Tiger girls top Eagles; Otters win; VUHS falls

BRISTOL — Middlebury dealt host Mount Abraham a setback to highlight area high school girls’ basketball early this week.
In other games, Otter Valley picked up a home win, but Vergennes came up short on its home court.
The Tigers took early leads of 6-0 and 14-5 and never trailed in a 46-36 victory over the host Eagles on Tuesday. MUHS improved to 12-7, and the Eagles dropped to 11-8.
Mount Abe came within four at 20-16 at 3:00 of the second quarter, but four points from MUHS senior Payton Buxton and two free throws from junior Shannon Sunderland, whose steal and assist set up one of Buxton’s hoops, and helped the Tigers push the lead to seven at the break, 26-19.
Tiger junior leading scorer Keagan Dunbar also had 18 of her game-high 29 points in the first half, 12 in the first quarter, to help the Tigers take control.
Junior forward Emma Radler had seven for the Eagles in the half, but Eagle leading scorer Emma Carter — who put up 40 points in Mount Abe’s 56-50 win at MUHS on Feb. 8 — managed just two points in the half and eight overall. MUHS senior Lily Smith used her quickness to slow Carter, and Sunderland and Buxton also took turns defending her.
The Tiger offense slowed in the third quarter, with only a Dunbar drive in the first four minutes. But the Eagles only cut the lead to 28-23 on a steal and layup by junior guard Abby Mansfield (seven points, four steals) and two Carter free throws at 4:26. In between the Eagles missed four free throws — they sank just 10 of 23 during the game.
Then the Tigers closed the quarter on an 8-2 run to lead by 36-25 after three. With only Carter scoring for Mount Abe, Smith fed Dunbar for a jumper, Dunbar went coast-to-coast for two, Sunderland (five points) hit in the lane, and Buxton (eight points, six assists, four steals), sank two free throws.
Seven points from Radler (14 in all, plus five boards) helped the Eagles to pull within 40-34 with 4:46 to go, but the Tigers responded with two key hoops: Buxton fed a cutting Smith at 3:50, and a Dunbar drive at 2:45 made it 44-34. Free throws created the final score.
Carter filled the stat sheet with six assists, six rebounds and three blocks. Eagle Coach Connie LaRose credited the Tiger defenders for their work on Carter, but also said officials might have been too lenient on them.
LaRose also praised the defense of junior guard Vanessa Dykstra, but said her team did not play its best on Monday or in a loss at Colchester four days before.
LaRose, whose team will probably enter the D-II tournament as the No. 6 seed with a home win over VUHS on Thursday, said the Eagles’ shot selection, ball movement, free-throw shooting and defense has to improve.  
“We just made too many mistakes, and if we’re going to make a deep run in the tournament, we need to fix those,” LaRose said.
For the Tigers, senior Riley Fenster hauled down nine rebounds, and Dunbar added eight in what Coach Jen Heath called one of her team’s best performances. She added the fast start, due to Dunbar’s scoring and good team defense, was critical.
“This was a great win,” Heath said. “We played great defense. We wanted to keep them under 40, and we kept them under 40 with a great team effort.”
The Tigers were just 3-3 in their past six games, and Dunbar said it was an important win. 
“We really needed it going into playoffs,” Dunbar said. “I think this game was probably the hardest we’ve worked overall. It was probably the best game of the season effort-wise.”
A Tiger home win vs. North Country on Thursday could move them as high as No. 9 in D-I. Dunbar said the Tigers believe they can prevail in the postseason.
“This year we have a chance in the playoffs, just looking at the matchups,” she said. “Eleven through eight (seeds) are really tight right now, so I think we can win.”
In Brandon on Tuesday, the OV girls put the clamps on Hartford (7-12) in the second half, outscoring the Hurricanes by 16-7 to earn a 31-25 victory. Sophia Bloomer led the OV attack with 11 points, and Sophie Markowski andJulia Lee added eight apiece.
The 7-12 Otters were in 13th place in D-II after the game and might need help to move higher: They visit first place Mill River on Thursday night.
Visiting Colchester bolted to a 17-3 lead on the way to a 51-32 win at VUHS on Monday. Gabby Gosselin scored 22 for the 12-7 Lakers. Forwards Xzavia Berry and Brianna Van DerWay scored eight points apiece to lead the Commodores, who dropped to 8-11 heading into Mount Abe on Thursday. VUHS appears to be locked into the No. 11 seed in D-II. 

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