MUHS girls run past Missisquoi, now 3-2

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team started each half on Tuesday vs. visiting Missisquoi with big runs and cruised to a 51-39 victory.
The Tigers, who improved to 3-2 with the result, opened the first quarter with an 18-2 surge as their press forced a dozen T-Bird turnovers and led to a dozen fast-break points.
Junior guard Keagan Dunbar sparked MUHS with 11 of her game-high 24 points in the opening period, including four transition layups, three of them lefthanded. She also tallied six steals.
Senior forward Ally Larocque (eight points, five rebounds) chipped in a putback, junior guard Shannon Sunderland (six points) came off the bench to nail a jumper, and senior guard Payton Buxton (five points, six rebounds, three steals) laid in a fast-break hoop and a free throw as the Tigers finished the opening period ahead, 18-5.
Coach Jen Heath said what happened in the first period is part of the Tigers’ template for success.
“We have some great shooters. We have speed,” Heath said. “We talk a lot about using our speed and our press to our advantage.”
The 0-8 T-Birds slowed the Tigers in the second period, in part because their shots simply wouldn’t drop and in part because MVU forward Kailie Manchester, who closed the first quarter with a three-point play, started to dominate the boards and eliminate the Tigers’ second-chance points.
The Tigers went scoreless for the first 6:43 in the second period, but MVU managed only four points in that span as the Tigers continued to force turnovers, both with their full-court zone press and half-court man-to-man defense. Dunbar re-entered late in the quarter and scored two hoops, and MUHS led, 22-9, at the half.
Even though the Tigers surrendered 30 points in the second half as Heath began to sub freely and experiment with defensive looks, she was happy with their defensive effort.
“I thought our intensity on our defense in the first half was pretty good. Then in the second half we were trying to change it up and work on some different things, and I thought at times there were some tough spots,” she said. “But overall I’m happy. Everyone went in and contributed.”
And the Tiger offense came back to life and showed better balance in the third period. The Tigers opened with a decisive 17-6 run over the first 10 minutes with points from five players: a three-pointer and two transition hoops from Dunbar; an opening runner in the lane from senior guard Lily Smith; two Larocque hoops inside, one set up by a nice drive-and-dish from senior Riley Fenster (four points, three steals); and Fenster and Sunderland jumpers.
Heath said the Tigers discussed better ball movement at halftime and adapted their approach.
“We worked it around and made them play defense and worked on our offense,” she said.
Despite being in a 39-13 hole late in the third period, the T-Birds (coached by Jim Daly, a member of the 1983 Tiger boys’ championship team) kept fighting. Points from Isabel Paquette (nine overall), Autumn Gratton (eight), Manchester (seven) and Emily Bourdeau (six) helped MVU pull to within 47-36 with 2:12 to go. But hoops by Sunderland (set up by sophomore Carly Larocque) and Tiger sophomore forward Ashley Sunderland clinched the win.
Overall, Heath has been happy with how her team’s chemistry has developed.
“What I’ve been pleased with is that we have five newcomers on the team, and I think that everybody has really stepped up to help them out,” she said. “And I think we have a good group of girls, a close group of girls that work hard together.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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