Eagle boys put clamps on Commodores
BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ basketball team on Saturday used tough defense and full-court pressure to limit visiting Vergennes to 25 points through three quarters on the way to a 57-46 victory.
The 8-8 Eagles were not always crisp in their set offense, but they were more effective than the Commodores — who also played well defensively — in creating points from turnovers. Ten Eagles scored, four between nine and the team-high 11 points tossed in by senior Liam Kelliher.
A surge early in the fourth quarter pushed their lead to 25 points, enough to withstand a late surge led by Commodore senior forward Kevin Jackson, who broke loose for 13 of his 22 points in the final seven minutes.
The Eagles had to overcome 18 turnovers. Coach Martin Clark said some of those are inevitable given that his team likes to push the pace, and he also credited the Commodores.
Clark could also point to the fact his Eagles forced 17 VUHS turnovers and converted those VUHS miscues into points, but rarely allowed the Commodores to score after a Mount Abe turnover.
“We like to push the ball and get transition before defenses can set up on us. We did do a good job of that. I thought our press was effective,” he said. (We did an) excellent job of getting back on defense.”
Certainly, the Commodores did make life difficult for the Eagles.
“They were scrappy. Every time we put the ball on the floor they were after it. And we didn’t take very good care of the ball,” Clark said. “We do what we do on the court, and we have to live with some of the mistakes we make. But overall a good performance.”
The frustration continued for Coach Josh Carter’s 0-16 Commodores. The Eagle defense factored into their difficulty scoring, as a number of their shots were rushed. But others were makeable — layups rolled off the rim, and open jumpers wouldn’t drop.
“We missed a lot of good looks tonight,” Carter said. “A couple layups fall, a couple three-pointers fall, it could have been a different game.”
In the first quarter all five Eagles scored. They led by only 11-9 when VUHS guard Josias Salomao hit two free throws at 1:28. But two late VUHS turnovers led to a Griffin Paradee layup and two Kelliher free throws and helped push the lead to 15-11 after one period.
The Eagles ratcheted up the defense and outscored the Eagles by 18-4 over the first 7:08 of the second period. Kelliher tossed in seven points and five other Eagles scored in the stretch. It included one highlight-reel play. A fast-break pass went long for Kelliher, forcing him to jump over the baseline at full speed to save it back to Eben Clifford near the right sideline. Clifford quickly relayed to Jackson Gepfert cutting down the lane for the transition hoop.
Carter called time at 0:52 after a Kelliher three made it 33-15, and a Zander Wildasin layup and Luke Bergmans free throw cut the lead to 15 at the break.
In the low-scoring third period, Henry Cogswell hit two threes and a jumper to account for all eight Eagle points. Meanwhile Jackson began to break loose with a transition layup and a late three to score five of the seven VUHS points as it was 41-26 entering the fourth.
Mount Abe opening that quarter with an 11-2 run. Eric McKean drove for two before Liam Oxford swished three straight from behind the arc, while the Commodores managed only a Jackson putback. The lead was 52-25, and Jackson’s late heroics got VUHS no closer than the final score.
Salomao (six points), Ben Curtis (five) and Gage Lalumiere (four) were next after Jackson in the scorebook. The Commodores outrebounded Mount Abe, 40-28, including team rebounds, with team-wide work on the boards.
Carter could not fault their effort.
“I was really proud of how they fought right to the end,” he said. “They left it all out there on the floor, and that’s all I can ask them to do.”
How can they pull out a win with four games to go?
“It’s a combination of things. It’s just making that easy pass to the open guy. It’s making those open shots and those layups,” Carter said. “And I think in order for us to be successful we need to stay with our sets.”
For the Eagles, Paradee and Cogswell finished with 10 each, and Oxford’s three-point binge gave him nine.
Clark was happy to see so many players contribute, and not just in the scorebook.
“I’ve known all along our bench is strong,” he said.
The Eagles have a tough schedule as they seek the program’s first .500 or better season in more than a decade.
Clark said they Eagles will have to play well to win, but they know they are capable.
“These guys have a lot of confidence in that they’re doing,” he said. “They make mistakes, but they work hard, and they never quit.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.