Otters outlast Commodores in boys’ basketball

VERGENNES — A Monday boys’ basketball game at Vergennes Union High School might have looked like a mismatch on paper. The visiting Otter Valley team was fresh off a huge win over the top team in Division II and the host Commodore squad was coming off a 27-point setback to Mount Abraham.
Instead, the 9-6 Otters found themselves in a battle with the 3-10 Commodores, who fought back from 15 points down early in the third period to within five late in the fourth before the Otters held on for a 51-45 victory.
The Commodores doubled ball handlers out of their man-to-man defense and hit the boards hard in the second half (a 17-10 rebounding advantage keyed by Lance Bergmans, Zeke Palmer and Ethan Sausville) to whittle down the OV lead to 48-43.
But then the Otters got a big block from junior forward Kollin Bissette and three free throws from junior guard Dylan Mackie in the final 1:01 to nail down the victory.
OV Coach Greg Hughes said his team did enough to win, but credited the Commodores.
“It definitely wasn’t pretty, but we have some experienced guards who know how to keep a lead,” Hughes said. “But I commend (VUHS). They had a very active second half there, especially toward the end there with that doubling. That was difficult to get by. But coming down to the last couple minutes, making foul shots definitely helped us. Missed more than we wanted to, but we made just enough to keep the distance.”
VUHS Coach Peter Quinn was happy with everything about the Commodores’ play — except their shooting. Their shot selection was fine, he said, but the ball just wouldn’t fall, especially in a four-point second quarter that allowed OV to take a 28-15 halftime lead.
“We cut down on our turnovers. We had only eight turnovers, which was the first time all year we were under 10. We were more patient. We took better shots, and we couldn’t get shots to drop when we needed them to. We played good defense, too,” Quinn said.
The Otters took a quick lead as Mackie (seven points) scored four points and senior guard Josh Letourneau set up senior forward Payson Williams (11 points) on an inbounds play and scored twice. Senior forwards Lance Bergmans (a team-high 16) and Ethan Sausville helped VUHS cut the lead to 12-11 after one quarter. Each scored four points in the period, and Sausville drew back-to-back offensive fouls to slow the OV attack.
Then the Commodores struggled to find the basket in the second quarter. Credit also goes to OV’s first-half man-to-man defense, but makeable attempts also bounced off the rim. The VUHS man defense also slowed OV for most of the period, and with two minutes left it was 19-15.
Then Otter junior forward Tyler Rowe swished three straight open threes from the left flank, two assisted by Mackie, as the Otters pushed the lead to 13 at the half. Rowe sank five threes in all and finished with 19 points.
“It was nice to have Tyler Rowe step up with some big shots,” Hughes said. “It definitely helped us when we were missing quite a few shots.”
Quinn said Rowe’s makes were especially frustrating because they came after so many Commodore misses.
“They were up 13 at halftime, and it felt more like a four-point game,” he said.
The Vergennes offense came alive in the first five minutes of the third quarter. Bergmans scored five points, two after a Sausville offensive board; senior forward Aaron Premont added two hoops, both assisted by senior forward Casey Kimball, and back-to-back drives by senior guard Bailey Smith and Sausville made it 35-28 at 3:15.
To that point OV had managed three points from Letourneau (11 in all), a fast-break bucket from Rowe, and a Bissette bucket inside. Then two buckets set up by Letourneau, a Williams lay-in and another Rowe three, allowed OV to reach 40 after three periods.
Meanwhile, the Commodores remained stuck on 28 entering the fourth: At one point they grabbed three straight offensive boards but missed the follow-ups.
The teams traded hoops for five minutes of the fourth: a Bergmans three and two Palmer layups for VUHS, and a Williams three-point play, Rowe’s final three, and a Marcus McCullough layup assisted by Williams set the score at 48-35.
Then the Commodores made a run. After two more offensive boards, Smith (11 points) swished a three at 2:38. Bergmans hit two free throws to make it 48-40, and Palmer stole the ball at the other end and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but VUHS again rebounded and worked the ball to Smith, who sank another three to make it 48-43 at 1:40.
Again Palmer stole the ball as the Otters tried to pass out of a double team, and he gave the ball to Bergmans in transition. But Bissette swatted away his layup attempt, and the Otters controlled the loose ball.
Mackie hit a free throw at 1:01, and the Commodores couldn’t get two shots to fall at the other end. Mackie hit two more free throws at 0:30 to make it 51-43, and two Bergmans free throws created the final score.
Quinn said he hoped Monday’s play would carry over to a Tuesday home game vs. Milton and beyond.
“I told them I was proud of them, because (the Otters) are a good team,” Quinn said. “It was such a better effort, which they are aware of, than against Mount Abe.”
Hughes credited VUHS coming off the tough loss.
“It definitely seemed like they wanted it more. They got way too many second chances, and that helped them stay in the game,” Hughes said. “They’re definitely not the kind of team their record is showing, tonight at least.”
The Otters have a challenging schedule, including hosting D-II’s second-place team, Fair Haven, on Wednesday and visiting D-II’s fifth-place team, Mill River, on Friday. Hughes said good defense will be critical for building on what is now a three-game winning streak.
“Whenever we’re swarming and being in help defense I think we’re a very strong team,” he said. “If they get over the fact they want to score some points and play some defense, get hard-nosed and move forward, I think they can be successful.”

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