Tiger girls’ fast start sinks Commodores

COMMODORE FORWARD FELICIA Poirier eyes the basket after nabbing a rebound, while MUHS forward Ele Sellers tries to defend during Tuesday’s girls’ basketball game at VUHS. The Tigers prevailed as Sellers scored 16 points. Independent photo/Steve James

VERGENNES — Defense has been a constant for Coach Chris Altemose’s Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team this winter, but the Tigers have not always shot the ball well.

Unfortunately for host Vergennes, the Tigers were more on target on Tuesday, especially in the first quarter.

That’s when MUHS juniors Cady Pitner and Ele Sellers set the tone with three-pointers in the first two minutes, and five Tigers scored as their team bolted to a 19-4 lead after eight minutes.

The Commodores fell behind further before rallying to within 12 points early in the third period, but the Tigers surged again on the way to a 53-24 victory.

The win pushed the Tigers’ record to 6-5 heading into a game at 7-3 Mount Abraham on Saturday.

VUHS FORWARD GENEVA Verburg looks to pass out of the post as MUHS forwards Ele Sellers (No. 22) and Alex Bonavita defend during the Tigers’ win over the host Commodores on Tuesday.
Independent photo/Steve James

Altemose was pleased to see more shots start to fall on Tuesday, as five players scored at least four points and several more contributed baskets.

“It was fun to see it when they do go through the hoop,” Altemose said. “The balance is nice, and the collective effort is nice.”

Conversely, VUHS Coach Billy Waller, whose team dipped to 4-6 with its fifth straight setback, acknowledged the Commodores could not afford Tuesday’s slow start.

“They outhustled us in the first quarter, and we don’t have the type of team that can do a great job of coming from behind,” he said. “The games that we have won, we’ve played better in the first quarter.”

Waller’s team entered a rebuilding season after nine players graduated from the group that reached the Division III final in 2021, but he said his squad is not playing to its potential at the moment.

For example, one of the losses came by a point to Colchester, which recently defeated North Country, which in turn has knocked off MUHS and Mt. Abe — the teams that just handled VUHS.

“Even the times we ran plays correctly we didn’t score,” Waller said. “The girls that were strong for us earlier in the year, they’re just not getting buckets for us right now.”

Certainly, the Tigers played well, although Altemose said he would still like to see fewer turnovers — even in the big first quarter the Tigers coughed up the ball seven times.

TIGER GUARD CADY Pitner works against the defense of Commodore guard Jazz Little during Tuesday’s girls’ basketball game at VUHS. Pitner scored 10 points as MUHS won, while Little led VUHS with nine points.
Independent photo/Steve James

But they also controlled the boards and dominated defensively. After the opening two three-pointers, Sellers converted a putback, and Gennie Dora hit back-to-back layups assisted by Pitner and Zoe Noble.

Jazz Little hit a jumper at 3:30, set up by Kyra Bradford, to break the ice for VUHS and make it 12-2, but MUHS closed the quarter with a 7-2 run. Noble, Pitner and Sellers all scored in the paint against the VUHS player-to-player defense, and Ivy Doran tacked on a free throw.

Felicia Poirier converted from the lane for the VUHS hoop, but it would prove to be one of only two baskets for the Commodore leading scorer as the Tigers doubled her quickly out of their man defense.

Sellers scored four points as the Tigers opened the second quarter with an 8-2 run in the first 4:40. The Commodores came alive to score the final nine points of the half. Bradford hit a jumper and two free throws, Poirier contributed a putback after a Kaelin Sullivan steal, and Little hit a jumper set up by Ryley Dubois.

Little opened the second-half scoring with a jumper at 5:20 of the third, and the Tiger lead was down to 29-17.

The Tigers regained control with a Doran drive to the hoop and a Sellers putback. Little hit again at 4:40, but Pitner drove and dished to Dora for a layup, and Doran went coast-to-coast for a bucket that made it 37-19 at 3:15 of the third. It was clear the Tigers would not allow a comeback.

VUHS GUARD KYRA Bradford bolts down the court with MUHS guard Ivy Doran in hot pursuit during Tuesday’s girls’ basketball game in Vergennes. The Tigers prevailed to improve to 6-5.
Independent photo/Steve James

Sellers led MUHS with 16 points, followed by Pitner (10), Dora (nine), Doran (five) and Fairley Olson (four). The Tigers were without starting forward Hannah Turner, who suffered a knock late in a recent game and is expected to miss the Mount Abe game as well, but return next week.

Altemose continues to be pleased with his team’s defense, and foresees positives if the offense continues to develop.

“If we can get the pieces going together and finish strong here, I think there’s lots of good things coming for them,” he said.

Little (nine points) and Bradford (eight) led the Commodores offensively, and as a group they held their own on the boards after the first quarter.

Waller hopes the Commodores can reconnect on defense, noting the lack of help on a number of Tiger layups, and begin to make shots again.

But he said the cold streak is not for lack of effort, and said maybe he needs to go deeper into his bench to give his top seven in the rotation more rest.

“We work hard in practice. We’re trying to fix things. But we just haven’t been able to get any rhythm,” Waller said.

Maybe a confidence boost will help.

“We play Colchester on Friday,” Waller said. “Hopefully it will be seeing a familiar face that we know we can play with well.”

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