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Boys’ basketball: Commodores put down Rebellion

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team relied on tough defense and a 21-point night from senior guard Liam Hayes to edge visiting South Burlington on Monday, 45-41.
The win over a Division I foe pushed the Division II Commodores to 3-0, with all three victories coming against programs that defeated VUHS a year ago, when the team finished 9-11 and earned a home playoff game.
Hayes said it had been a couple years since the Commodores had knocked off a D-I team, and Monday’s result vs. the 2-2 Rebels, who won at Middlebury last week, would give them a lift.
“We’re extremely confident, especially coming off a win against a D-I team like South Burlington,” Hayes said. “We are for sure coming out firing. It’s such a huge win. It brings us back.”
The fact that VUHS won while shooting poorly by digging in on defense also bodes well, Hayes said.
“It just shows when we put in that intensity, we put in that teamwork, we put in everything, we’re pulling out that win,” he said. “We’re grinding it out tooth and nail.”
Coach Peter Quinn also pointed to the defense and grit, and key plays down the stretch made by Hayes and junior forward Josh Lorrain (a team-high seven rebounds), and senior center Wesley Miedema (five blocked shots and several more altered).
“I like this team. We play hard. There were a lot of really good plays,” Quinn said.
The Commodores’ sticky man-to-man defense also slowed the Rebels, with guards Hayes, junior Aaron Gaines (eight points) and sophomore Adam Gill (three steals) harassing the ballhandlers outside, and Miedema, Lorrain and junior forwards Josh Dam and Tyler Kepes protecting the basket. 
“I like our defense in the paint. That’s been good all year. A lot of that is our Space Needle,” said Quinn, referring to the six-foot-10 Miedema. “He tends to turn people away.”
It became clear early that the game would be a defensive struggle: The first period ended with South Burlington ahead, 9-8. For VUHS, senior forward Dylan Raymond, who earlier this year scored 27 in a game but ran into foul trouble on Monday, hit a three-pointer, and Hayes hit a three and a jumper assisted by Raymond.
The Commodores picked up their intensity and dominated most of the second quarter, but because of their shooting woes could not build more than a seven-point lead, 20-13, with 2:40 to go, on a Hayes putback of a Gill miss on the break. The Commodores hit the boards hard in the quarter, with Gaines and Lorrain converting offensive boards, and ran well, with Gill laying in a steal and Gaines throwing a nice lob pass to Dam on the break.
But missed shots came back to haunt VUHS, as Kyle Murakami’s jumper and a late three by Jeremy Clements cut the lead to two at the half, 20-18.
The Rebels twice tied the game in the third period, on an early Murakami putback and then at 30-30 with 24.6 seconds to go after Eddie Hockenbury scored five straight points, a three-point play inside and then two free throws. In the period, Dam hit a free throw and assisted a Hayes jumper, Hayes also sank two free throws and another trey, and Gaines hit two jumpers, one at 0:12 to make it 32-30, VUHS, entering the fourth.
Rebel freshman Ben Moran hit a short bank shot to open the final period, and the game was tied again. But VUHS took the lead for good after Raymond sank a jumper and Miedema swished a six-foot hook shot at 4:50.
Hayes then made a series of pivotal plays to protect the VUHS lead. After two free throws by Tyler Ayers made it 34-32 at 4:16, Hayes hustled for a loose ball, preventing a turnover, and hit a jumper. Clements drilled a three at 3:40 to make it 38-37, but Hayes responded by driving the baseline to the left corner, turning and draining a three to make it 41-37 at 3:20.
After Miedema grabbed a Rebel miss, the Commodores ran more than a minute off the clock, but Ayers converted a steal to make it 41-39 at 1:40. The Commodores then turned the ball over again, but Hayes picked a Rebel pocket and went coast to coast for the layup that restored a four-point lead, 43-39, at 1:05.
Hockenbury hit a pair of free throws at 0:35 to make 43-41, and SB fouled Gill. He hit the first of a one-and-one, but missed the second. Lorrain tipped the rebound to Gill, and the Rebels fouled him again. Gill again hit one free throw, and the lead was 45-41.
A dead-ball foul gave the Rebels two shots and the ball, but they missed both free throws. Lorrain then deflected the ball on the ensuing Rebel possession, and Raymond grabbed it. He missed the free throw, but Lorrain snatched the rebound to seal the win.
“Josh Lorrain made a couple plays like that, and played strong,” Quinn said, adding, “Liam stepped up when we needed him. He showed some leadership late with some big shots.”
Quinn would like to see a better effort on the boards; unofficially, including team rebounds, the taller Commodores earned just a 34-32 edge against the scrappy Rebels.
But he is happy overall with a team that he said would keep improving if it maintains its effort level.
“I’m feeling pretty good about them if they keep working,” Quinn said. “Our intention is to get to Barre this year, and it’s a reasonable goal.”
Hayes said wins like Monday’s will help the Commodores hit that target.
“This is so huge for us,” he said. “It shows us we’re taking a step in the right direction.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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