VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team suffered a pair of losses on Monday night in the Commodores’ home opener.
Visiting Division I foe Champlain Valley hung on for a 59-49 victory over the D-II Commodores, and VUHS (1-2) also lost three-year starting point guard Jackson Alexander to what could be a serious knee injury. In the preseason, Coach Peter Quinn’s team, one of the favorites in D-II, had already learned it would play this winter without two other injured seniors projected to be key substitutes, Jesse Tynan and Josh Bushey.
Quinn said sophomore Collin Curler, who gave VUHS a lift off the bench on Monday even before Alexander went down in the second half, would probably take over at the point, with freshman Shep Carter backing him up.
“The big picture is obviously Jackson is a huge loss for us,” Quinn said. “It means some of our younger guards are going to have to get some time and learn on the job and grow up fast.”
Against the Redhawks, VUHS essentially never recovered from being on the wrong side of a 23-2 run that began with the Commodores ahead, 9-6, at 4:30 of the first quarter, and ended when standout CVU guard Jake Donnelly hit two free throws to make it 29-11 at 6:11 of the second period.
Donnelly, a junior point guard who finished with a game-high 27 points, scored nine points in that surge, but had plenty of help, notably from senior forward Will Hurd. Hurd scored seven of his 15 points in the run on two drives to the hoop and his second trey of the game. By that point, Robert Russ (10 points) and Chris Nigh had already hit from beyond the arc for the hot-shooting Redhawks.
Quinn had been concerned about Donnelly on the way in, but was impressed with CVU’s overall scoring ability.
“They also had a lot of shooters. They just didn’t have one kid,” Quinn said.
VUHS took its early lead on five points by senior forward Connor Merrill (16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) and four by Logan Williams. But the normally reliable Williams had an off shooting night, and didn’t score again.
Still, VUHS fought back to make a game of it, with sophomores Jake Bushey (13 points, six rebounds) and Curler (four points, four assists) triggering a 15-3 counterattack that made it 32-26 at the half. Bushey blocked a fast-break layup that could have made it 31-11 at one end, and Curler hit a floater in the lane to start the offense. In the period, Merrill scored seven, Alexander (5 assists) sank a trey, and Bushey had five points as VUHS closed to within six.
The Commodores continued to play better defense in the third period, getting hands in the Redhawks’ faces and staying even on the boards — CVU held a 29-25 edge overall after a 9-5 advantage in the opening quarter. But the Commodores’ attack sputtered, and they scored only seven points in the period and still trailed after three, 41-33.
Quinn said the failure to make up ground in the third quarter was crucial.
“I was going, ‘We held them again, and now we’re going to score,’” Quinn said. “We just couldn’t score.”
Donnelly opened the fourth quarter with five quick points, and after Russ drove for two more it was 48-33 with 5:49 to go. VUHS cut it to six, 53-47, at 1:51 with the help of two Jacob Firlik treys and then four straight Bushey points, but CVU hit its free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
The Commodores are playing a challenging schedule this winter, including a rematch with CVU on Dec. 14 and participation at Spaulding’s tournament on Dec. 17 against the host and then either Rutland or Mount Mansfield on Dec. 23.
Quinn believes the tougher competition will make the Commodores better, but in the meantime, as they did on Monday, they will have a reduced margin for error.
“We got outplayed by a team that executed better than we did. And when we play a team like that, that’s so deep, we really have to execute well, and we didn’t execute well tonight. We were impatient at times. We had some good stretches,” Quinn said. “The difference between playing a D-II team and a D-I team, I think, is we don’t get to make too many mistakes.”