VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team defeated visiting Middlebury on Friday, 52-36, accomplishing two things in the process.
The 10-8 Commodores completed a four-game sweep of county rivals Mount Abraham and MUHS, never an easy task, and they also ended the 1-17 Tigers’ hopes of reaching the Division II playoffs.
Despite the frustrations that are inevitable in a one-win season, Tiger coach Chris Altemose found some bright spots on Friday.
For one, his team had trailed by 40-10 at the half the first time the teams met; on Friday, VUHS led at the break by just 27-17. The Tigers also took good care of the ball, with just 14 turnovers, and fought VUHS to a 33-33 standstill on the boards.
But, as Altemose noted, the Tigers made just 27 percent of their shots, compared to 41 percent for VUHS.
“We’re getting a lot of open shots, we just need a few to fall to win a game like that,” Altemose said.
VUHS coach Peter Quinn pointed to the flip side of that equation: the Commodores’ defensive intensity.
“I liked that we came out strong defensively. If we’re going to go far, we have to be a good defensive club. We came out focused,” Quinn said.
Friday’s single largest factor may have been that senior forward Connor Merrill wore home white. Merrill sank 13 of 17 shots and finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds. He hit baseline drives, an alley-oop, a spin move on the break, two putbacks and an assortment of shots in the lane and jumpers.
The Tigers led, 5-4, on five points from Brendan Burrell, before Merrill contributed eight points as VUHS closed the first quarter with an 11-0 run. The only other VUHS hoop in that stretch was Jake Firlik’s buzzer-beating jumper to make it 15-5.
In the second quarter, MUHS junior forward Carl Leduc came off the bench to score six points and Devin Bradford (8 points, 10 rebounds) contributed a four-point play (three-pointer and free throw). But Logan Williams (11 points) scored four, Merrill tossed in another six, and the lead was still 10 at the break.
Then the Commodores opened the second half with a three by Merrill and putbacks by point guard Collin Curler (6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) and forward Jake Bushee (11 rebounds), and it was 34-17.
A Burrell three and a fast-break hoop by Tyler Provencher cut the lead to 12, but VUHS scored nine straight on two Williams threes and one by Merrill, and at 43-22 the outcome was decided.
The Tigers kept plugging, and held VUHS to nine points over the final 10:25, while Burrell (15 points, 5 steals, 3 assists, 5 rebounds) continued his solid play. Leduc (nine rebounds) and Charlie Cluss (seven) contributed on the boards.
Altemose said the Tigers are doing well in ways that aren’t measured on stat sheets or scoreboards.
“My guys played hard and played with some passion and some pride. And they haven’t quit yet. They haven’t quit on the season, and they haven’t quit in a game,” Altemose said. “I think that takes a lot of pride. It’s a testament to their character, I guess you could say, to keep sticking with it, to keep trying, to keep working hard.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.