VERGENNES — A Vergennes Union High School basketball team with high hopes for this season took a step forward on Tuesday when the Commodores hung on for a 67-62 win over visiting Division I foe South Burlington.
VUHS (2-0) had led by 12 late in the third quarter, but the 0-1 Rebels repeatedly penetrated the lane and cut the lead to two three times in the final three minutes.
But the Commodores answered, as they had all game, when the Rebels made a run. In the fourth quarter, junior guard and tri-captain Shep Carter scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in the final 1:22 to help VUHS respond one final time.
Carter said the Commodores were determined to play better than they had in their opening win on Saturday against Montpelier. He said they still have room to improve, but the progress was there.
“Our first game we came out really, really soft, with a lot of turnovers, and today we tried to make it a point to get out on every loose ball, dive on every loose ball, and play really good defense. And in the first half we did that,” Carter said. “I think we could play better, but we played really well.”
Coach Peter Quinn also saw a mixed bag. He repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked the Commodores to back off the Rebels to prevent their penetration, but also saw hard work and solid rebounding — VUHS earned a 35-25 edge on the boards, with junior center Stanley Salley hauling in nine rebounds.
“Our intensity is one of our greatest strengths. I think we’re a pretty annoying team to play, because we pretty much play hard all the time,” Quinn said. “Judgment is what we’re working on.”
The Commodores trailed, 6-1, in the first 2:30, and didn’t score a basket until Carter hit a three-pointer at 4:35 of the opening period.
That trey was part of a 16-3 surge that gave VUHS a 17-9 lead after one quarter. Salley followed with a putback, and Charlie Stapleford added two treys set up by bench players Zach Ouellette, a junior guard, and Dan McGrath, a junior center. Carter capped the quarter with two hoops on the break, the second set up by Ouellette.
After the Commodores closed the first period with a 7-0 run, they opened the second with six straight points to make it 23-9: Carter set up Salley inside twice and hit two free throws — he was 12 for 12 from the line.
“You make two in a row, four in a row. Next thing you know it’s eight in a row,” said Carter, who added four assists, steals and rebounds. “I was feeling pretty confident tonight.”
Trevor Seward, a senior swingman, and senior Rebel guard Andrew Mallory (12 points) began to get into the lane, however. Each scored six points in the quarter to keep the Rebels within striking distance at the half, 32-23.
In the third quarter, Rebel senior guard Michael Miller made an impact. After VUHS junior guard Cody Quattrocci and Salley combined for 12 points as VUHS pushed the lead back to 12, Miller scored five late points as the Rebels cut it to nine after three, 49-40.
Then Seward opened the fourth by creating six straight points by driving to the hoop. Suddenly what had been a 12-point lead was three at 49-46.
Again, VUHS responded, at least offensively. Carter hit two free throws, Collin Curler and Quattrocci teamed up on a steal and Curler converted on the break, Salley (14 points) hit in the lane on an inbounds play, and Curler sank a free throw.
But Miller hit a three and drove for two, and at the three-minute mark Rebel Nate Shungu stole an inbounds pass and fed Seward for an easy two, and it was 55-53.
Quattrocci and Seward each went one-for-two from the line, and it was 56-54 at 1:40. Carter sank two free throws at 1:22 to make it a four-point game, and then he and Mallory exchanged coast-to-coast layups to make it 60-56 at 1:10.
A Miller free throw made it 60-57, and Carter calmly sank two more free throws at 0:46, and it was a five-point VUHS lead. Curler then hauled in a Mallory miss and hit a free throw at 0:32, and it was 63-57.
Seward drove for two at 0:24, but by now VUHS knew what to do – inbound to Carter, and he hit four more free throws before the Rebels converted a meaningless three-point play as time ran out.
Quattrocci contributed 10 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals; Curler had eight points, three rebounds and two steals; Stapleford, who dealt with foul trouble, finished with six points; and Devin Hayes added four assists.
VUHS will be without senior center Jake Bushee, who injured his knee in practice and whose status for this season is uncertain. Salley will start in his place, and McGrath and junior Jared Miedema will see more minutes.
Carter said the Commodores will rise to the challenge of playing without Bushee, a three-year varsity player.
“Jake’s hurt, but we’re going to thrive off of that,” Carter said. “Our big men are going to get in there and get playing time, and they’re going to thrive off it.”
In fact, Carter said the Commodores’ strong bench is an important asset.
“We’ve got some really good guys, they played all summer. They get in the game and they can just drain a three or play really good defense,” he said.
Quinn also praised the team’s depth, and he expects his team will play smarter as well as harder as time goes on.
“Everybody did something nice today. Some people, like Shep, did a lot of nice things today. I know we have a few guys who were not happy with their performance, but not everybody plays their best every night, and we’re deep enough that it will be fun on some night when they’re all playing well together,” Quinn said. “We’ll get better as the season goes on.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]