Commodore girls’ basketball season ends with loss in D-III final
“Our kids put out massive effort all the time. We hit the court running because we had seniors and we had kids that were leaders.”
— VUHS Coach Billy Waller
BARRE — After falling to Lake Region, 53-37, in the Division III championship game at the Barre Auditorium Saturday, the Vergennes Union High School girls’ basketball team finished the season with an 11-2 record. In percentage terms that is the program’s second-finest record since at least 1983. The 2021 edition’s winning percentage trailed only the 22-3 mark compiled by the 2007 Commodore girls.
The Commodores also went deeper in the playoffs than any VUHS girls’ hoop team since the 2006 squad.
And the Commodores, seeded third in Division III, caught the attention of the Vermont basketball world by knocking off undefeated host No. 2 Windsor in a semifinal, 38-31. Windsor had entered the game averaging 73.3 points.
That result illustrated how a team that routinely went 11 athletes deep, including eight seniors, played remarkably tough defense. This winter the Commodores held 10 of 13 opponents to fewer than 40 points and 12 of 13 to fewer than 50.
Unfortunately, the biggest exception to that defensive norm came in Saturday’s Division III final, when hot-shooting top seed Lake Region completed its 12-0 season by defeating the Commodores.
The Rangers presented two major thorns in the Commodores’ side in the championship game: sophomore guard Sakoya Sweeney, whose dribble penetration VUHS found difficult to contain as she led Lake Region with 19 points, and senior all-star guard Tia Martinez, who sank a trio of three-pointers and finished with 15 points.
VUHS Coach Billy Waller praised the two Rangers for their effort.
“Martinez and (Sweeney), just unbelievable guard play,” Waller said.
Waller added that when Martinez hit two threes in the second quarter and then one early in the second half — all came when senior forward Hannah Kelly, who had been marking her effectively, had to sit with foul trouble — the Rangers seemed to relax on offense, particularly as they pulled away in the third quarter after leading at the half, 25-20.
“When Martinez started the third quarter with that three, that hurt. Because at the half I felt like we were in it. And when the quarter went along, and Hannah got in that foul trouble, I didn’t have a matchup to contest those shots. So between Martinez doing what she was doing and Sakoya getting into the lane and creating issues for us that was a problem,” he said.
The Commodores came up short despite a terrific effort from senior forward Kate Gosliga, who poured in a game-high 22 points, mostly with smooth moves around the basket.
“There’s no replacing her. There’s no one in the pipeline who can do what she can do,” Waller said. “Kate has been a backbone of the team for four years, these last three especially.”
Neither team got much going in the first period, which ended with Lake Region on top, 9-5. Lake Region served notice it would be dangerous in transition, with five fast-break points, and Sweeney showed early she would be a problem with a putback and a three-point play on the break.
Gosliga and VUHS point guard Felicia Poirier each scored buckets for VUHS, and Kelly hit a free throw. The Rangers forced a half-dozen turnovers in the period with their aggressive player-on-player defense.
They also harassed Poirier up and down the court. The Commodore junior was playing point rather than on the wing in the absence of injured sophomore point guard Kyra Bradford. Bradford suited up, but couldn’t go after a late-game collision vs. Windsor in the semi-final.
Waller had installed Bradford at the point midseason, saying it freed Poirier to attack the basket effectively from the flank as well as feed Gosliga from the post.
Waller credited the Ranger defense, but said Bradford was missed on Saturday.
“When we made that switch midseason Felicia went from a seven-point-a-game scorer to a 12-point-a-game scorer,” he said. “They did a great job of making sure our smaller guards could not see into the post.”
As the second quarter opened, VUHS senior Sydney Jewell and Sweeney traded buckets, and then Kelly picked up her third foul and had to sit. Soon afterward Martinez hit back-to-back threes to help the Rangers assume a 19-11 lead at 4:10 even with Poirier answering with two short jumpers.
Gosliga then put the Commodores on her back, scoring nine points in the half’s final 3:20 to cut the lead to 25-20 at the break.
Sweeney scored in the lane to open the second half, but Gosliga answered in the post. Then Kelly picked up her fourth foul — it could have gone either way as Martinez appeared to lose her balance and stumble into Gosliga.
No matter: Seconds later Martinez sank a three to trigger a decisive 15-1 surge over the next 3:23. Gosliga hit a free throw at 6:52 to make it 30-23, but Sweeney hit a three and then stole the ball and coasted in for a layup.
Next, Madison Bowman scored in transition, Robin Nelson drained a three, and another Bowman hoop on the break made it 42-23, Lake Region, with 3:47 left in the period.
It was clearly not going to be the Commodores’ day.
Again, Waller said he credited the two-way play of the Rangers, a strong group whose regular-season wins included one over Division I finalist Rice.
But he would have liked to see more of Kelly on the floor, for rebounding as well as her work on Martinez.
“I’m not saying those weren’t fouls, but those were huge. Hannah having to come out and off of Martinez, it opened up the game for them,” Waller said.
The Rangers led by 47-29, after three periods, and VUHS came no closer than 13 points in the fourth quarter.
As well as Gosliga, Kelly, Sydney Jewell and twin sister Morgan, the team’s seniors include Lauren Curtis, Ema Gernander, Savannah Thomann and Sydney Weber, all of whom saw action on Saturday.
Waller credited their work ethic and leadership for much of the team’s success this winter.
“Our kids put out massive effort all the time,” Waller said. “We hit the court running because we had seniors and we had kids that were leaders, and because they played multiple sports they were ready to go. And like in any sport, if you have confidence you have a chance to win. And we played with confidence all year long. It just didn’t go our way today.”
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