BRISTOL — In front of the usual high-volume, standing-room-only crowd that goes along with the rivalry between the boys’ basketball teams from Vergennes and Mount Abraham union high schools, the visiting Commodores on Friday took a big lead over the Eagles, withstood Mount Abe’s third-quarter surge, and pulled away for a 64-39 victory.
The result improved VUHS’s season record to a misleading 5-6. Four of their losses have come to Division I teams, and four were by five points or fewer.
After winning their first three games, the Commodores — who do not have a senior on their roster — lost six straight. But they have won their past two, by 16 over Randolph before Friday’s win at Mount Abe.
Junior guard Collin Curler (a game-high 19 points on Friday) agreed the Commodores are better than their record.
“We’re coming on strong now,” Curler said. “The games that we lost even we played really tough.”
The Eagles, who graduated four of five starters, dropped to 2-9. The only returner, senior guard Cam Skerritt-Perta, led them with 18.
VUHS twice took 20-point leads in the second quarter, but a switch to a 1-3-1 zone in the third quarter and nine points in the period from junior guard Ian Shaw (15 overall) helped Mount Abe fight back.
Eagle coach Bill Leggett said his team had some adjustments to make — failure to guard against the VUHS fast break led to 21 Commodore points in transition, for example — but he remained optimistic.
“Judging from the second half there’s no question in my mind we can play with them. There are some things we obviously need to shore up. There’s no question a glaring piece of the puzzle is our defensive balance was non-existent,” Leggett said. “There’s nobody to blame but the coach for that. We’ve just got to address it ... Nobody’s back (on defense).”
VUHS dominated the first period to take a 22-6 lead after one. Eight of the points came directly from nine Eagle turnovers forced by the VUHS press. Sophomore guard Shep Carter converted three steals into hoops, two of his own and one by sophomore forward Stanley Salley, and Cody Quattrocci beat the buzzer by stealing an Eagle inbounds pass and laying it in. Skerritt-Perta and Shaw hit treys for the Eagle points.
VUHS also attacked the basket for hoops, two by Curler and one by sophomore forward Charlie Stapleford; Stapleford also hit a trey; and the Commodores outrebounded the Eagles in the period, 13-7. Overall, the VUHS rebounding edge was 41-37. Senior Pat Etka worked hard on the glass for Mount Abe, and Salley and Carter rebounded well for VUHS.
The Eagles switched from a 2-3 zone to man-to-man defense in the second, and slowed VUHS for a time. Skerritt-Perta also hit an early three and sank eight from the line on the way to an 11-point period.
But VUHS kept scoring. Salley (nine points) converted four times inside, twice on feeds from Curler and once after a Zach Ouellette steal. Another Ouellette theft set up a Curler hoop, Ouellette also scored in transition, and Carter paraded to the line after aggressive moves to the hoop, hitting six of eight. But Skerritt-Perta had the final word in the half, hitting all three free throws with one second left on the clock after being fouled behind the arc. Those made it 40-23, VUHS.
In the third quarter, Leggett called for a switch to a 1-3-1 zone that kept VUHS away from the basket. The Eagles also began to take care of the ball and beat the press.
Still, with the VUHS offense sputtering after an early trey from Stapleford (13 points), Curler broke free for two fast-break hoops to keep the VUHS lead intact. At 3:26, a Carter free throw made it 48-32 despite five points from Shaw, a Jon Lathrop jumper, and two Skerritt-Perta free throws.
But at 3:07, Shaw hit two more free throws, and at 1:44 VUHS coach Peter Quinn called time.
“I called a timeout to remind my guys that they (the Eagles) still thought they were going to win the game late and were playing like it,” Quinn said. “They didn’t stop trying, and they made a little run at us.”
The run wasn’t over. At 1:05, Shaw converted a steal to make it 48-36. Soon afterward Skerritt-Perta shot an open three that would have cut the lead to nine — and probably would have blown the roof off the gym. Instead, the ball rattled around the rim before bouncing long.
Carter then beat the third-quarter buzzer with a three-pointer. Instead of being a nine-point game, the Commodores led, 51-36.
Leggett would have loved to see Skerritt-Perta’s shot fall.
“We were really flirting getting into the game. And you get this type of atmosphere, and you make up that much of a comeback, now I think anything can happen,” Leggett said.
Skerritt-Perta opened the fourth quarter with a jumper to make it 51-38, but that was as close as the Eagles would come. They took chances following their shots, and the Commodores took advantage by springing Curler on the break for three baskets as they pulled away.
Leggett said he was pleased with the Eagles’ effort, and they would not be discouraged by the result or their record.
“These guys root for each other,” Leggett said. “They get along. They work hard. We’re going to come back on Monday and work just as hard as we always do. They’ve got a good attitude.”
Quinn said he was pleased with his inexperienced team’s poise in the heated atmosphere.
“We played with great intensity tonight. We played the game fast, which is always one of my objectives,” he said. “This is a pretty packed place to play in, and I thought they did a pretty good job for as young as we are. That’s always a concern I have, how we handle the noise and pressure, but if anything it seemed like they liked it.”
Curler, who called the win “motivational,” agreed with his coach about playing in front of the 800 chanting, yelling fans.
“It’s crazy, all the noise and all the fans,” he said. “It’s great. I love the rivalry.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.