BRISTOL — Two young high school boys’ basketball teams battled to the end on Tuesday, when host Mount Abraham, which graduated four starters from last year, edged Otter Valley, which graduated seven seniors, 48-45.
The outcome remained in doubt until OV sophomore Ryan Kelley — who led his team with 11 points — watched his three-point attempt roll off the rim with seconds left. Eagle senior Miles McGowan then snatched the rebound to seal a victory that left both teams at 1-2.
The Eagles were coming off two one-sided setbacks, one at Randolph last week in which the Ghosts broke open a close game in the fourth quarter.
Eagle senior guard and returning starter Cam Skerritt-Perta — who scored his team’s final seven second-quarter points and all 12 in the third — said the Eagles almost had to have the victory on Tuesday and now were looking forward to Thursday’s home rematch with Randolph.
“I’m so excited to keep it going,” said Skerritt-Perta, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “We were a little down on ourselves because we lost our first couple of games. But this was a crucial win.”
OV coach Nathan Bellomo after the game pointed to OV’s central problem in the first half, when the Otters lost a chance to take the lead by turning the ball too often.
“We’ve got to limit turnovers,” Bellomo said. “We had 13 in the first half, and that killed us. They made shots, and we dug ourselves a hole, and they’re too good of a team, they were too disciplined, for us to get out of that hole.”
Certainly, some of OV’s turnover woes came from the Eagles’ quickness in their full-court press and 3-2 zone. Eagle coach Bill Leggett said his players did well on defense; starting guards Ian Shaw, B.J. Haskins and Skerritt-Perta were particularly effective in both sets.
“It was a good collective team effort defensively,” Leggett said.
Mount Abe finished the first quarter with a 10-8 lead as Shaw hit two three-pointers and two free throws for eight of his 10 points. Junior guard Chris Cimonette hit a trey and two free throws for the Otters, who also dominated the boards, 12-6 rebounds, in the period to offset their seven turnovers.
The Otters opened the second quarter with a 9-4 run to take a 17-14 lead. Kelley scored five, one on a layup on a nice feed from junior center Keke Frye. Senior Brian Rademacher, who teamed up with Frye, sophomore Jesse Schu and Kelly to help OV control the boards, added a layup, and junior guard, Nate Fitzgerald, who played strong defense, converted a steal in that surge.
But then the Eagles began to find the range. Junior forward Jon Lathrop (nine points) hit two free throws and a jumper to put the Eagles on top, 18-17. Otter Fitzgerald (six points) responded by driving for a hoop at 3:00, and OV led for the last time, because Skerritt-Perta was about to take over.
The senior had not shot well until that point, but a fast-break layup on a feed from Haskins gave Skerritt-Perta his first points, at 2:20. Next he swished a trey, and it was 23-19, Mount Abe. Skerritt-Perta added a jumper, while OV managed one free throw by Pike Ladago (nine points) and two by Rademacher (six points), and it was 25-22, Eagles, at the half, despite the Otters’ 21-13 edge on the boards.
OV’s rebounding advantage vanished after the break, thanks in large part to senior forward Pat Etka, who sparked the Eagles to a 16-14 second-half edge with most of his 15 rebounds.
With Etka and Lathrop on the boards, Skerritt-Perta took care of the offense in the third quarter, hitting two jumpers, a free throw, a three-pointer, a putback, and finally a lay-up on a feed from Etka after an offensive rebound. That hoop made it 37-31, Mount Abe, at 2:32, and Bellomo called for time. Four points from Kelley, a trey from Cimonette (nine points) and a Rademacher fast break hoop kept OV in the game. Late in the quarter, a Ladago free throw made it 37-32.
Things tightened in the fourth: The first hoop, at 6:40, was a Ladago trey. One Haskins free throw and two by Skerritt-Perta pushed the Mt. Abe lead to 40-35, but a Frye layup and a Rademacher putback made it 40-39 at 3:50.
Lathrop answered with a baseline drive, but Fitzgerald sank two free throws to make it 42-41 at 3:13.
Then the Eagles patiently worked the ball for almost a minute against OV’s man-to-man look, until a defender tripped, leaving Lathrop alone at the top of the key. He sank a trey at 2:00, and it was 45-41.
“They ran the flex and they ran their little weave,” Bellomo said. “We played good defense. And then we slipped, they hit a three-pointer, and they go up four. They made the reads, they made the plays, and we didn’t make the plays. We didn’t make enough of them. Put it that way.”
The Otters were not through. Kelley rebounded his own miss and scored to make it 45-43 at 1:05. OV had to foul Skerritt-Perta, however, and he sank both at 1:00 to make it 47-43.
At 0:33 Frye converted in the post to make it 47-45, and the Eagles missed two free throws. At 0:12, however, so did the Otters, and, unsurprisingly, Etka rebounded. OV fouled immediately, and Etka banked home the second of two free throws at 0:12.
OV worked the ball to Kelley at the top of the key, but his tying attempt rolled off the rim to McGowan, and the Eagles held on.
Bellomo said his team will try to learn from Tuesday’s game.
“We’ve got to take these moments here and make them teachable moments, where now we can take this young team and make them a veteran team and they understand what happens and what are the situations,” he said.
Leggett said he was happy with the improved defense, rebounding and, especially, ballhandling. Despite OV’s occasional full-court pressure and aggressive man defense, the Eagles committed just 14 turnovers.
And he was pleased with the Eagles execution and discipline at crunch time.
“We showed we could run our plays and take some time off the clock and put some pressure on them down the stretch,” he said.
Now the Eagles will look for more.
“It was a really big win not to go 0-3,” Skerritt-Perta said. “Randolph on Thursday, home crowd, hopefully it should be a different result.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.