VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team seized control of Thursday’s home game against Division I BFA-St. Albans midway through the fourth quarter and earned a critical 72-65 victory.
The win moved the Commodores, who have played a challenging schedule, to 6-6 and 2-0 in the Lake Division. The 8-4 Bobwhites, also a contender for the league title, fell to 8-4.
Importantly, the Commodores did it down the stretch after senior guard Logan Williams fouled out with VUHS leading, 54-52. To that point Williams had led the Commodores with 29 points and his defense had helped slow standout Bobwhite guard Nick Swim.
But VUHS didn’t fold. Instead, a unit of all-star forward Connor Merrill, senior forward Brian Van De Weert, sophomore guard Collin Curler, sophomore forward Jake Bushee and freshman guard Shep Carter made a series of key plays and — notably in the case of Curler — free throws as the Commodores pulled away.
Merrill — who finished with 18 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocked shots — believes Thursday’s game was pivotal for VUHS.
“It was just good to pull that one out. It’s a big momentum win,” Merrill said. “We started out kind of rough because of our schedule, but now we’ve got two good wins in a row. That will get us fired up, and we’ll start playing well.”
Coach Peter Quinn praised Williams for his offense and for his defense on Swim; Merrill for his all-around game; Bushee (16 points, 12 rebounds) for helping VUHS earn a 42-33 edge on the boards; and the heady play of Curler and Carter, who played extra with Williams in foul trouble.
“I thought everyone who stepped in did a nice job tonight,” Quinn said.
Quinn was especially happy with the defensive focus and disciplined offense the Commodores, a preseason pick as a D-II contender, displayed for the second straight game.
“This is two consistent games we’ve played for 32 minutes all the way through, first time this year we’ve done that,” Quinn said. “So we’re feeling pretty good right now.”
In the first period, the Bobwhites came out firing and led, 10-4, as four of five starters hit shots over the Commodores’ man-to-man defense.
But Williams scored 11 first-quarter points on two putbacks, two free throws, a jumper and a three-pointer. Bushee worked inside and added four points, and it was 16-16 after one.
Williams added 10 more points in the second, and Merrill sank a three and went coast-to-coast for a hoop. Despite the fact that Swim (21 points in all) heated up for seven points in the quarter and BFA’s persistent press forced 14 first-half VUHS turnovers, VUHS led at the break, 33-29.
As the second half opened, Merrill and Bushee combined for all the VUHS points in a 7-2 run that made it 40-31. But BFA fought back with a 7-0 run on a three from Aaron Tenney (13) and four points inside from Ruben Gilbert. It stayed close, and after three periods it was 50-47, VUHS.
Then Swim opened the fourth quarter with a trey, and it was 50-50. After a Bushee free throw, a Tenney hoop gave BFA its first lead since the first, 52-51. Williams erased that with a three, but soon afterward he fouled Swim, and it was his fifth. Swim’s free throws at 5:13 made it 54-54. When Seth Manahan hit in the post seconds later after a VUHS turnover, it looked bleak.
Instead, the VUHS youngsters took over. Carter fed Bushee in the lane for two at 5:00, and the game was tied for the last time. Then Bushee rebounded a BFA miss and sprung Merrill loose on the break. Merrill drew a foul and hit two free throws at 4:37: 56-54, VUHS. After another BFA miss, Carter and Curler broke out two-on-one, and Curler drew the foul and hit two free throws: 58-54 at 4:11.
A Bushee free throw at 2:57 made it 61-56, but Tenney scored in the lane, and Swim converted a steal to make it 61-60 at 2:00. No matter: The Commodores pushed hard off the made basket, and Carter fed Bushee for a layup to make it 63-60 at 1:50.
Next, Van De Weert hit a free throw at 1:30, and the lead was four. Merrill rebounded another BFA miss and fed Curler, and the Bobwhites had to start fouling. Curler (eight points) went to the line at 0:53 and sank two. BFA sent Curler to the line again at 0:35 and at 0:22, and Curler calmly hit two both times, offsetting five BFA points.
In that stretch, Merrill also added one more rebound, one last blocked shot, and two free throws with five seconds left for the final score.
Afterward, Merrill talked about all aspects of the VUHS effort — Williams’ work at both ends, the overall team defense and focus, and the confidence boost the team’s young players should get from their clutch performance.
He summed it up simply.
“It was just a great win,” Merrill said.