Tiger girls’ basketball team avenges loss, outlasts Commodores

VERGENNES — One of the three wins earned by a young Vergennes Union High School girls’ basketball team this winter came back on Jan. 10, when the Commodores erased host Middlebury’s eight-point fourth-quarter lead to stun the Tigers, 34-31.
That game represented a low-water mark for the Tigers, who dropped to 0-6, and a high-water mark for the Commodores, who improved to 3-3.
Entering Tuesday’s rematch at VUHS the Tigers had won five of six, while the Commodores had failed to win again.
That trend continued on Tuesday, thanks to a much different look from the 6-7 Tigers. In their earlier loss senior standout Keagan Dunbar had scored all but four of their 31 points. This time around Dunbar played well again, but scored fewer than half her team’s points: she finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists.
One of the other Tiger contributors on Tuesday was senior Shannon Sunderland, who served notice early that this time around would be different: she scored seven of her nine points in the first six minutes and chipped in three assists and two steals.
Sunderland said that since that first Vergennes loss all the Tigers have grown in confidence, both in themselves and each other.
“Vergennes, we did have a rough game. No one’s shots were falling. But we definitely did come together,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been saying. Our whole team, from previous games and on, we look so much better. Everybody’s been contributing.”
The facts bear her out. Not only have the Tigers now won six of seven, but they have also avenged two other losses in the process, to Milton and Missisquoi. Coach Jen Heath said they have improved on both ends of the court.
“We’ve been really concentrating on our defense, and I think our offense has fed from our defense. I think the girls are feeling more confident in themselves and in what we’re doing and believing, which is what we need,” Heath said.   MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School senior Shannon Sunderland rushes up the court during Tuesday night’s game against Vergennes.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Vergennes Coach Billy Waller said the Commodores have been frustrated at times, but also said a team with no senior starters has remained positive.
“I don’t have a fault with a single one of these kids,” Waller said. “You can’t ask for a nicer group that cares as much about their team.”
The Commodores were hit hard this winter by injuries to its ballhandlers. Sophomore Emily Rooney remains out for the season, but VUHS got good news when junior Ciara McClay returned late in January after also missing the entire soccer season due to injury. Tuesday was McClay’s first game without a minutes restriction, and she helped the team’s ball movement and defense.
With virtually all the key players back next year and valuable experience gained this winter, Waller said he and the Commodores believe in the team’s future.
“I think there’s going to be a brighter day for us. It’s just going to be difficult this year,” he said.
McClay also hit an early three to help offset five quick points from Sunderland as the teams were tied at 5-5 midway through the first period. Then the Tigers took the lead for good with a 10-0 run consisting of a Dunbar move in the lane, a Sunderland jumper, and two straight Dunbar threes from the top of the key, after which Waller called for time at 1:06.
After the timeout McClay hit Morgan Lynk on the break and Lynk sank a jumper to make it 15-9, and Dunbar capped the quarter with another drive in the lane to make it 17-9.
MUHS stretched the lead to 27-16 at the half as junior forward Ashley Sunderland (12 points, four rebounds) scored twice on Dunbar assists, Dunbar added four points, and Phoebe Smith contributed a putback. VUHS got a three from Lynk, who scored a team-high 10, Emily Gosliga converted a steal, and Sophie Hatch (six points) hit the offensive glass for a hoop.
But VUHS also missed a number of easy second-chance opportunities in the period, when the Commodores grabbed 14 rebounds, many on the offensive end. “Missing all of those layups early, those have been haunting us all season,” Waller said.
In the third period the Tigers stretched the lead to 39-22 at 2:35 as Ashley Sunderland scored six points, Taylor Sylvester scored on the break and set up two of those Sunderland hoops, and Dunbar scored in transition and assisted a Carly Larocque lay-in. VUHS center Brianna Vanderway scored four of her six points in that stretch.
Then the Commodores hit MUHS with a 12-2 run that spanned the next five minutes, cut the lead to seven, and led Heath to call for time at 5:29 of the fourth. While only Dunbar scored for MUHS, five Commodores found the range: Gosliga and Lynk nailed threes, Vanderway laid in an offensive board, Megan Tarte hit a layup from Lynk, and Emma Bryant sank two free throws. 
“I liked the fact we competed in the second half. Girls were going after rebounds,” Waller said. “It was nice to see the ball go through the net.”
Dunbar drove to break the spell, but a strong post move from VUHS freshman Kate Gosliga made it 43-36 at 4:45. But MUHS took charge: Dunbar assisted hoops by both Sunderlands before sinking three free throws and a three-pointer in the final minute.
“I thought our team did a great job of keeping our composure and doing what we needed to do,” Heath said. “Vergennes made a great run at us, but I still felt like we had control.”
   MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School senior Keagan Dunbar scored 26 points against Vergennes Tuesday night. The Tigers won the game, 53-38.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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