VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team locked down a home playoff game on Tuesday by pulling away in the second half from visiting Missisquoi to win, 65-37.
The Commodores got a career-high 27 points from junior point guard Liam Hayes and a strong defensive effort after the break that allowed them to coast after leading by just 27-25 at the half.
The defending Division II champion Commodores improved to 9-10 and clinched at least a No. 8 seed for the tournament, which will begin next week.
With a win at rival Middlebury in Friday’s regular season finale and a little help, VUHS, at No. 7 after Tuesday’s win, could move up the tightly bunched standings as high as No. 5. Regardless, the Commodores will host a game on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Nobody expects the Commodores to cruise easily to a title like the undefeated 2013 team. But Hayes — who made nine of 10 shots from two-point range and added three steals and three assists on Tuesday — said if they play well and get good work out of six-foot-seven-inch junior center Wesley Miedema, who knows?
“We’ve just got to play our best,” said Hayes. “We’ve got to play to our strengths, just use our height. Get Wesley Miedema in there, use him in there, use our ballhandling and step up as scorers.”
The Commodores were in good position for a home game before Tuesday, but took care of business in their dominant second half. Hayes was asked what triggered their improved play after the break.
“Our transition offense, for sure, just getting up the court, everybody running their lanes and just getting easy buckets,” Hayes said. “Defensively, we didn’t dive as much. We stayed with our men. A lot of their points in the first half were just unmarked men, men that we just let go free from screens. But we talked a lot, our chatter was up, so we knew where all our men were.”
Coach Peter Quinn said much of that offense came from better defense, which, as usual, was his message at the halftime break.
“Play better defense and we’ll win the game,” Quinn said he told his team. “The thing we concentrated on in the second half was playing good D, preventing them from scoring. What we didn’t talk much about was Liam getting even smoother in the second half. He had a great game.”
Hayes had 10 of his 27 points and one of his three assists before the break and then tossed in eight in the third quarter, during which the Commodores outscored MVU by 16-5 to take a 43-30 lead. Senior swingman Jarret LaFleche chipped in six of his eight points in the pivotal third period and set up a Hayes hoop on the break, and Miedema contributed a putback on one of his team-high nine rebounds. Ten of the Commodores’ points in the period came in transition.
It just got worse for the 4-15 T-Birds in the fourth, as VUHS opened the quarter with a 15-3 run. Junior forward Dylan Raymond scored six of his eight points in that surge and set up senior center Jamie DeVries (four points, five boards) on the break, and Hayes scored the remaining seven, including a three-point play on a nice reverse layup.
The Commodores outrebounded MVU, 41-27, with sophomore Josh Dam adding four in a balanced effort. After Hayes, VUHS also got balanced scoring: Miedema scored six, and sophomore guard Aaron Gaines added four, giving the Commodores six players with at least four points. Junior forwards Andrew Hubbard and Hunter Moniz led MVU with 10 and nine points, respectively.
The Commodores were without senior guard Brendon Huestis, who recently had an emergency appendectomy and whose status for the postseason is uncertain. Senior forward and leading scorer Josh Benning is no longer with the team due to infractions of team rules; he played just 10 games this winter.
Given all the ups and downs, Quinn said earning a home playoff berth is a good achievement for his team.
“It’s been such a roller coaster this year,” he said. “We have played better the last six or eight games. So I think it’s a great accomplishment.”
On the other hand, Quinn believes his team could surprise.
“We can go to Barre. We can still do it. I may be foolish to think that, but we could win one game and go someplace and have a not-too-difficult second-round game and play well,” he said. “And then we’d be back in Barre. So hope springs eternal.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.