In basketball, Commodore girls are too much for Tigers

MIDDLEBURY — An improving Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team hung with visiting Vergennes for the better part of three quarters on Tuesday.
But with Tigers down by just six at 1:35 of the third quarter, the Commodores used their advantage in the paint in an 18-1 run on the way to a 51-35 victory. Senior forwards Emma Bryant and Brianna VanderWey combined for 14 points in that stretch.
The Tigers had cut the lead to 31-25 on back-to-back jumpers by freshmen Hannah Turner and Fairley Olson, both set up by senior Taylor Sylvester, before VUHS took charge.
Regardless, the young Tigers showed better ball movement and offensive structure than earlier in the season, and have now scored at least 34 points in three straight games after cracking 30 points just once in their first 12 games.
Understandably with a team that gave four freshmen regular minutes on Tuesday — a fifth, Annie Andrus, is injured — turnovers remained an issue, with 25.
But VUHS Coach Billy Waller noted how much better the Tigers looked than in their 49-17 loss in Vergennes on Jan. 8, in particular by moving the ball well against the Commodores’ halfcourt man defense (he switched to a zone in the second half) and fullcourt press.
“They’re working toward a brighter day,” Waller said. “They handled the pressure way better.”
The Tiger defense also forced 25 turnovers, and they held the bigger Commodores to a 30-25 advantage on the boards, including team rebounds. Sylvester and junior forward Phoebe Smith grabbed five apiece, and senior forward Samantha Paige, who led MUHS with eight points, had four. Bryant (nine boards) and VanderWey (six) led the Commodores.
Five Commodores scored in the first period, and senior point guard Ciara McClay added a transition assist to classmate Morgan Lynk to her game-opening hoop as VUHS took an early lead. But three Tigers answered, including senior forward Ashley Sunderland with three free throws, and it was 10-7 after one quarter.
The game stayed tight for half the second period, but then VUHS began to find sophomore forward Kate Gosliga in the post. Gosliga scored nine of her game-high 15 points in the period as VUHS stretched the lead to 27-19.
CIARA MCCLAY, THE Commodores’ senior point guard, dribbles into the Middlebury zone harried by the Tigers’ Taylor Sylvester in the first quarter of Vergennes’ win on Tuesday. Below, Commodore Emma Bryant and Tiger Ashley Sunderland fight for the ball in the third quarter of Tuesday’s game.
Independent photos/Steve James
Senior Tiger guard Carly Larocque (seven points) hit a jumper and a drive and Paige chipped in a putback and a post move to keep MUHS close, but the Tigers had no answer for Gosliga.
“They don’t have a matchup for Kate,” Waller said.
The Tigers kept battling in the third. Although the VUHS switch to the zone gave them trouble, they also held the Commodores at bay, in the first 6:35 allowing only a Lynk hoop after a steal and a coast-to-coast bucket by VUHS freshman Felicia Poirier. A basket by Sunderland inside preceded Turner’s and Olson’s jumpers as the lead shrank to six.
But in the last 1:25 VanderWey (10 points) hit the offensive glass twice. She hit two free throws after a foul the first time and laid the ball in the second time to make it 35-25 after three.
In the first 1:30 of the fourth VanderWey assisted sophomore Amber Krumrie’s jumper and then hit a short jumper of her own on a feed from Gosliga to make it 39-35.
Larocque hit a free throw to stop the 8-0 run, but then Bryant took over by scoring all of her eight points: a free throw, a post move assisted by senior Emily Gosliga, a three-point play also set up by Emily Gosliga, and a putback. Kate Gosliga capped the 18-1 run with a post move set up by sister Emily, and it was 49-26 at 3:30.
The Tigers worked to close the game on a 9-2 run with points from Sylvester, Paige, Larocque and Olson.
Waller praised Coach Jen Heath’s Tigers, who remain in search of their first victory.
“To be this late in the year and still fighting, I give her kids a lot of credit,” he said.
Waller was happy the 7-7 Commodores started to more consistently work the ball into their post players. In their past two games, both losses, Division I teams had worked hard to deny those entry passes, he said, but the team that routinely plays 10 athletes has remained positive and focused.
“Overall, I feel like some of the things we’ve been able to do well all year haven’t gone as well lately just because of the competition,” Waller said. “But I am very happy with the fact I get contributions from everybody that plays. And kids are still trying to get better.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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