Boys’ hoop: Otter boys win epic battle vs. VUHS

BRANDON — Echoes might still be bouncing around rafters in the House of Noise, in which a standing-room-only crowd on Saturday watched the host No. 4 Otter Valley Union High School outlast visiting No. 5 Vergennes, 48-39, in a tense, physical Division II boys’ basketball quarterfinal.
In front of student cheering sections offering dueling chants, fans packed in all four corners craning their necks to see the action, and alternating applause and groans with every basket, whistle and defensive stop, the Otters dominated the second-half boards and scored 23 fourth-quarter points to earn their Monday evening date in the Barre Auditorium.
At 8:15 p.m., the 16-6 Otters will face 21-0 Woodstock, which has defeated them this season, 65-46 and 64-36. OV has never won a basketball title, although since 2005 the school’s teams have earned baseball, softball and football crowns.
On Saturday, the Otters were happy to earn just the program’s fourth-ever trip to the Aud and first since 2008.
“This is huge for the school,” said senior John Winslow, who scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and hauled down 17 rebounds. “To be able to go back to Barre is huge. It’s unexplainable. I’m just kind of speechless right now.”
Including team rebounds, OV outrebounded VUHS, 23-11, in the second half, with sophomore guard Kai Norwood (seven boards) and junior forward Carson Leary (five) also chipping in.
OC coach Greg Hughes credited both teams’ effort, but said the Otters showed a lot down the stretch.    
“They’re a very good team, a great coach, very fundamental. But really it came down to just wanting it,” Hughes said. “And I think we wanted it a little more.”
VUHS coach Peter Quinn was not happy with the officiating, particularly on the failure to call one obvious basket interference infraction and the later instance of an off-ball referee overruling a fourth-quarter traveling call on Norwood and instead giving VUHS senior point guard Liam Hayes his fourth foul. Hayes (a team-high eight points) and VUHS junior forward Josh Dam both fouled out.
Quinn praised the Commodores’ defense, but said they also could have done a better job rebounding, running their offense, and shooting three-pointers (two for 17) and free throws (five for 12 from the line, three for seven in the fourth).
“My guys played hard,” Quinn said. “We just didn’t execute well enough offensively. It would have been a different game if we could have done that. We missed a few free throws at the end, too, in the last quarter, that would have been important for us.”
VUHS held OV to 14 points in the first half and led by five at the break. VUHS senior center Wesley Miedema used his six-nine frame to block six shots in the first half and 13 overall to key the defense, allowing VUHS guards Hayes, Aaron Gaines and Adam Gill to pressure the OV ballhandlers.
OV sophomore guard Derek Aines scored eight of his 13 points in the first half. Seven Commodores scored in the first half, with forward Josh Lorrain scoring four and Gill and Dam adding three apiece. Turnovers were a problem; VUHS committed 17, nine in the first half.
OV showed more offensive life in an 11-point third period. Winslow scored five, Tyler Allen hit a jumper, Aines sank two free throws, and Norwood’s drive at 1:20 tied the game at 25-25. Gaines and Hayes each scored four for VUHS, with Hayes converting on the break in the final minute from Gill to put VUHS on top, 27-25, entering the fourth.
A Winslow three gave OV the lead, but Hayes scored in transition at 6:50 to put VUHS on top. Eventually, a Norwood jumper at 5:00 made it 30-30. A Winslow three at one end and one Miedema free throw and layup at the other left the score tied again, 33-33, at 3:10.
Winslow hit in the post at 2:45 to make it 35-34, and Miedema and OV senior Connor Gallipo each hit a free throw to set the score at 36-35. At 2:15, Winslow swooped in for an acrobatic putback, and the lead was three. VUHS missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Gallipo sank two free throws for OV to make it 40-34 at 1:38.
A Dylan Raymond three at 1:25 gave VUHS hope, but Norwood hit a free throw, and an offensive foul on Hayes gave OV the ball back and sent Hayes to the bench. Gallipo then assisted an Allen layup to make it 43-37 with a minute left, and after a Miedema hoop, OV iced the win from the line.
As for Woodstock, Hughes said the Otters were looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Hughes said. “We’ll have a little meeting and figure out what we want to do.”
It will also be tough to duplicate Saturday’s atmosphere in Barre.
“It was insane,” Winslow said. “It was a great crowd for both sides and a lot of fun to be a part of. It was awesome.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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