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VUHS boys basketball rallies past the Tigers in the 2nd half

MIDDLEBURY — A dramatic second-half turnaround on Tuesday gave the Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team the win over host Middlebury, 59-57, in a game not decided until a last-second Tiger shot rolled off the rim.
The Tigers led by 33-20 50 seconds into the second half, when senior guard Cody Pomainville stole the ball and dunked. But 10 Tiger third-period turnovers, some forced and some careless, opened the door for the Commodores, and they welcomed that invitation with strong defense, hustle and better ball movement after being shut down in the first half.
Senior Lance Bergmans, who led VUHS with 17 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, said the 3-7 Commodores were tired of losing — and also credited the half-time speech of JV Coach Josh Carter, who filled in for ailing Coach Peter Quinn.
“We just wanted to win really bad,” Bergmans said. “Our coach, he went in there and pumped us up in the locker room. We wanted that win, and we wanted it bad.”
Carter said he just told the Commodores to have faith in themselves.
“We’re searching for our identity right now, and I think we just started to believe,” Carter said. “My message at halftime was just to lock in and believe that we can win, believe that we can beat this team. And we came out in the second half and guys had energy, guys were intense.”
Tiger Coach Kyle Lussier’s message for his team is that they need to play with poise when they are challenged.
“We need to have more accountability for keeping our heads on our shoulders a little bit,” Lussier said. “As soon as a little adversity hits we can’t shut down. We’ve got to do better when adversity hits.”
He noted that the Commodores also hit the offensive glass for second-chance points.
“You can’t give up two, three, four shots a possession,” Lussier said. “When you do that and turn the ball over it gives a lot of extra possessions to Vergennes.”
In the first half the Tiger man-to-man defense forced the Commodores into turnovers, 11 in all, compared to seven in the second half. The Tigers took a 10-2 lead in the first 3:20 as Pomainville scored eight of his game-high 22, and they settled for a 16-10 lead after one period. Senior guard JD Goettelmann scored six of his eight points for MUHS in the quarter, and Bergmans kept VUHS afloat with eight points.
MUHS stretched the lead to 29-20 at the half, but also missed a few shots inside. Six Commodores scored in the second period, while Pomainville continued to do damage for the Tigers with seven more points.
As the second half opened, it looked good for the Tigers after senior center Bas Phair (14 points, seven rebounds) converted one of Goettelmann’s three assists, and then Pomainville dunked after a midcourt steal.
But the Tigers turned the ball over on four of their next five possessions, with Phair hitting inside on the fifth. At the other end, VUHS came alive. Bergmans hit two free throws, senior guard Bailey Smith (10 points) hit a three-pointer, and senior forward Ethan Sausville (17 points, all in the second half) suddenly became a huge factor, hitting in the lane, assisted by Bergmans, and stealing the ball and laying it in to make it 33-29 at 5:10.
After another Tiger turnover Lussier called for time at 4:51, and his offense began to click again. Buckets by Phair and Zach Dunn and two free throws by Parker Beatty (six points, eight rebounds) helped push the lead to 41-35.
But the Commodores kept coming against what was now a Tiger zone defense; Lussier said a switch was necessary because VUHS was getting to the basket too easily. A Sausville three-point play, a Smith jumper and an Ezekiel Palmer putback gave VUHS their first lead, 43-41, at 1:00. Tiger Tim Goettelmann made a steal and layup and it was 43-43 after three periods.
Sausville opened the fourth with a hoop in the lane to give VUHS the lead, but Pomainville answered with a three to make it 46-45 at 7:20. But that was the last MUHS lead. Palmer (10 points) scored on a pass from Nathan Bourgeois, Bergmans drove to the basket for two, and Sausville converted a Smith assist on the break to make it 51-46 at 5:45.
The Tigers answered with a Phair jumper and a Tyler Buxton putback to make it 51-50 at 5:00, but a Sausville jumper and a three-point play in transition by Palmer made it 56-50, VUHS at 3:20.
The teams exchanged baskets before Phair made it 58-54 at 2:30. A free throw by each side made it 59-55 at 0:49, and then VUHS gave MUHS a chance by missing five free throws.
When Phair sank a clutch hoop at 0:23 it was 59-57, but after a Tiger time-out with 4.5 seconds to go Phair’s contested jumper from the free-throw line as time expired bounced off the back rim.
Bergmans gave Sausville credit for giving VUHS a lift on the defensive end as well as on the attack.
“It was definitely Ethan. That kid goes hard,” Bergmans said. “I think that’s what really picked us up.”
Carter said Bergmans, a willingness to share the ball, and the Tiger defensive switch helped the Commodores revive on offense.
“I think we have a very unselfish team, starting out top with Lance, whose always looking to get his teammates involved,” he said.
Certainly, Coach Carter said, the win should give the Commodores a lift.
“It’s a great team win for us, and I think we just carry that momentum into the next game and go from there,” he said. “I think this team, we have a lot of weapons and a lot of guys who can really play basketball. We just need to put it together at both ends of the floor.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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