MIDDLEBURY — On Friday, a Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team in a stretch drive for a top Division I playoff seed got past a visiting Mount Abraham team that continues to have few wins to show for its efforts, 85-29.
The Eagles trailed by just 9-7 late in the first quarter, but the Tigers closed the period with a 6-0 run and then dropped a 27-9 second quarter on Mount Abe.
MUHS Coach Chris Altemose said the 14-4 Tigers’ goal is to play the best they can regardless of the opponent, a target they hit on Friday.
“We wanted to play as well as we can, and I thought we did that,” Altemose said. “We did a nice job taking care of the ball, we did a nice job getting up and down the floor, pressure D, shooting the ball well.”
Altemose also credited the 2-16 Eagles.
“Unfortunately for Mount Abe, it got away from them pretty quick tonight,” he said. “But those kids never quit, they never backed down. They kept looking for their shots.”
Eagle Coach Mike Estey had the same take on the game. He praised the Tigers’ teamwork and defensive intensity.
“We worked hard again tonight, but we didn’t take care of the ball when we needed to, and we’re still not patient enough offensively,” Estey said. “And Middlebury is good. They’re real solid. They played well together. They challenged every pass every possession.”
In the first quarter four Tigers scored as they took the 9-7 lead, including a putback by Marrott Weekes (six points, six rebounds, five steals). The Eagles countered with a Ryan Barnes bucket on the break, a three by Sawyer Kamman (eight points), and two of Jona Scott’s four points, a transition jumper.
But the Tigers closed the quarter strong. Connor Collins (20 points, six assists) scored on the break, James Hare (nine points) hit a free throw, and freshman Perry DeLorenzo (a game-high 21 points, five boards) hit the first of his seven three-pointers to make it 15-7.
The Tigers opened the second quarter with the play of the game: Collins knocked the ball loose, and as he was falling out of bounds at midcourt threw a long lead pass to set up Hare in transition.
Eagle Mark Jipner answered with a putback to make it 17-9, but DeLorenzo then shredded the Eagle 3-2 zone with three straight treys. Scott stuck in a jumper during that streak, and it was 26-11 at 4:30 when Estey called for time, understandably with the threes raining down, to switch the Eagles into man-to-man defense.
But it didn’t work. Collins attacked the basket for nine points in a 14-2 Tiger run, and at 40-13 it was clearly not going to be an Eagle night.
Kamman sank a trey to snap the streak, but Collins set up David Burt on a pick-and-roll, and it was 44-16 at the break.
Collins (seven), Hare (six) and DeLorenzo (six) combined for 19 points as the Tigers ran up a 28-7 third-quarter edge. Justin Kimball came off the bench to give Mount Abe a five-point lift in the period.
The Tiger bench outscored the Eagle bench, 13-7 in the fourth. Bobby Ritter (four assists), Zach Stagg and Pete Lindholm did the damage for MUHS. For the Eagles, Travis Bachand set up Ira Fisher on the break and Nick Driscoll did the same for Jake Lathrop, and Barry Longe scored three.
Estey said his rebuilding team has kept positive against its challenging schedule.
“Like I’ve said all season, they work hard in practice,” Estey said. “We’re playing tough teams this season, and we’re in a transition.”
Tyler Provencher added 10 points for the Tigers. The Tigers won the rebounding (35-20) and turnover (13-19 battles.)
MUHS this week plays at undefeated Vergennes on Tuesday and hosts BFA-St. Albans (11-7) on Friday. VUHS defeated the Tigers, 58-53, at home, and they lost while shorthanded at BFA, 69-55.
A win in either game would, unofficially, nail down a top-four seed for MUHS. Collins said the Tigers feel good about the rematches and are playing their best basketball now.
“We’ve got to be consistent on offense and consistent on defense. We’ve got to make our shots and play good defense and talk and just believe in each other,” Collins said. “We have the talent. We have the ability. We have the hustle. We just have to put it together consistently.”
Altemose also said the Tigers are coming together and looking forward to what he called “a big week for us.”
“If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can beat anybody. And that’s what you want at this time of year,” he said. “They’re dying for a second chance at the Commodores and St. Albans.”