Tigers and Dunbar are too much for Otter Valley girls’ basketball

ADDISON COUNTY — With senior guard Keagan Dunbar scoring a program-record 41 points, the Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team broke through for its first win on Tuesday, 67-52, against an Otter Valley team that staged a fourth-quarter rally but could not overcome a large Tiger lead.
Dunbar iced the victory and broke her own scoring record by hitting eight free throws in the final 1:02 after OV fought back from 19 points down to within 59-50 on an Alia Edmunds hoop with 1:35 to go.
Dunbar in all sank 20 of 21 free throws as the Otters (2-5) struggled to contain her drives to the basket with two different zone and man-to-man defenses. Dunbar also nailed three shots from behind the arc and contributed five assists, six steals and eight rebounds.
“She had a good night,” OV Coach Kelly Trayah said, adding, “Keagan’s a hell of a player.”
Just as importantly for MUHS (1-6) six other Tigers scored after Dunbar’s teammates had combined for just four points in a 34-31 loss on Jan. 10 to Vergennes.
Junior forward Ashley Sunderland (six points, nine rebounds) and senior Shannon Sunderland (six points, five rebounds) led the way, but many Tigers played roles in the win. For example, senior forward Ella Beattie blocked four shots, scored four points and stole the ball in the game’s final minute.
Coach Jen Heath noted the team-wide effort.
“Keagan played great, and we definitely rely on her. But it was a complete team effort. Everybody that went in played great defense, took the shots that we needed,” Heath said. “Everybody definitely contributed, did what we needed them to do for a good team win.”
Trayah saw the Otters score just 18 points in falling behind by 10 at halftime. The Otters couldn’t get jump shots to fall, and when they started to find the range in the second half they finally began to close the gap — especially when senior forward Gabby Poalino sank six of her team-high 14 in the fourth quarter, when also Edmunds, a sophomore forward, scored four of her 11.     
“We didn’t shoot well in the first half. Then we came out and finally started hitting some shots,” Trayah said. “We played much better in the second half than the first half and made it a game at the end there.”
The first quarter ended with MUHS up, 10-9, despite two points and three assists from Poalino, one on the opening tap to sophomore forward Livia Bernhardt, who finished with seven points.
But the Tigers took charge in the second, outscoring the Otters by 18-9. Dunbar tossed in 12 and set up hoops by juniors Taylor Sylvester (four points, four assists) and Carly Larocque (four points), and Sylvester set up a Shannon Sunderland bucket. Four Otters scored two points apiece, but it wasn’t enough to prevent MUHS from taking a 28-18 halftime lead.
OV scored 11 points in the first 3:15 of the third period, five from freshman guard Mallory Lufkin, to cut the Tiger lead to 38-29. But the Tigers closed the period on a 13-6 run with seven points from Dunbar, a Shannon Sunderland transition hoop assisted by Dunbar, a Beattie putback and a Larocque hoop on the break.
As the quarter wound down OV managed one free throw from junior point guard Julia Eastman and two from Poalino, and a late three from junior Mary Kingsley made it 51-38 after three.
The Tigers led by 55-40 at 4:40 of the fourth when Sylvester sank two free throws. Then the Otters began to rally. A putback by sophomore Leah Pinkowski, a Poalino drive and an Eastman fast-break hoop assisted by Bernhardt was offset only by a Beattie jumper set up by Dunbar, and it was 57-46 with three minutes to go.
After two Dunbar free throws, Poalino drove for two more, Edmunds stole the ball, and Eastman fed Edmunds for two at 1:35 to make it 59-50. Edmunds then stole the ball again, but consecutive steals by Ashley Sunderland, Beattie and Dunbar led to Dunbar free throws and ended the comeback bid.
Trayah praised the Otters for making a run at the Tigers.
“That’s this team. They keep fighting. They never get down. It doesn’t matter the score,” Trayah said. “That’s why I’m proud of them.”
But he said his young team has to develop more offensive consistency.
“We can’t live and die by the three. We have to attack low, too,” Trayah said. “Once we get our inside-outside game going we’ll continue to grow.”
Heath was happy with the Tigers’ 2-3 zone defense, rebounding (although the bigger Otters did earn a 38-32 edge), ballhandling, (only 12 turnovers to OV’s 16) and ball movement, and called the effort one her team should be able to build upon.
“I hope this will help us with us with the confidence we need, because there are definitely teams that we are playing the rest of the way that we can beat and compete with,” Heath said. “It was just a good night of basketball.”
In other action, on Jan. 12 OV lost to visiting Mount Anthony, 58-34, as Patriot Grace Mahar scored 18 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. Edmunds led OV with 11 points and Poalino added nine. The Otters were scheduled to host Burr & Burton on Tuesday, but that game was postponed due to the forecast bad weather.
MUHS had traveled to face the Bulldogs on Jan. 12, but the game was called off in the first quarter due to slippery floor conditions with the Tigers leading, 9-2. 

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