Girls’ hoops: Tigers shut down Commodores

MIDDLEBURY — The host Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team pulled away in Saturday’s fourth quarter to defeat Vergennes, 49-24.
The victory, the Tigers’ fifth in six tries, moved them to 7-3. It was the product of a strong team defense, as the Tigers forced 32 turnovers, and balanced scoring, as six Tigers tallied between four and 13 points.
Senior forward and tri-captain Ally Larocque (seven points and a team-high seven rebounds vs. VUHS), said they enjoyed Saturday, and their season has been satisfying.
“This feels really good. We’ve had a pretty good season so far,” Larocque said. “We’ve worked really hard together.”
It’s been more frustrating for the Commodores of late. Starting senior guard Caroline Johnston, arguably the team’s best defender, has been out with a concussion and watched Saturday, and starting sophomore guard Ciara McClay returned on Saturday from an illness.
Partly as a result, Coach Billy Waller’s Commodores have lost four of five and fallen to 6-5. But he didn’t want to blame Saturday’s setback solely on absences: Waller said his team has played hard, but didn’t put its best foot forward at MUHS.
“It just wasn’t the intensity that we’ve shown all year,” Waller said. “And on top of that the amount of live-ball turnovers, I don’t even know how many there were. That’s a disturbing trend the last three games. We’ve just got to do a better job of holding onto the basketball, slowing down in the offensive end, and getting the ball to where we need it to get to. We can say that Caroline and Ciara haven’t been there much, but the fact of the matter is we’ve got kids who just need to make a little bit better decisions with the basketball.”
Waller added the Tigers had a lot to do with how VUHS looked.
“Middlebury played well. They’re doing some good things,” he said.
MUHS took an 8-7 lead after the first quarter, but the Tigers had a problem: Junior leading scorer Keagan Dunbar picked up two fouls and sat to start the second period.
But the Tigers dug in defensively to force a dozen turnovers in the period and take a 20-9 halftime lead. Junior guard Shannon Sunderland (six points, five steals) came in for Dunbar and stole the ball three times in the first two minutes, converting one for a layup.
Senior forward Riley Fenster contributed a blocked shot, Larocque drew a charge, and Payton Buxton (10 points, six steals) up Dunbar on the break when she returned, a play that made it 13-7 at 4:50. Down the stretch, Larocque and Dunbar combined for seven more points, while all VUHS managed in the period was a putback by senior forward Becca Maloy.
Those were the only second-chance points the Tigers allowed as they outrebounded VUHS, 32-26. As well as hard work and communication on defense, Larocque said controlling the boards was key.
“We worked a lot on boxing out so they were not able to get the rebounds. That’s what really helped us a lot,” she said.
In the third period, the Commodores did a better job of working the ball into their leading scorer, senior center Xzavia Berry. Berry tallied nine points in the quarter and twice scored to cut the MUHS lead to eight, the last time at 29-21 at 1:10. But Fenster swished a jumper, from Dunbar, and the Tiger lead was 10 after three. Buxton contributed seven points and an assist in the period.
MUHS Coach Jen Heath credited Berry, who finished with 11 points, 11 boards and five steals.
“She did a good job for them keeping them in the game and giving us some problems,” Heath said.
The turnover bug (10 more) and the Tiger defense bit the Commodores in the fourth. They managed just three free throws as the Tigers pulled away. Meanwhile, six Tigers scored as they moved the ball and attacked the basket.
For MUHS, Lily Smith finished with five points, four steals and three assists, and Fenster with four points and six boards.
“We had talked about trying to get more people involved, and I thought we did a nice job,” Heath said.
The Tigers’ defense helped create that balance, Heath said.
“We caused some havoc and got some steals and got some easy baskets that way. And Vergennes played great defense, I thought, at times. We just had a really tough time getting the shots we wanted,” Heath said. “So that kind of helped us pulled away a little, when we got a couple steals and some layups.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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