BRISTOL — Before Tuesday’s boys’ basketball game at Mount Abraham Union High School, both Eagle coach Bill Leggett and Otter Valley coach Nathan Bellomo said their teams were continuing to hang together and work hard despite disappointing starts.
Both the Eagles and Otters also really wanted to add a W to their résumés: OV was 2-6, including a 44-41 home win over Mount Abe. The 0-6 Eagles were coming off a last-second loss at BFA-Fairfax that their coaches said was their best effort.
When the Eagles surged to a 27-17 lead late in the second period Tuesday, it looked like their morale would get a needed boost.
But instead, the Otters dug in on defense and finally found someone besides senior forward Ryan Kelley — who scored OV’s first 11 points — to put the ball in the basket.
And the Eagles scored just six points in the next 13 minutes, and despite Mount Abe’s furious fourth-quarter rally, the Otters hung on for a 44-42 victory.
Kelley (15 points) said the formula was simple: OV outrebounded the Eagles, 32-21, and after the Eagles assigned a defender to shadow him, his teammates — notably senior Pike Ladago and freshman John Winslow — began to find the range.
“We just made some rebounds and made some shots, some key shots,” Kelley said.
Bellomo said the way the Otters fought back after falling behind should boost their confidence.
“I’m proud of them,” the OV coach said. “They got a win, and it’s good for them.”
He would like his team to start quicker, but was happy OV turned the ball over just five times in the second half after 10 miscues in the first half.
“From the second quarter on we valued the ball,” Bellomo said. “We’ve got to get off to a better start in games. We keep digging ourselves a hole and we have to dig ourselves back out.”
Mount Abe’s Leggett acknowledged the setback was painful for an improving team that has yet to be rewarded for its hard work and positive approach.
“The last couple games have been steps in the right directions. Unfortunately, we don’t really have a lot, certainly no W, to show for the improvements we’ve been making,” he said. “The plan is just keep trying to improve to be the best team we can.”
Early on, it looked like the Eagles could claim that elusive win. In the first quarter, senior guard B.J. Haskins, senior forward Tommy Nelson, and junior forwards Ryan Barnes and Cody Alexander all scored as the Eagles took a 14-6 lead. Only Kelley, with three inside hoops, scored for OV.
Despite three different defensive looks used by OV (zone, man and a press) and five more points from Kelley to open the second quarter, the Eagles extended the lead to 21-11.
Finally, OV junior forward Jim Winslow hit a layup at 5:30 to become the first Otter to score beside Kelley; that hoop made it 21-13. By then, Leggett had assigned Nelson to guard Kelley in a diamond-and-one look, and the Eagles switched between that and their trademark 3-2 zone the rest of the way.
Two three-pointers by Eagle senior guard Ian Shaw offset a jumper by OV senior guard Chris Cimonette and two free throws by John Winslow, a freshman call-up from OV’s JV team. Shaw’s second trey made it 27-17 at 1:45.
OV then closed the half with a 5-0 run on a Jim Winslow free throw, a Kelley hoop inside, and two Ladago free throws with three seconds to go.
In the first six minutes of the third period, Ladago hit a jumper and a trey for OV, and for Mount Abe Nelson hit two short jumpers and Haskins converted a nice feed from Barnes on the break at 2:00 to make it 33-27.
Then Ladago sank a trey and Cimonette sank a jumper to close the third quarter and cut the lead to 33-32 after three periods. OV then started the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run in the first 3:05.
Ladago opened the spurt with a hoop in the lane, and Jim Winslow capped it with a jumper at 4:55. In between, John Winslow converted two pretty baseline drives.
The spurt ended with the Otters up, 40-33. They outscored the Eagles, 23-6, after Mount Abe took the 27-17 lead.
But Mount Abe fought back as Haskins hit a three-pointer at 3:43, a jumper at 2:30, and a layup at 0:20 that made it 44-42.
In between, Kelley contributed a putback at 2:00 after Haskins’ jumper at 2:30 cut the lead to 40-38. After a Barnes putback at 1:44 again cut the lead to two, 42-40, Jim Winslow converted an inbounds play at 1:00 to restore OV’s four-point lead.
After Haskins cut the lead to two again, Alexander stole the ball with seven seconds to go, but the Eagles’ desperation heave at the buzzer was off the mark.
Ladago finished with 11 for OV, and Jim Winslow scored seven and worked with Kelley to help OV control the boards.
Kelley said he believes the Otters will learn from Tuesday’s game.
“This is a great start to a perfect end to the season,” he said.
For Mount Abe, Haskins scored a game-high 16, Nelson finished with 11 and did good work on the boards and on defense, and Barnes scored seven.
Leggett hopes and expects the Eagles will maintain their positive approach despite Tuesday’s tough loss.
“These guys have been an outstanding group to work with. They come to practice every day to work hard,” Leggett said. “It would just be nice if we get something on the positive side in the results category.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]