3rd quarter outburst raises Eagle boys' basketball over Commodores
VERGENNES — All signs pointed to a tight boys’ basketball game at Vergennes Union High School on Thursday.
Mount Abraham came in at 5-8, and the Commodores at 3-7. The Eagles lost at Middlebury, but the Commodores recently won there.
And the Commodores had home-court advantage: Their fans filled most of the packed bleachers in the school’s middle school gym, where the game was played due to repairs in the main gym.
But Mount Abe had different ideas. The Commodores trailed by just 29-22 at 3:24 of the third period when the Eagles went on a 26-3 tear over the next 7:04 on the way to a 61-34 victory.
Eagle senior forward Dustin Whitcomb said the Eagles were thrilled to earn bragging rights in what has become a friendly rivalry, but still one in which games are hotly contested — and one in which the Commodores have historically held the upper hand.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Whitcomb, who scored 19 points and led a strong Eagle rebounding effort. “It’s been a lot of time since we’ve done that.”
The Eagles closed the third quarter with a three from senior forward Jackson Counter and two putbacks of fast-break misses by Whitcomb, one of which he converted into a three-point play.
Ahead by 37-22 after three periods after that 8-0 run, the Eagles kept flying. In the first 3:40 of the fourth quarter Counter sank three three-pointers and two free throws, while sophomore Liam Kelleher banked home a transition jumper as the Eagles took a 50-25 lead. In the meantime three lonely points dotted the VUHS side of the scoresheet: two free throws by senior guard Bailey Smith and one by senior forward Lance Bergmans.
Despite that offensive outburst, Whitcomb said the Eagles’ defense played as big a role. They played man-to-man with a half-court trap in the first half while holding VUHS to 13 points, forcing 10 turnovers, and taking a nine-point lead. They switched to a 1-3-1 zone for most of the second half and forced another 12 turnovers.
“We did really well in man, and we’ve been practicing our press lately,” Whitcomb said. “We love 1-3-1 and it’s really effective.”
Mount Abe Coach Martin Clark said the Eagles have been improving on defense, something that helped in an upset of Milton in their previous outing.
“We changed a couple things, did some things on some of our defenses, and it’s starting to pay off. We’ve got good quickness on the court most of the time, so we have to take advantage of that. I think the boys did a great job,” Clark said.
It was a rough night for the Commodores, who have failed to build on their comeback win at MUHS on Jan. 30.
Coach Peter Quinn credited the Eagles, but said his team has been hit hard by the flu bug and hamstrung by the loss of the school’s main gym.
“Our practice time is reduced. We’ve got a lot of illness,” Quinn said. “So we look like a team that has not practiced much, and that’s how we played tonight. It’s kind of that simple. I said to the guys we kind of have to start over again tomorrow in practice and to develop a little more intensity. They outplayed us with their hustle and their heart.”
In the first period Whitcomb helped the Eagles take off with eight points. Guard Parker Hines contributed strong defense, a bucket and two assists, and Logan Rodriguez put in four of his 10 points and added a steal to set up Hines. VUHS senior forward Lance Bergmans scored four points late to keep the lead to 12-9 after one.
The Commodores scored just four points in the second period, but worked hard on defense to stay in the game: They forced 11 Eagle turnovers in the first half. Whitcomb stayed hot with six more points, and the lead was 22-13 at the half.
One reason the Eagle offense thrived in the second half was they took better care of the ball. Clark credited his team for adjusting to the VUHS man defense and press.
“Vergennes was playing hard, and it pushes you out of your comfort zone a little bit,” Clark said. “I thought we did a great job of just hanging in there and keeping plugging, and eventually it all started working for us.”
For VUHS Bergmans finished with 11 points and at least as many rebounds. Senior forward Ethan Sausville scored seven and took three charges; he leads the team in that department with about 20 this season. Smith scored five, and junior forward Ezekiel Palmer rebounded and defended well.
Quinn said his team will go back to the drawing board, and he credited the Eagles.
“I thought they played well. They played well defensively. They moved the ball. They rebounded,” he said.
The Eagles lost on Saturday (click here to see boys’ basketball wrap-up), but Whitcomb said on Thursday the template is there for more victories.
“When we move the ball around and forget about being selfish, that’s when we win games,” Whitcomb said.
And the Eagles have now won more games than this past season, and Whitcomb remembers his sophomore season with the varsity, when Mount Abe went winless: This is more fun.
“It’s been a long time coming, and I’m just glad that we’re in games. Games like these, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Clark said the Eagles have earned their fun.
“They’ve been working day in and day out. They come in with great attitudes and they just hustle all practice long,” he said. “We’re getting better each day.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.