Second half was pivotal for Eagle boys' basketball

MOUNT ABE JUNIOR forward Quincy Cook goes up for two points despite the defense of Commodore senior Kevin Jackson during Saturday’s game at Vergennes Union High School. Cook scored eight points as the Eagles came away with the win. Jackson led VUHS with 13. Independent photo/Steve James

Independent photo/Steve James

EAGLE SENIOR FORWARD Liam Kelliher looks to make a play with the ball as Commodore senior Luke Bergmans applies pressure during Mount Abe’s victory at Vergennes on Saturday. Kelliher led all scorers with 17 points as the Eagles evened their record at 4-4. Independent photo/Steve James

MOUNT ABE JUNIOR Griffin Paradee attacks the paint on the break as Commodores Kevin Jackson (23) and Will Bergmans trail in the Eagles’ win at Vergennes on Saturday. Mount Abe evened its record at 4-4 with the victory. Independent photo/Steve James

COMMODORE SENIOR LUKE Bergmans leaps to contest a shot by Eagle junior forward Quincy Cook during Saturday’s clash in Vergennes. Cook finished with eight points for the Eagles, who improved to 4-4 with a victory over their rivals. Independent photo/Steve James

COMMODORE SENIOR FORWARD Kevin Jackson takes the ball to the basket against the defense of Eagle junior Grayson Lyons during the second half of Saturday’s game at VUHS. Independent photo/Steve James

VERGENNES — In a boys’ high school basketball rivalry game on Saturday, visiting Mount Abraham opened the second half with a decisive 15-2 run on the way to a 56-38 victory over Vergennes.

The Eagles evened their record at 4-4 with their second straight win, while the 0-6 Commodores saw a chance for their first positive result slip away.

The Eagles were fortunate to escape the second quarter with a 20-15 lead. In that period the Commodores put the clamps on Mount Abe defensively and scored seven straight points to make it 16-15 — and missed several chances to go ahead by sinking just five of 11 free throws and committing several costly turnovers.

But Mount Abe came out of halftime with three straight aggressive baskets that changed the complexion of the game — suddenly the Eagles were playing with confidence, according to Mount Abe senior Liam Kelliher, who scored a game-high 17 points.

He explained what the difference was: “Really just getting open shots and shooting open shots. In the first half we had a lot of shots that we passed up. It was a big rivalry game, tension was up. In the third quarter, by that time, obviously, we were like, guys, shoot the ball.”

Mount Abe Coach Martin Clark said at halftime he asked his team to attack the hoop, and the Eagles listened: In the first minute, sophomore Henry Cogswell and senior Jackson Gepfert drove for buckets, and 30 seconds later Kelliher pulled up to swish an 8-foot baseline jumper.

“We had an opportunity to get to the basket, not that we didn’t get to the basket some in the first half, but I just felt that was our advantage,” Clark said. “The first three possessions they went right to the basket, so that was key for us.”

VUHS Coach Josh Carter lamented the Commodores’ lost opportunities in the second quarter. Trailing by 16-8 at 5:04, they dug in on man-to-man defense and chipped away at the lead. Kevin Jackson hit two free throws, and Luke Bergmans scored inside.

At 3:46 the Commodores went to the line to shoot one-and-one with the score 16-12. Josias Salomao hit the first, but missed the second. But the Eagles committed a rebounding foul, and the Commodores went back to the line — and missed again. Then Jackson and Will Bergmans each hit just one of two free throws, the latter at 2:13, and VUHS still trailed, 16-15.

In the half’s final minute Eagle senior Eben Clifford drove for two, and after a Gepfert steal Kelliher hit on the break to make it 20-15. Carter said the game had changed.

“We did a really good job of being aggressive and moving the ball through the press and putting ourselves in a position to get them in foul trouble. We just missed a lot of free throws,” Carter said. “We had a chance to make them pay, and we just let them off the ropes.”

In the third period Commodore Gage Lalumiere answered Cogswell’s first drive to make it 22-17, but after Gepfert and Kelliher’s buckets the Eagles rattled off 10 more points to make it 36-17 at 3:37. Cogswell hit two threes, and junior forward Quincy Cook added the other four points.

Lalumiere broke a four-minute scoreless drought for VUHS with a putback, and Ben Curtis sank a three before a Kelliher hoop made it 38-22 after three periods. Jackson scored six for VUHS in the fourth, but the Commodores came no closer than 15 the rest of the way.

Positives for the Commodores were their 31-23 edge on the boards, strong defense, and the fact that nine of them scored, led by Jackson (13), Curtis (six), Luke Bergmans (five) and Will Bergmans (four).

Carter said if the Commodores can cut down on the turnovers (23 on Saturday) and gel offensively then can still be a team to be reckoned with in Division III.

“I think the ceiling is really high for this team, especially because we can put forth that defensive effort,” he said.

After Kelliher, 11 Eagles scored, including Cogswell and Cook (eight apiece), Brett Sargent and Eric McKean (five each), and Eben Clifford and Liam Oxford (four each).

Coming off a solid 70-63 win over Missisquoi on Wednesday, Clark was happy.

“I felt like we took a step forward at the Missisquoi game. We really showed we could play a full game without a lot of inconsistency. And I think that gave a lot of them a lot of confidence,” he said. “Although they didn’t show it early here, it was evident by the end of the game.”

With so many new players on the team, Kelliher believes the Eagles are now beginning to hit their stride.

“We’re definitely feeling our chemistry a lot better. In the beginning of the season we had basically three guys returning,” he said. “So it was really hard to build off of that. Now all of our young guys are playing phenomenally.”

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