By ANDY KIRKALDY
BRISTOL — Determined to avenge an earlier home loss to Mount Abraham and sparked by the long-awaited return of injured junior guard Logan Williams, the Vergennes Union High School basketball team earned a solid 60-50 victory in the packed Eagle gym on Friday. The Commodores improved to 12-2, Vermont’s best Division II record.
With Williams (a game-high 16 points, plus three steals) coming off the bench to hit his first two shots — including a three-pointer the first time he touched the ball in a game since breaking his collarbone in December — the Commodores bolted to an 18-9 first-quarter lead.
The Eagles (6-9 after a three-game winning streak was snapped) fought back to within seven points early in the third quarter after trailing by as many as 13 in the second. But the Commodores, who got at least five points from six players and shot 50 percent (23 for 46) on the night, pulled away again.
Two drives by senior guard Josh Carter pushed the VUHS lead to 56-39 with 2:09 to go, and only a spirited effort by the Eagle bench made it a 10-point game.
Carter, a VUHS co-captain, said the Commodores had been looking ahead to Jan. 30 since right after the Eagles upset them, 56-50, on Jan. 6.
“As soon as the game got over I went home and I looked at the calendar and said, ‘All right, we’re going to be ready next time for this game,’” Carter said. “And we were.”
Carter also said it was great to have Williams, who led VUHS in scoring in both games he played before he was hurt in practice, back in the lineup.
“Logan made a huge difference tonight. He came in and made his first shot, which is amazing. I was so glad he hit it. And then he just played so well the rest of the way,” Carter said.
Mount Abe coach Bill Leggett said he was not unhappy with the Eagles’ effort — he noted that they cut the lead from 13 to nine in the second quarter, from 11 to seven early in the third, and from 14 to 10 twice later in that quarter.
“They (VUHS) certainly came out early and took a little bit of control of the game, but I really like the way our guys continued to fight back,” Leggett said. “I just like the way our kids kept battling.”
Leggett also said he had to take into account the caliber of the competition.
“I think they’re a legitimate contender for top four in the state, and I’m pretty well pleased with the way we played with them in our two games,” he said.
VUHS took an early lead, 6-4, thanks mainly to a pair of inside hoops from forward Cam Curler, who scored 10 points on five-for-six shooting.
Williams then came in and tossed in a trey and a layup following a steal, and fed fellow substitute Adam Flynn for a layup. Jackson Lalumiere (8 points off the bench) nailed a trey, and Brian Van De Weert sank a jumper to make it 18-7. Eagle Corey Kimball, who had five of his 11 points in the period, hit a layup to make it 18-9 after one.
The Eagle 3-2 zone defense slowed VUHS in the second quarter, but Williams still managed two free throws and two treys, and Connor Merrill and Curler each scored inside.
At the other end, forwards Kyle Kayhart (11 points) and Bela Dobkowski (10) tossed in treys, but the Eagles got nothing inside until late in the half, when a Dean Butler putback and a Jake Goldstein drive made it 30-19.
VUHS coach Peter Quinn praised his team’s man-to-man defense.
“We really controlled the paint in the first half,” Quinn said. “The best thing we did in the game was our defense in the first half.”
Early in the third, a Kayhart trey and a Kimball free throw cut the lead to 30-23, but then Carter (8 points, all after the break) asserted himself. He drove for one hoop, and then found Curler on the break for another.
At the other end, the Eagles were missing and Merrill (7 points on an off shooting night, but game highs of 12 rebounds and 4 blocks) was dominating the defensive glass and preventing any second-chance points. A Van De Weert trey made it 37-23, and Leggett called time at 4:48.
The Eagles cut the lead to 10 on buckets by Kimball and Dobkowski, but the Commodores closed the quarter with a 5-0 run to make it 47-32. Williams stole the ball and fed Curler on the break, and Lalumiere beat the buzzer with a trey. Dobkowski opened the fourth quarter with a trey to give the Eagles some hope, but Williams responded with a trey, and it was clearly the Commodores’ night.
VUHS earned a 36-26 rebounding edge, with Merrill leading the way. Goldstein led Mount Abe with seven.
Despite the setback, Leggett said he has been happy with the Eagles’ progress. He said they never got down on themselves, even when they fell to 3-8.
“We kept on plugging away, and all off a sudden we notched up a few (wins). I think our confidence is there a little bit,” he said. “The key now to try to be a little more consistent.”
Quinn said he hadn’t been sure how well Williams would fit back in after missing 11 games, but after Friday he believes that Williams can solidify his rotation and help his other athletes play better.
“I was a little surprised it went so smoothly. Logan’s an impact player, which means he’s going to affect everyone on the court,” he said. “But people really fell in line with it and knew what we wanted to do ... That gave everyone confidence.”