By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — The Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team got hot on offense in the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Vergennes, and then put the clamps on the Commodores in the third quarter to win, 45-26.
The win moved the Tigers to 9-9. Coach Jared Bailey praised both teams, which had players fighting typical midwinter bugs, and said he was happiest with the Tigers’ work on defense.
“It was a good, hard-fought game. We played, I think, 32 minutes of pretty consistent basketball. I was pleased with our defensive effort,” Bailey said.
VUHS coach Billy Waller’s Commodores, who have an all-new starting lineup this winter, dropped to 3-14. Like Bailey, Waller cut recent practices short to rest his flu-ridden squad. He also had the Commodores’ start out in a zone defense to preserve their energy.
That tactic worked well until Tiger sophomore Jordyn Smith nailed two late first-period treys to help MUHS to an 11-4 lead after one. The Commodores also rebounded well, and the board battled finished at 43-43.
In all, Waller had no complaints about his team’s effort given its health.
“For a while, we were doing OK. We don’t play a lot of zone, but this week we’ve been doing it a lot because we don’t have the legs,” he said. “For the most part we did OK rebounding ... But we don’t have the staying power to stay with some of their top players right now.”
The Commodores made a run at the Tigers in the second period, forcing five turnovers in the first two minutes and getting free throws from Hannah Curler (5 rebounds, 3 steals) and Brittany Nevins (5 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), a bucket from Brittany Quattrocci and a trey from Allison Provost (7 points) to cut the MUHS lead to 13-11.
But MUHS went on a 14-5 run to close the half. Abby Scholten (6 points) started it with a jumper, and then Katie Ritter (10 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds, 8 steals) hit center Nicole Brown with a nice bounce pass on the break that Brown caught and finished smoothly.
Brown (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals) also contributed a putback and hit in the post, Scholten sank a trey and a free throw, and two Ritter free throws at 1:16 made it 27-14. VUHS got two points at the buzzer on a sweet play: Margy Kerschner stole the ball and missed a pressured layup, but Provost swooped in for a lefthanded follow.
In the third quarter, the Tiger man defense allowed just buckets by Katie Curler and Nevins, and the lead grew to an insurmountable 37-20.
For MUHS, Afton Anechiarico had 9 rebounds; Kayla Whittemore, 3 assists; and Kaitlyn Kirkaldy, 3 steals. For VUHS, Samantha Flynn had 4 rebounds, and Kerschner, 3 steals and 3 boards.
Bailey was happy that the Tigers solved a zone defense, a difficult problem at times this winter; that they showed game-long intensity; and that they are closing in on at least a .500 record.
“We’ve shown we can compete with teams night-in and night-out,” Bailey said. “It’s been a great year so far. The girls have worked hard, and they’ve deserved everything they’ve achieved.”
Waller said he would still like to see better transition defense from the Commodores, but that his athletes have shown improvement and a positive attitude. A victory against visiting Colchester on Monday could also give them a winnable first-round game in the Division II playoffs, he said.
“They’ve kept plugging away, and they’re having, I hope, a good time,” Waller said.