By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — In a first-round Division II boys’ basketball playoff game that was not decided until the buzzer, No. 12 Mount Abraham survived a furious late rally by No. 5 Middlebury Union High School to win, 53-50. The game, which also served as a 2008-2009 rubber match between local rivals, was played in an electric postseason atmosphere.
The 10-11 Eagles held the 13-8 Tigers scoreless for four minutes of the fourth quarter and scored 10 points to take a 48-39 lead with 2:11 to go.
In that outburst Bela Dobkowski (10 points) gave Mount Abe the lead with a putback at 5:40, Shawn Marcelle hit a trey to make it 43-39 after an offensive rebound by Jake McDonough, and McDonough hit two free throws at 4:54. A free throw by senior Kyle Kayhart (a team-high 16 points) and two by senior Corey Kimball (eight) pushed the lead to nine.
But the Tigers kept coming, with treys by senior Jeff Maier and sophomore Brendan Burrell and a steal and a layup by senior Cooper Quenneville (who scored a game-high 17 points) offset only by the Eagles making three of six free throws. Burrell’s trey at 1:02 made it 51-47.
Then the Eagles’ free throw woes continued — they made only 16 of 37 on the night. Kimball and Dobkowski each missed a pair. After the final miss, Quenneville went coast-to-coast for a three-point play, and it was 51-50 at 0:36.
A Kayhart free throw made it 52-50. After turnovers by both teams, Dobkowski was fouled with 4.8 seconds on the clock. With dueling chants of “Here we go, Eagles” and “Let’s go, Midd” echoing off the ceiling, he sank the second free throw.
Burrell took the inbounds pass and raced past midcourt, but his long three-point try hit the rim at the horn, and the Eagles had their second victory of the season at MUHS after the Tigers won the first meeting between the squads at Mount Abe.
Kayhart said the Eagles kept their focus in a physical game by heeding the words of Coach Bill Leggett.
“We came out, played our game. Leggs was telling us before the game to go one step at a time, one possession at a time,” Kayhart said. “And we pulled through.”
MUHS coach Chris Altemose praised both teams’ efforts.
“At the end of the game, you really saw what our kids were made of. Regardless of the situation all season long they never quit, and they played with pride, and they finished strong no matter what. And to make this game as tight as it was at the end, that was just pure heart and effort,” Altemose said. “But not to take anything away from Mount Abe. They came in here and had a good game plan. (They’re a) well-coached team, and they played really well.”
Leggett said there were several key factors for his team: After the Tigers took a 17-10 lead six minutes into the first period, the Eagles adjusted their 3-2 zone to make it harder for MUHS to swing the ball from side to side to free up shooters, while Kayhart’s scoring also helped Mount Abe weather the early storm.
The Eagles also got a huge lift on the boards from their reserve forwards, Dobkowski, senior Jon Martin and McDonough.
“We had some huge minutes off the bench for some big guys in particular,” Leggett said.
After the Tigers settled for a 17-14 lead after one period, senior guard Jake Goldstein scored six points for the Eagles in a 10-4 second period run that put Mount Abe up, 26-21. Senior Seth Delorme’s two hoops inside helped MUHS stay close, and Devin Bradford stole an outlet pass and swished a trey at the break to cut the Eagle lead to 33-30.
Then the lid went on the basket in the third, when each team managed just five points. MUHS got only a free throw by Quinten Collins (five assists) in the first six minutes, while Mount Abe went scoreless until Martin’s strong move to the hoop at 4:00. MUHS added buckets by Burrell and Delorme, while the Eagles got a Kayhart free throw and a putback by senior Dean Butler.
To start the fourth, Quenneville stepped up and nailed two jumpers, the second at the six-minute mark, to give MUHS its final lead at 39-38. But then the Eagles went on the 10-0 run that eventually proved decisive.
For MUHS, Maier finished with nine points; Burrell, seven; and senior center Will Pitkin, five rebounds and three blocks. Given that the team had an entirely new starting lineup this year, Altemose could find positives in 13-8 season in which the Tigers earned a No. 5 seed.
“(It’s a) very disappointing end to our season. We really hoped and thought we could achieve more. But we had a great season,” Altemose said. “The guys were tremendous, focused, worked hard, good attitudes, coachable kids, represented the school very well. Everything you could look for in a high school basketball team, this group had.”
Now the Eagles get to try to do more. On Saturday, they will either play at No. 4 Springfield or host No. 13 Windsor. Kayhart said they will be ready for whatever is next.
“Now we’ve got a little confidence going for us,” Kayhart said. “I guess it’s a one-step-at-a time thing. We’ve just got to keep on going after it, work hard at practice, work on our foul shots for the end-of-the-game stuff.”
Like the Tigers, the Eagles also graduated their full starting lineup from last winter’s D-I finalist squad. They have now won seven of their past 10 games, and Leggett believes they are better than their record.
“I can’t say enough about them. We’ve had some rough games we felt like we should have been winning, and we’ve beat some awful strong teams, Vergennes and Middlebury, and once again here in Middlebury,” he said. “They rise to the occasion, and they pull for each other so well.”