. The Commodores’ early schedule included four games against teams having down years, and they bolted to a 5-1 start. Since then, they have gone 1-5, and Waller said his team — which has equaled its win total from a year ago — must continue to improve its ballhandling and decision-making.
“We just have to get better,” Waller said. “We just had a talk in there, and I don’t think we talked about anything else except staying close to your man at the end of the game, and we’ve got to take care of the ball.”
Things started well for VUHS on Friday. With VUHS senior Bri Gebo playing strong defense on Eagle leading scorer Emma Carter and the Commodores hitting the glass hard, they took a 12-6 lead.
Four of those points came on putbacks by seniors Nikki Salley and Sarah Poirier-Thayer as VUHS earned a 9-3 first-period edge on the boards, junior guard Shay Pouliot converted a three-point play in transition, and Poirier-Thayer set up inside hoops by junior guard Caroline Johnston and senior forward Tamara Aunchman, the latter coming at 2:15 to make it 12-6.
By then, all the Eagles had mustered was a McKean jumper, a steal conversion by sophomore guard Abby Mansfield, and two free throws by freshman forward Jalen Cook. But then the Eagles closed the quarter with a 5-0 run to make it 12-11: Cook converted a Carter feed, sophomore guard Emma LaRose laid in a steal, and sophomore forward Emma Radler hit a free throw.
The Eagles took a 24-21 halftime lead after three lead changes. After a Poirier-Thayer free throw, three quick Carter points gave Mount Abe the lead. A Salley post move and a Poirier-Thayer three-pointer at 4:30 put the Eagles back on top, 18-14, but that was the last VUHS hoop of the period: The Commodores went three-for-eight until the half.
Mount Abe, keyed by Carter, stopped allowing the Commodores to earn second-chance points. And the Eagles hit five of nine free throws and got a game-tying steal and layup from senior guard Stacie Sabourin and then a tie-breaking three-pointer from senior forward Dani Forand on the way to their halftime lead.
The Commodores managed just two hoops in the third period. Gebo hit a jumper at 6:10 to make it 24-23, but the Eagles scored nine points over the next 4:40, three each from LaRose and Rose, to make it 32-23. Salley hit inside at 1:30 to break the spell, but Carter went coast-to-coast for a three-point play at 1:04, and the Eagles led by 35-25 after three.
And they pulled away in the game’s final 4:30, at which point VUHS still was within 40-30. Carter scoring six points in a game-closing 10-0 run to finish with a game-high 16 points to go with nine rebounds.
McKean played a strong all-around game for Mount Abe, with six steals and four assists. Cook scored seven, Mansfield recorded five points and five steals, and LaRose chipped in five points and three assists.
Coach LaRose came away happy. 
“We’re still really young, and sometimes it really shows,” she said. “But we’re energetic, and we work hard. I was really pleased with their effort tonight.”
Salley led VUHS with 10 points, and she, Aunchman and Poirier-Thayer (eight points) helped VUHS earn a 33-24 edge on the boards, including team rebounds.
Waller said his team did play well defensively, especially Gebo. He credited the Eagles.
“I thought that was one of the better games Mount Abe has played,” Waller said. “In the second half they played really well.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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