VUHS girls rally vs. Spartans falls short

VERGENNES — A fast start, a strong finish and solid defense weren’t quite enough for the Vergennes Union High School girls’ basketball team on Thursday, when visiting Winooski held off a late rally by the Commodores in their home opener to win, 36-33.
The 1-1 Commodores bolted to an 8-2 lead in the first 4:20, but then struggled to find a way through or hit shots over the Spartans’ 2-3 zone. Despite taking good care of the ball — only 10 turnovers through three periods — they fell behind by 29-17 with 2:50 left in the third quarter after scoring only nine points in almost 18 minutes.
Then the Commodores surged. Sophomore Morgan Lynk sank her second three-pointer of the quarter to make it 29-20. Senior center Xzavia Berry blocked a shot at the other end, and sophomore guard Ciara McClay grabbed the loose ball and fed senior guard Caroline Johnston for a transition hoop. The Commodores forced a turnover, and senior guard Alyson Gebo converted a second-chance hoop in the lane after a Johnston offensive rebound.
Even though Spartan guard Lydia Nattress sank a three to close the quarter and make it 32-24, the Commodores had their confidence back.
In part, Coach Billy Waller said, a switch to a full-court press helped the Commodores get their feet moving, and got the Spartans out of synch — they scored only seven points in the final 10:50 and went scoreless for the first 7:10 of the fourth period.
“Once we pressed I think it changed things, and made them rush a little more,” said VUHS Coach Waller. 
The Commodores still struggled to score, but kept plugging.
“I thought there was no quit,” Waller said.
Johnston, who gave the Commodores a lift off the bench with six points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists, opened the fourth quarter with a jumper to make it 32-26. Although VUHS went scoreless for the next four minutes, they kept Winooski at bay with two more blocks from Berry (who stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 16 rebounds, six blocks and four steals) and steals from senior forward Becca Maloy and senior guard Shay Pouliot (four steals in all).  
Pouliot hit a free throw at 3:49 to break the ice and make it 32-27. After back-to-back steals by Berry, she converted an inbounds play in the lane, with McClay picking up one of her three assists. Johnston then stole the ball at the other end, and the Commodores worked the ball to Berry, who was fouled and sank two free throws at 2:16 to make it 32-31.
After another Spartan turnover, the Commodores went to the line with a chance to take the lead, but missed both. After yet another Berry swat of a Winooski shot, a McClay jumper just missed, and at the other end the Spartans finally scored: Forward Mariah Metivier laid in her ninth and 10th points on a nice pass from Riley Corrigan at 9:50.
Berry answered immediately in the post. The Commodores soon got the ball back with 26 seconds left with a chance to take the lead, but lost the ball. Nattress then iced the win with two free throws at 0:32.
The Commodores had taken their 8-2 first-quarter lead on two Berry hoops, a coast-to-coast sprint by McClay and a jumper by Lynk, who finished with eight points. But the Spartans closed the quarter on an 6-0, with four points from Nattress, to take the lead.
The Spartans then outscored the Commodores, 13-6, in what proved to be a pivotal second period. Corrigan scored twice, and five Spartans had a hoop apiece. The Commodores found it difficult to penetrate the zone or shoot over the taller Spartans.
Waller said he expects them to find the outside shooting range as the season progresses, and when they do it will create more room inside for Berry.
“They’ll learn to get it off a little quicker with a little more confidence, because when they have space they can knock down some shots,” Waller said. “You can’t be hesitant, especially when teams are packing it in. Otherwise we’ll never get the ball into Xzavia.”
Metivier inside and Lynk from behind the arc exchanged hoops to open the second to make it 23-17, and then Spartan forward Amna Cicak scored twice inside in a 6-0 run as her team took its 29-17 lead that proved to be just enough to hold off the Commodores. That lead could have been bigger, but VUHS sophomore forward Breanna De Smit recorded two of her four blocks in that stretch.
The Commodores were coming off a one-sided win in their opener at Harwood, and although Waller said there remains work to be done — including seeing his team remember to focus fully for 32 minutes — he likes what he has seen so far.
“It’s just little things. I still think were eons ahead of where we were at this point last year,” he said, adding, “Overall, for a second game, I’m not displeased with it.” 

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