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Boys’ Hoop: Despite Commodore surge, Otter Valley pulls off win

BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School boys’ basketball team used a balanced attack to control most of its Friday game vs. visiting Vergennes, but had to hold off a late Commodore surge before prevailing, 74-69.
Four Otters reached double figures — senior guard Derek Aines and junior guard Josh Letourneau led with 19 points apiece, senior guard Dylan Mackie chipped in 13, and sophomore forward Tyler Rowe added 10 — as OV never trailed after an Aines jumper made it 4-3 three minutes into the game.
That hoop was part of a 17-5 run that began after VUHS senior Dylan Bradford opened the scoring by draining a three 1:30 after tipoff.  
Aines hit two jumpers, two free throws and a three-pointer in the run. It also included a Mackie trey and began with a Letourneau drive to the hoop and ended at 1:55 when Letourneau took a pass from Aines and swished a trey that made it 17-8. OV led after one period, 20-12, despite VUHS senior guard Adam Gill scoring five of his game-high 21 points.
OV Coach Greg Hughes was not happy with his team in a Tuesday win over Mount Abraham and in a loss to Mill River a week before, but felt better after seeing effective offensive on Friday.
“We haven’t been scoring very well. We haven’t been moving the ball very well, and we haven’t been shooting the ball,” Hughes said. “So tonight just to have them come out with that kind of confidence was definitely a big step forward.”
He credited Aines for setting the tone for OV, which improved to 7-3.
“When he comes out with the intent that he’s going to dominate, the rest of the team just kind of gets on board,” he said.
The 1-9 Commodores were coming off a win over Mount Abe, their first of the winter, about which Coach Peter Quinn felt better. But on Friday Quinn noted OV’s six first-half three-pointers as evidence his team could do better on defense.
“In the first half we didn’t get to the three shooters at all,” Quinn said.
He contrasted that effort to the fourth quarter, when the Commodores’ defensive effort created transition hoops, they held OV to eight points in the first six minutes, and cut a 14-point lead to 63-61 with 2:00 to go.
“Maybe there’s a lesson there,” Quinn said. “If we had that defensive intensity in the first half, they probably would have had 10 fewer points and it would have been a different game.”
Back in the second quarter, OV maintained its first-period edge and led by 36-28 at the half. Bradford scored six for VUHS in the period, and junior forward Casey Kimball powered inside for six of his eight total points. Mackie did most of his damage in those eight minutes, breaking loose for 12 points to account for most of OV’s second-quarter output.
Junior forward Lance Bergmans started to make his presence felt for the Commodores in the third period, scoring their first six points of the half. But buckets from senior forward Tyler Peterson, a drive by Letourneau and a Payson Williams hoop set up by Letourneau offset Bergmans’ outburst.
But two strong Bradford moves cut the score to 42-38, and Hughes called for time at 4:34. OV responded with a 12-4 run that included two more Letourneau drives (All were going to his right, to Quinn’s frustration: “You should at least make him score a left-handed layup.”), a Williams putback, a Mackie free throw, a Rowe jumper and an Aines three.
OV led by 54-42 after three periods. When Rowe scored inside with an assist from Mackie to open the fourth the lead was a game-high 14. Bergmans (17 of his 19 points in the second half, nine in the fourth quarter) hit a jumper, but Letourneau drove at 6:10 to restore the 14-point lead.
VUHS then went on a 17-5 surge over the next four minutes. Aines did hit a jumper and Rowe sank a trey for OV in that span, but meanwhile Bergmans and Gill combined for 13 of the 17 VUHS points, with two apiece from senior guard Hunter O’Connor and Kimball in the mix.
Bergmans opened the surge with a three-point play, and his blocked shot triggered Gill’s fast-break hoop at 2:00 that made it 63-61. In between, Bergmans went coast-to-coast for a layup and sank a jumper, and Gill drove for two and stole the ball and laid it in at 2:16, triggering an OV timeout.
But after Gill’s hoop OV had the answers. Peterson hit two key free throws at 1:41 to make it 65-61. At 0:59 and 0:42, respectively, Letourneau and Aines each swished a pair to make it 69-61. VUHS kept coming in the final 0:33 with a Gill three-point play, an O’Connor putback and a Gill three at the buzzer. But by then Letourneau, Aines and Mackie had combined to hit five of six free throws.
Quinn said the Commodores’ late rally was a bright spot, as was the play of Bergmans, which continued a recent trend.
But as well as defense improvement, Quinn would also like to see more consistency on the offensive end, which he said will come if the Commodores share the ball all the time the same way they do then they are playing their best.
“Really, our offense is fine, except with the number of bad shots we took. We had a nice run on the comeback, where we were moving the ball, sharing the ball well,” he said. “But towards the end, it was like whoever got the ball was going to shoot it, and that just doesn’t get it done.”
Hughes said OV’s successful late free throws were a product of the confidence the Otters had while shooting on Friday, and should spark more confidence.
“That should pump them up, and I hope that keeps going,” he said.
Hughes would still like to see better communication on defense, especially in transition; more effective boxing out and rebounding; and smarter positioning to be able to play help defense. But he is confident a team that won just four times a year ago will continue to get better.
“7-3 halfway through is decent,” he said. “We’re still looking to improve.”

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