VERGENNES — The visiting Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ basketball team took a first-quarter lead at Vergennes on Tuesday and hung close to the undefeated Commodores through early in the second half, but ultimately VUHS pulled away for an 87-48 win.
When Mount Abe junior Sawyer Kamman (a team-high 16 points) sank a three-pointer to open the second half, the 1-7 Eagles trailed by just 44-32 in front of the typically big crowd for this rivalry game.
But senior guards Shep Carter (a game-high 18 points) and Zach Ouellette (12) led the 11-0 Commodores to a 22-9 edge for the rest of the period by combining for 13 points, many of them on the break. Their work helped VUHS to a 64-39 lead entering the fourth, in which bench players from both teams had opportunities to make their mark.
VUHS coach Peter Quinn said even though the atmosphere in the rivalry games is always enjoyable, he was wary of the Eagles — he remembered a near upset a year ago, when the Commodores lost just twice in the regular season on the way to the Division II final.
“You’re always nervous … One of the teams is better than the other, and the down team puts out a game and challenges for a victory because of the rivalry,” Quinn said.
First-year Mount Abe head coach Mike Estey saw some progress even if the final score looked one-sided — he was happy to see the Eagles start strong against such a tough foe.
“We’ve been coming out slow and a little flat, and we came out with a lot of energy. Of course, it’s Vergennes, and they’re good. They’re real good. They get to the hoop well, and Pete does a nice job with them. They play together well. But I really like the way we came out tonight and came in here and played,” Estey said. “The boys played well tonight.”
Estey said he and his team also enjoyed the atmosphere, including the dueling student chants, the pep bands, the cheerleaders, and the fact so many from the Mount Abe community traveled to back them.
“(We had) great support. It was entertaining,” Estey said. “It was good energy for us, an exciting place to play, like it always is.”
The Commodores’ Carter said he always enjoys the Mount Abe games — he grew up watching two older brothers play in them, and Tuesday was his seventh.
“There’s nothing like it, with the stands full in Vergennes, and when you go to Mount Abe it’s always full there, and everybody’s chanting,” Carter said. “And it’s a good rivalry. It’s not a dirty rivalry. It’s not bad blood or anything. I think it’s a good, healthy rivalry and it’s really fun to play these games.”
Both fan bases had plenty to make noise about in the first quarter. The Commodores took a 10-4 lead as senior center Stanley Salley (14 points, a game-high 10 rebounds) scored four second-chance points.
But after Estey called for time, the Eagles began to find the range. Despite six straight VUHS points from Carter, the Eagles went on a 13-6 run and took a 17-16 lead. Senior forward Ryan Barnes and Kamman scored five points each in the surge, which was capped by treys by Kamman, senior forward Jona Scott and Barnes.
But the lead was short-lived — VUHS closed the quarter with an 8-2 run. Ouellette set up a trey by senior forward Devin Hayes, senior guard Cody Quattrocci (10 points) went coast-to-coast, senior forward Dan McGrath (eight points, four boards off the bench) hit two free throws, and Carter hit on the break with an assist from Hayes. Travis Bachand converted one of his four rebounds for two points for the Eagles, and it was 25-19, VUHS after one.
Then the Eagles’ wheels came off for a few minutes: They committed 11 second-period turnovers and went scoreless for the first 5:35 while VUHS reeled off 12 points, six from Salley inside and four from Quattrocci. VUHS led, 36-19, when Barnes hit a jumper at 2:25. The teams exchanged hoops the rest of the period, and VUHS led at the break, 42-27.
Then Kamman drained a three to open the second half, and the Eagles were alive. But, as Estey said, the Commodores were playing too well for his team to hang in.
“Their experience and their depth kind of separated (them) out a little bit, but I’m real pleased with our effort tonight,” Estey said. “I hope it’s something we can build on going forward.”
Eagle senior forward Cody Alexander tied Bachand for the team rebound high with four, and scored four points and contributed a team-high three assists, while Scott added eight points.
Estey said despite Mount Abe’s lack of success so far, his team has remained positive.
“They come in every day and work hard … They get along good, they support each other, and it’s been fun,” Estey said. “We’re moving forward.”
For VUHS, Ouellette finished with four assists, four steals and four boards; Quattrocci led with five steals; Carter added three assists; Hayes, senior guard Nate Cannon, and junior guard Brendon Huestis all scored five; and senior forward Charlie Stapleford scored four.
Carter said the Commodores are not fully satisfied with the way they are playing, however. Although he said the ball movement and offensive balance and depth is strong, the Commodores have hit a “lull” defensively in their past three games.
“We need to talk a lot more on defense. We also need to stop reaching and stop leaving our man wide open and start boxing out more,” Carter said. “We’re just not all there yet.”
Quinn agreed the defensive execution could be better.
“We’re just trying to play our best game every night, and it’s really hard to do,” Quinn said. “The guys have a real sense of purpose offensively, and they’re executing well. The defensive end, I’m not so happy with them. We’re just not smart enough right now.”
The Commodores want to win the D-II title that just eluded them a year ago, and Quinn said they have to keep their effort level high to do so, and Quinn and Carter said the Commodores realize they need to keep trying to be their best if they want to reach that goal.
“This is the last year for about 10 of our guys,” Carter said. We’ve got 10 seniors, and we’re very confident this is our year, and we’re not satisfied with a win like this. We’ve got to keep playing better to reach our goal. We’re not quite there.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.