Tigers beat VUHS to extend streak in boys’ hoop

VERGENNES — In a hard-fought, well-played high school boys’ basketball game this past Thursday with postseason implications, visiting Middlebury surged in the second half to defeat Vergennes, 57-50.
The 16-4 Tigers completed a rare sweep of their Lake Division games, clinched the No. 5 seed for the Division I playoffs, and stretched their winning streak to 10 games.
The Vermont Principals’ Association was set to make playoff pairings official on Monday morning, and first-round games will be played in both D-I and D-II on Tuesday or Wednesday, and quarterfinals on Friday or Saturday.
The Tigers will apparently host Champlain Valley (9-11), a team that owns 20-point wins over the Tigers’ D-I Lake foes St. Albans and Missisquoi. The Tigers’ largest margin of victory over those teams was nine. The Tigers also lost to South Burlington, which twice fell to CVU. However, MUHS defeated Colchester more handily than CVU.
Meanwhile, the loss leaves VUHS and Otter Valley tied at 58 points in the D-II standings. They did not play each other this winter, eliminating the head-to-head matchup that is the first tiebreaker.
The next tiebreaker the Vermont Principals’ Association uses to determine seeds is record against common opponents. Both OV and VUHS beat Mount Abraham twice, while OV lost to MUHS once and VUHS fell to the Tigers twice.
VUHS athletic director Peter Maneen, cautioned on Sunday nothing would be final until the VPA released pairings on Monday, said he was told OV would probably get the No. 4 seed based on its better winning percentage against MUHS and Mount Abe.
The No. 4 seed will apparently face No. 13 Harwood (4-16), while the No. 5 seed will probably draw 6-14 Hartford.  
Fans will be happy if those games are exciting as this past Thursday’s matchup in Vergennes.
Even though his Commodores lost for the sixth time in seven games, Coach Peter Quinn praised the quality of their effort and of the game.
 “I’m happy. We needed something to pick us up. And while they guys are disappointed, I think they recognize they played a pretty good game. Because it wasn’t like Middlebury had a bad night. They played pretty well tonight,” Quinn said. “It was a good game.”
 The teams combined for just 15 turnovers between them; both played solid defensively, VUHS in a newly installed 1-3-1 zone with towering center Wesley Miedema anchoring the middle and MUHS in sticky man-to-man; both sides made key steals, passes and shots; and plenty of bodies hit the floor battling for the ball.
The tone was set early, when four Tigers scored in the first three minutes to create an 8-2 lead, but the Commodores buckled down and made it a two-point game after one, 12-10. In the period Miedema and Josh Dam each scored three points for VUHS while Oakley Gordon (25 points) sank two threes for MUHS.
VUHS took an early lead in the second on buckets by Josh Lorrain, well set up by Dam, and Aaron Gaines, but threes by Connor Quinn and Gordon capped a 9-2 Tiger run that made it 21-16, MUHS, at 5:00. The Tigers, who had defeated VUHS by 20 on Feb. 3, led by as many as six before settling for a 28-24 lead at the break. Six points in the period from Liam Hayes kept VUHS close, as did Miedema’s interior defense — he blocked eight shots overall.
MUHS led by 32-28 at 4:50 of the third when VUHS erupted for a 9-0 run. Dam started it with a three, and then Hayes hit a three before Miedema blocked consecutive shots. Hayes picked up the ball, raced down the court and spotted Adam Gill open, and Gill drilled another three-pointer.
MUHS Coach Chris Altemose called timeout at 2:52 as the huge VUHS crowd erupted. Altemose told the Tigers to get back to the up-tempo approach that works best for them.
Point guard Bobby Ritter took that message to heart, pushing the pace and scoring eight points, including a three 10 seconds after the timeout, as the Tigers tied the game at 42-42 after three periods.  
 “We want to run. That’s our strength,” Altemose said. “And then Ritter hit the big three, and he was really pushing and attacking, and good things came from that.”
Ritter said the Tigers knew the Commodores were too good not to fight their way back in, especially at home.
“They’ve got a couple of good shooters, they play great defense, and the crowd gets into it,” he said. “We knew they were going to go on runs, but it was important that we keep up our confidence and go on a run ourselves.”
The Tigers opened the fourth period by outscoring VUHS, 7-0, over the first four minutes behind tough defense. Quinn and Gordon hit threes and Austin Robinson hit a free throw, and it was 49-42.
But VUHS tightened up its zone, and Lorrain converted on an inbounds play and when Dylan Raymond hit a three at 1:50 it was 51-48. Ten seconds later Gill stole the ball and sailed in for a layup, and it was a one-point game.
 But down the stretch VUHS could not get three-pointers to drop, and the Tigers made six of eight free throws to end the Commodore comeback.
For MUHS, Bryce Burrell recorded seven points and eight boards; Robinson, four points and nine boards; and Quinn, six points and nine boards.
Altemose praised all the Tigers who saw minutes in a rare win at VUHS.
“I could go down the list of little things each guy did to chip in,” he said, adding, “They continue to show me they find a way to get it done, and that’s a great characteristic to have as we approach playoffs.”
For VUHS, Hayes and Gill finished with 12 points apiece, Dam scored 10, and Miedema and Raymond added five each.
Quinn would have liked more offensive patience, especially fewer three-pointers, but saw the effort and quality of the Commodores’ play as a plus heading into the postseason.
“We’ve had a couple bad losses in the last three weeks,” he said. “And I think we’ve kind of cleared our throats with this game.”  
VUHS SENIOR WESLEY Miedema tries to block a shot as Tiger Jon Fitzcharles slips inside for the shot. Photo by Pam Quinn

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