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Boys’ hoops: Block at buzzer saves Tigers’ first victory

BRISTOL — After six fourth-quarter lead changes and six straight missed Middlebury Union High School free throws in the final minute that allowed the host Mount Abraham boys’ basketball team to claw back to within one point, Friday’s game came down to a final play at the horn.
The Tigers, at 0-11 against a brutal schedule, needed a stop to hold their 55-54 lead. The Eagles, losers of four straight, two in heartbreaking fashion, had 7.4 seconds to score after a midcourt timeout taken.
That timeout came after a wild sequence: The Eagles stole the ball and looked for a go-ahead transition hoop, but Tiger senior Spencer Carpenter caught their two-on-one break from behind and snatched the ball back, forcing the Eagles to foul him. But Carpenter, like his teammates in the final minute, missed two free throws, triggering a scramble for the rebound after which the ball was awarded to Mount Abe at 0:13.3.
Then came more confusion. Eagle Coach Martin Clark admitted he did not effectively draw up a play during the timeout.
“I put a little bit of it on my shoulders at the end of the game. I didn’t set up the right thing for them,” Clark said.
But the Eagles inbounded successfully to senior guard Coleman Russell, not a bad idea: Russell’s layup at 1:10 and two free throws at 0:38.6 had erased most of a Tiger five-point lead and made it 55-54.
Russell, near midcourt, spotted a path down the left side of the lane and attacked the basket.
Tiger senior forward Trey Kaufmann slid over to meet Russell. As Russell released the shot with his left hand, Kaufmann rose and cleanly swatted the ball away. The horn sounded as the ball bounced toward the sideline, and the Tigers had their first win.
Even Kaufmann admitted he was confused in the heat of the moment: At first he mistakenly thought he should foul Coleman before he shot.
“I was kind of worried, because it was going through my head it was a good idea to foul,” he said. “But it turns out it wasn’t, and then I was just trying to make up for it, and then I got lucky because I didn’t foul him.”
When the dust and the confusion settled, the Tigers celebrated a win they believe could be the first of more — they are entering Lake Division play after facing eight Division I teams with .500 or better records.
“I think we’ve had the hardest schedule in the state, and as it lightens up here hopefully we can get our groove back on,” Kaufmann said.
The day was tough for the Eagles, who came to the gym directly from a service honoring well-liked Mount Abe staff member Kathy Correll, who died on Jan. 23: She was the mother of a friend of many Eagles.
“Obviously our kids had other things on their mind early in the game,” Clark said. “It was hard to get focused at that point. It’s understandable, but I thought we got 110 percent effort from all the kids who got out on the floor.”
The Eagles were also without starting senior guard Jack Willis, out indefinitely with an illness.
The Tigers held small leads for most of the first three quarters, with contributions from Kaufmann (17 points, 13 rebounds, two steals, three blocks), junior guard J.D. Goettelmann (11 points, nine in the fourth quarter, 12 rebounds), senior guard Pierson Beatty (nine points) junior center Bastiaan Phair (eight points) and Carpenter (five points and strong defense off the bench).
The Eagles countered with a strong scoring inside (19 points) and rebounding from junior forward Jackson Counter, 15 points from Russell, and six from junior forward Dustin Whitcomb.
The Eagles did take a 34-33 lead late in the third on a Whitcomb putback, but Tiger junior guard Andre Trudeau hit a three to make it 36-34 entering the whipsaw fourth period.
There, the Eagles took leads on a Counter three-point play (39-38), five straight points from Russell (44-40), and a monster putback by senior Chris Wood (46-44, their last lead, at 2:50).
The Tigers went on top early on putbacks from Goettelmann and Kaufmann, and took the lead for good on a Goettelmann three-point play that was followed by two Beatty free throws (49-46 at 2:16).
After that Kaufmann hit a hook shot and Goettelmann sank four straight free throws, while the Eagles countered with a Parker Hines layup and two Counter free throws. Those efforts made it 55-50 and set up Russell to pull the score within a point — and almost win the game.
“Coleman made a great play to get his opportunity,” Clark said.  
The Eagles will look for a little more patience on offense, Clark said, and should know that they are close to more success.
“The fact that we played competitively is going to be a good thing going forward,” Clark said.  
Kaufmann noted the many contributors on the Tigers’ side.
“Everyone had a piece in this win,” he said. “It was a great overall team win, and definitely it gives us confidence going forward.”

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