Sports

OV boys’ hoop outlasts host Commodores

VERGENNES — One of the last things a young high school basketball team playing its opener in a packed gym away from home might be expected to do is swish 14 three-pointers and then hold on for a close win against a more experienced group.
But that’s just what the Otter Valley boys did on Tuesday at Vergennes in a 62-60 victory.
First-year Coach Mike Stark’s Otters graduated nine seniors last spring and returned just two athletes who saw minutes this past winter.
But his Otters played like poised veterans as they sank eight first-half three-pointers — four by junior Dylan Gaboriault and three by junior Alex Philo — on the way to a 34-24 halftime lead.
The Commodores came out with more aggressive man-to-man defense after the break and got six points apiece from senior Ben Curtis and junior Gage Lalumiere in the third quarter, and it looked like VUHS could roll to the win. But the Otters weathered the storm and scored all eight of their points of the period in the final 2:15, and the teams entered the fourth tied, 42-42.
Down the fourth-quarter stretch, OV junior Parker Todd hit a huge three, Philo sank two free throws, Todd drove for the winning points, and the Otters allowed only two points in the final two minutes to hold on for the victory.
Stark, who will carry a 1-0 career record into the Otters’ game at Mount Abraham on Friday, was jubilant afterward.
“I started four juniors who’ve never played a varsity game before. So to have the first half we had, I was pretty impressed,” Stark said. “This was a big game for a lot of these guys, first varsity game. We have two varsity guys from last year who didn’t get a lot of time, so to go out and show a lot of poise and composure and close the game, I’m proud of these guys.”
Commodore Coach Josh Carter was happy his team bounced back after the rough start.
“We were rushing things early in the game, and we didn’t get settled in and get good quality looks. And then we kind of overextended on defense and got burned,” Carter said. “They were hot from behind the three-point line, and we knew they wouldn’t stay hot, and we just had to stay the course. So we were able to battle back into the game.”
He pointed to mediocre free-throw shooting — 18-for-32 overall — and forced shots in the final couple minutes after the Commodores twice created turnovers as decisive factors, while also crediting the Otters for hanging tough.
“They stayed with it. They hit some big shots down the stretch, and we missed some key free throws,” Carter said. “And we had some tough possessions after we stole the ball there at the end.”
Philo did most of the damage as OV took a 16-9 lead after the first quarter, hitting all three of his three-point attempts.
Carter called for a press in the second, and the Commodores rattled off five quick points to cut the lead to two. But Gaboriault answered with back-to-back threes and hit three from long-range in the quarter as OV took its 10-point lead at the break. Seven Commodores scored in the half, led by Curtis, who tossed in seven.
The Commodores picked up their defensive intensity in the third quarter, forcing seven OV turnovers and beginning to attack the basket, especially in transition. They held OV scoreless for the first 5:54 and tied the game at 34-34, with four points from Curtis and three from senior forward Kevin Jackson in a 10-0 run.  
Finally, OV sophomore Hayden Bernhardt nailed a three at 2:15, and the Otters regained the lead. But not for long. Lalumiere stole the ball and laid it in, and then junior forward Jake Russell blocked an OV three-point attempt, leading to Curtis being fouled in transition and sinking two free throws to make it 38-37.
Lalumiere converted an offensive rebound and hit a jumper, plays sandwiched around a drive by OV junior point guard Cole Letourneau, and VUHS led, 42-39. But then OV sophomore Elijah Tucker-Bryant became the fifth Otter to hit a three, beating the buzzer to tie the game after three quarters at 42-42.
Commodore Russell hit a free throw to make it 43-42, VUHS, to open the final quarter, but the Otters answered as they had all game: Gaboriault drilled a two threes to make it 48-43 with 7:00 to go, and OV never trailed again.
Lalumiere then took the game over for 44 seconds, hitting four of six free throws after a steal and two offensive rebounds to make it 48-47. Gaboriault fouled out sending Lalumiere to the line for the third time, and Letourneau suffered the same fate a minute later, but still OV hung on.
“Different guys had to play different spots because I was missing two starters,” Stark said. “For some of these guys to play different positions, I was really proud of them.”
OV kept getting enough offense to hold off VUHS. Philo hit a three, and Bernhardt drove for a bucket before Todd got hot in the final minutes. At the other end Commodore senior guard Josias Salomao snuck in for a putback, Will Bergmans hit two free throws, Jackson followed his own shot for a layup, Curtis hit a jumper, and Luke Bergmans hit a jumper at 2:45 after another Salomao offensive board to make it 58-57.
But then Philo hit two free throws at 2:31, and after VUHS made just one of two from the line Todd drove to make it 62-58 at 1:50. VUHS then missed twice before Jackson stole the ball and went in for a layup with a minute left. Curtis and Luke Bergmans each stole the ball after that, but those opportunities came up empty, with a tough shot in traffic and a turnover.
The Commodores had one last possession with 22 seconds left, but missed twice under heavy OV pressure, the second time as the horn sounded.
Gaboriault finished with 20 points, Philo scored 16, and Todd scored 10, seven in the fourth quarter.
The victory left Stark hoping for more good things to come.
“I’ve been talking to these guys about some of the potential we have. I think a lot of teams are going to underestimate us because we’re young and don’t have a lot of returning players,” Stark said. “But these guys are hungry, and I think they like being that underdog.”
Curtis led VUHS with 16, and Jackson and Lalumiere added 11 apiece.
Carter also expects better results as the season progresses. 
“We definitely feed off our defense, that’s for sure. I definitely think, first game, guys were nervous coming out of the game,” he said. “And we’re still trying to find a way to gel with each other a little earlier, and I think that will come with a couple more games under our belt.”

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