Tigers top Mount Abe in another close basketball game

MIDDLEBURY — One way to look at Friday’s boys’ basketball game at Middlebury Union High School between visiting Mount Abraham and the host Tigers is both teams played to form.
The Tigers and Eagles played hard, and both had outstanding moments and made mistakes. And in the end the Tigers won another tight game, the Eagles lost another close one, 66-58.
That final margin is misleading: When Eagle senior Logan Rodriguez drove for a layup at 1:55 of the fourth it cut the MUHS lead to 60-58. And the Eagles forced a turnover and got the ball back with a chance to tie — only to see Tiger junior Tyler Buxton pick off a pass and sail in for a layup that made it 62-58 at 1:35.
The Eagles still had a chance with 26 seconds left in the game and down 63-58, but Eagle senior Parker Hines — who had grabbed six of his 12 rebounds in the fourth quarter to help keep Mount Abe alive — couldn’t get two free throws to fall. MUHS senior Spencer Cadoret then hit three of four from the line to ice a win that moved the Tigers to 13-2.
Seven of those wins have been by five points or fewer, including the Tigers’ earlier 52-47 win in Bristol.
Tiger Coach John Howe, whose team can earn a top-four seed in Division I, was happy to survive another challenge from the 6-11 Eagles.
“Luckily we got both of the wins this season, but they’re a little closer than I’d like,” Howe said. “My heart takes a bit of a pounding.”
Coach Martin Clark’s Eagles are clearly improved. But Clark said their record won’t reflect it unless they to learn how to close out games — three of their past six losses have been by five or fewer points.
“We’re definitely getting better as a team, stronger. But we have to find a way to finish in the fourth quarter,” Clark said. “The guys are doing a great job, but they get a little too excited and make some mistakes we can probably clean up.”
Both teams made their share of mistakes in the first half. The Eagles’ aggressive 2-1-2 zone defense frustrated the Tigers on the perimeter and forced eight first-quarter Tiger turnovers as Mount Abe took a 20-14 lead. Rodriguez put in eight points in the period to spark the Eagles. Buxton and Tiger senior guard Zach Dunn combined for 10 points for MUHS in the quarter.
In the second period Hines scored in the post, hit a free throw after a steal, and assisted a Liam Kelliher three as the lead grew to 26-16 at 5:20. But the Eagles committed nine turnovers in the second period as the Tigers picked up their intensity and closed the half on a 14-4 run to lead by 34-30. Buxton scored six in the period, and subs Gabe Dunn and Karic Riche chipped in five and four points, respectively.
The third period saw both teams take better care of the ball and Tiger senior Parker Beatty (13 rebounds) take charge on the boards. Beatty also scored eight points in the period, two on a putback that snapped a late 45-45 tie. The Eagles also began to find the range again, with Sargent, Kelliher and Hines all scoring at least four points in the period.
MOUNT ABE GUARD Logan Rodriguez looks to dribble through a gap in the Middlebury defense as teammate Brian Larson sets a pick in the Eagles’ loss on Friday. Below, Tiger senior guard Zachary Dunn hangs in mid-air with Mount Abe’s Logan Willey as the Tigers pressed in the second half. Dunn scored 9 points in the Tigers’ 66-58 victory.
Independent photos/Steve James
The Eagles tied the game at 47-47 early in the fourth when Kelliher scored in transition from Sargent, but a Buxton three and a Beatty fast-break bucket at 5:40 made it 52-47. Kelliher converted another Sargent feed to cut the lead to three, but two Cadoret three-pointers helped push the Tigers’ advantage to 58-52.
Sargent hit two free throws and stole the ball to feed Kelliher again to make it 58-56 with three minutes to go, but a Buxton bucket restored the four-point lead. Then Rodriguez drove for what proved to be the last Eagle points at 1:55. And then Buxton stole the ball, and the Tigers made the plays and the free throws down the stretch.
Kelliher scored 20 points, Rodriguez tossed in 15, and Parker Hines and Sargent had 11 apiece. Logan Willey keyed the Eagle defense in the middle of the zone, and he and Sargent added five rebounds apiece.
Clark said he hopes the Eagles understand how good they can be.
“I want a win for those boys in these close games so bad, and for some reason we’re just not quite there yet,” Clark said. “I don’t doubt that we’re gaining confidence even with these losses, and we are building for the postseason … Obviously we’re going to be on the road, and that’s going to take a big effort from us, but we’ll be ready.”
Buxton finished with 21 points, followed by Beatty (14), Cadoret (11), and Zach Dunn (nine).
Howe credited the Eagles for the defensive effort, but said the Tigers do have to clean it up in the turnover department.
“We’ve got five regular-season games left,” he said. “Our goal is to tighten up, tighten up the passes, tighten up the play structure itself, tighten up the discipline.”

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