BRISTOL — Usually when the Vergennes and Mount Abraham union high school boys’ basketball teams meet, the records can be thrown out — the games are competitive regardless of how well the Commodores and Eagles are faring.
But Tuesday’s game at Mount Abe was the exception that proves the rule.
The 11-1 Commodores picked that night to put forth what might have been their most complete effort of the season against their 1-10 rivals and coasted to a 58-32 victory.
VUHS took charge early, putting the clamps on the Eagles in the first quarter with a trapping half-court zone and a full-court man-to-man press. Seven Mount Abe turnovers and a combined 13 points from VUHS starters Charlie Stapleford, Collin Curler and Shep Carter later, and the Commodores led, 17-4, after one.
Curler, a senior guard who finished with a game-high 14 to lead a balanced VUHS attack, said the Commodores knew they had to take the Eagles seriously regardless of the records. For one thing, they knew Mount Abe had recently defeated Randolph — shortly after VUHS needed overtime to hold off Randolph.
“I thought we handled ourselves pretty well out there,” Curler said. “We realized we couldn’t take them lightly. They just had a big win over Randolph, and that was motivation for us to come out really hard tonight.”
The Commodores did not let up in the second quarter and led at the half, 38-14. Four Commodores sank three-pointers in the second period — Shepard, Carter, and Devin Hayes and Zach Ouellette off the bench — as the team used crisp ball-movement to earn open looks inside and outside against the Eagles’ 3-2 zone.
VUHS coach Peter Quinn noted in the first half his team shot six-for-12 from behind the arc and nine-for-12 from two-point range, a performance he said was the result of his team’s willingness to share the ball. Quinn was also pleased with the Commodores’ poise and effort level.
“We were very focused tonight. We were focused right from the beginning,” Quinn said. “We really functioned as a unit tonight. We played hard. When we play hard, we usually have a good result.”
Coach Bill Leggett said his Eagles had been playing better of late, with the obvious highlight their 58-51 victory over Randolph a week earlier. But on Tuesday he credited the Commodores for their offensive and defensive efficiency, especially in the first half.
“They jumped on us early and we didn’t handle the pressure all that well to begin with, and things just kind of snowballed from there,” Leggett said. “They’re a good ballclub. They seem to be pretty well-organized defensively. They were able to extend, and we weren’t able to counterattack. That was really the bottom line.”
The Eagles switched to man-to-man defense in the third quarter, but were unable to cut into the VUHS lead. When the Commodore advantage reached 48-18 midway through the period, both coaches began to substitute freely. In the fourth quarter the teams combined for 30 rebounds, nine-for-19 from the line, and three baskets.
The highlights the rest of the way included a monster block submitted by Eagle senior guard B.J. Haskins, who caught up a Commodore fast break from behind and swatted away a shot put up by a much taller Commodore, and the fact that several players who rarely see the floor got their names into the scoring column.
“We got everyone in, and we’ve got everyone to score this season, and that was really exciting tonight,” Curler said.
Ryan Barnes led Mount Abe with nine points, Evan Tillson scored seven, and Cody Alexander added five.
Leggett believes his team will remain on an even keel, as it did the last time it submitted a sub-par effort.
“We certainly hope this was just a one-game setback. We had a similar performance against Winooski and bounced back from that and got a win against Randolph,” Leggett said. “Prior to this game, four out of the last five were definite improvements, and we definitely hope to continue to build on that.”
For VUHS, Cody Quattrocci scored 11, Ouellette had eight, and Carter contributed seven. Center Stanley Salley scored six and helped VUHS to a 27-20 rebounding edge through three periods; the margin finished at 41-36 after the fourth-quarter board binge. VUHS senior forward Jake Bushee also saw his first extended action of the season, returning from a knee injury to score three, pull down a couple rebounds and block a shot off the bench.
The Commodores remain focused on a trip to Barre to compete for a Division II title. One trend for VUHS this year has been the team’s ability to win close games — seven by five points or fewer.
Curler said the Commodores have the best chemistry of the three teams he has played on.
“We haven’t panicked when the game’s getting close,” he said. “We just have a lot of faith in each other.”
Quinn said the Commodores will have to continue to make up for their lack of size with hard work and ball-hawking defense, but he agreed their chemistry would help them contend.
“We have a high upside. I think we can challenge for the whole thing,” Quinn said. “I like where we are. We’re playing really unselfishly.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.