Commodore boys’ basketball races past Mt. Abe

VERGENNES — Signs pointed to a close game when the 8-11 Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ basketball team visited 4-15 Vergennes on Thursday in the regular-season finale for the local rivals.
But after a close first quarter, VUHS junior Kevin Jackson scored nine of his 19 points as the Commodores blitzed the Eagles with a 21-6 second period to lead the Eagles at the half, 34-17.
Then in the third quarter VUHS senior Nate Bourgeois tossed in nine of his 15 points as the Commodores at one point stretched the lead to 53-26.
A late Eagle run made the 61-50 final score look respectable, but the night belonged to the big home crowd and the Commodores, who forced 27 Eagle turnovers and including team rebounds earned a 33-23 edge on the boards.
Senior forward Ezekiel Palmer grabbed 11 rebounds to spark VUHS in that department, and added eight points, three assists and four steals. He also played tough defense on Eagle junior leading scorer Liam Kelliher.
Palmer — he and Bourgeois were honored before the game as the team’s only seniors — said the game was a great way to cap an at times challenging season that began with the death of their coach, Peter Quinn, days before the opener.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better game against our county rivals, Mount Abe, and to play so well, to play like we knew we could play all season long. It just took a little effort to find it,” Palmer said. “And tonight the crowd was crazy, and they helped us bring it. And senior game, man, it was wild. It was a crazy way to end the season. I loved every bit of it.”
The Commodores will be seeded No. 15 in Division II and open at No. 2 Montpelier on Tuesday or Wednesday. Palmer said they need to remember Thursday’s energy and effort.
 “Our coach keeps telling us, once you go into the playoffs everybody’s record is 0-0. And everybody’s got a fighting chance, now matter what your seeding is or how your season went,” Palmer said. “If we can play like this in the playoffs, there’s no telling how far we can go. And we’ve known we can play like this all season long. It just took a while to figure it out.”
Eagle Coach Martin Clark said the Eagles on Thursday forgot their formula for faring well in recent close losses to D-I St. Albans and Middlebury and wins over Enosburg and Milton.
“We’ve been playing as a team up until tonight. We got a little too individualistic. We wanted to beat their pressure with the dribble more than passing, and that really hurt us,” Clark said. “And credit to Vergennes. They came out hot. They were shooting the ball well when they were open, and they made interior passes to get easy baskets, and they outrebounded us.”
Junior Josias Salomao (10 points, five assists, five steals) harassed the Eagles at the top of the VUHS full-court press and sparked the Commodores in the first period with four late points as VUHS took the lead for good. Junior forward Ben Curtis added seven points and five assists overall.
The Commodores scored 44 of their points in the paint, including drives, fast-break layups, and putbacks, with many baskets assisted.
VUHS Coach Josh Carter said when the Commodores run their offense well and share the ball it allows them to set up their effective press.
“If we play together and play within the offense, we get looks, and then we can set up our defense, which has been phenomenal,” Carter said.
He hopes to see more of the same in the playoffs.
“We came out with fire and with passion, and all game we made that extra pass,” Carter said. “D-II is wide open.” 
Kelliher led the Eagles with 11 points, Logan Rodriguez scored 10, and Shain Sargent added seven. Sophomore Koby LaRose scored five in the fourth quarter stint as the Eagles closed with an 15-4 run.
Clark said Mount Abe missed senior forward Parker Hines’ play and leadership on Thursday; he sat for one night due to a minor discipline issue.
Clark said the Eagles, who will be seeded No. 12 in D-II and open at No. 5 U-32, would work to recapture their better play of late.  
“I felt like we were starting to gain some ground as far as how to close a game, and have a learned a lot over the past four or five games,” he said. “We’ll get back to the gym early tomorrow.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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