Commodores leash terriers; Winooski next in D-III semi
VERGENNES — The No. 4 Vergennes boys’ basketball team faced a challenge from No. 5 Bellows Falls in a quarterfinal this past Saturday, March 5. But the Commodores took the lead for good before halftime and then held off several Terrier attempts to rally before pulling away to win, 63-52.
The Commodores will next take on No. 1 Winooski at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday in the Barre Auditorium. The final is set for 7:30 on this Saturday at Aud.
Vergennes guard Tim Ashley came off the bench to hit five three-pointers in a 23-point night against Bellows Falls, while swingman Tyler Bergmans contributed 13 points and combined with Hayden Bowen for 19 rebounds as the Commodores outrebounded the Terriers.
VUHS also controlled the pace with a patient offense and a switch from their usual man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone that helped limit Bellows Falls and its high-scoring guard trio of Jamison Nystrom, Jonathan Terry and Jack Cravinho.
VUHS Coach Josh Carter said he was concerned about their dribble penetration off individual matchups, and wanted the BF guards to settle for jump shots.
“Their guards were really tough, and they could really get downhill quick,” said Carter. “And their offense was built around speed, so we went zone against them, and I think that was helpful in slowing those guys down a little bit.”
Carter was also concerned about the Terriers’ size, and the zone enabled double-teaming down low. When the Commodores more than held their own on the boards — Bowen (10 rebounds), Bergmans (nine), guard Elijah Duprey (six) and forward Oakley Francis contributed — the strategy worked out even better.
“It was just guys going after it. We all know it’s tough to rebound out of a zone, and I was glad the guys were able to get the ones that they did, especially in the fourth quarter,” he said.
The Commodores also took good care of the ball and showed poise in their offensive sets, thus keeping the tempo of the game more to their liking.
“Bellows Falls, they like to get out and run. And if we made them sit and play defense for 30 seconds they didn’t get an opportunity to do that,” Carter said. “I thought that we were executing and being patient and waiting for stuff to open up.”
VUHS led, 11-9, after one period. Nystrom scored five from outside for BF, while five Commodores scored in the first quarter, including an Adam Clark hoop inside and Ashley’s first three to close it out and erase a 9-6 BF lead.
The Terriers went on a 9-2 run in the first 3:23 of the second frame to go up, 18-13. Five more Nystrom points and two hoops in the paint were answered only by a Bowen jumper for VUHS.
It proved to be their last lead. Ashley heated up, tossing in a trio of threes to spark a 16-7 counter-surge that gave VUHS a 29-25 edge at the half. Ian Henderson chipped in a baseline drive and a free throw, Abram Francis hit a three, and Oakley Francis added a putback in the final seconds.
A Bergmans three and a Bowen putback quickly pushed the lead to nine to open the third, but the Terriers countered with all six of Cravinho’s points. Five straight Ashley points later pushed the lead back to nine at 43-34, but the Terriers closed the quarter with threes by Nystrom and Terry to make 43-40.
In the final period the Commodores took a 49-41 lead, but the Terriers responded to cut it to three at 4:35 on a Terry three.
Then came the game’s pivotal possession. The Commodores worked the ball around for two minutes while the Terriers scrambled in their man defense. Finally Bergmans drove the left baseline, drew the defense, and found Ashley in the right corner. His open three at 2:32 found nothing but net.
“It was huge. A lot was at stake on that shot,” Carter said. “The guys were patient enough to let it open up… These guys are really unselfish, and it’s great when we get to see the results from unselfish play.”
BF then turned the ball over and fouled Bergmans, and he hit two free throws at 1:39, the first two of a nine-for-10 VUHS performance from the line as time wound down. VUHS also found Bergmans for a layup on a full-court out-of-bounds play as the lead grew in the final 1:30.
Before long, the Commodores and their nearly packed house of fans celebrated.
Nystrom finished with 20 points, and Terry chipped in 10 for BF. For VUHS Abram Francis scored seven, and Duprey, Henderson and Oakley Francis each added five.
Carter recalled the Commodores’ overtime quarterfinal road loss a year before, and said no long bus ride and the vocal support of the VUHS fans made differences this time.
“They had to travel to our place, and we were able to protect it,” Carter said. “We had a lot of people show up to the game, and the fans definitely played a big role.”
The home-court advantage also helped the Commodores edge Winooski, 67-64, on the final Saturday of the regular season. Now the teams get a rematch at the Aud.
Carter said it will take a team effort if VUHS is to prevail again, but believes the Commodores can rise to the occasion against a Spartan team that is sure to be motivated.
“Knowing that we beat them once, we can beat them again,” Carter said, but at the same time he cautioned, “If you beat a team once that’s a really good team it’s going to take a bigger effort the next time around.”
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