Sports

In back-and-forth game, Eagle boys’ basketball defeats Middlebury

“We decided to go with a full-court press in the fourth quarter, and that changed our energy. It seemed to work.”
— Eagle Coach Martin Clark

MIDDLEBURY — In 2022 the Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ basketball team hosted its first postseason game since 2008 and won its first playoff game since 2009.

In 2023 the Eagles have already duplicated one of those feats, clinching a home Division II playoff date with a 53-50 victory on Thursday night at Middlebury.

The Eagles shrugged off a third quarter in which they saw a 10-point halftime lead turn into a four-point deficit, and then rallied past the host Tigers in the fourth period.

Mount Abe (12-8) will be seeded No. 7 or 8 when pairings are announced on Monday, depending on results in other games.

It is possible they could host the 10-10 Tigers, who lost a chance for a home playoff game with the setback.  First-round games will be played on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Eagle Coach Martin Clark said after the victory he was pleased with a home playoff game for the second straight season and his team’s determination at MUHS.

Clark spoke about his program’s upward trajectory and about the big picture for Mount Abe basketball.

“It’s a great thing. We’ve got a lot of kids interested in both the boys’ and girls’ programs, and that’s a rarity these days,” he said. “We’re really happy.”

The biggest problem on Thursday for Coach Chris Altemose’s Tigers were two offensive droughts. They went scoreless for the game’s first four minutes and for about 6:40 of the fourth quarter, during which a 42-37 lead turned into a 49-42 deficit before a late rally fell just short.

“We’ve had those stretches all season long. It’s been a challenge, the consistency piece,” Altemose said. “Our confidence seems to ebb and flow.”

The Eagles took a 9-0 lead with seniors Domenic DiNapoli and Chance Denecker and junior Ian Funke doing the damage. The Tigers closed the gap to 17-13 after one period, with seniors Willem Berry and Graham Mattrick combining for 11 points.

The Tigers struggled on offense in the second period, in which senior Jack Trudeau scored four of their six points. The Eagles also slowed down, but DiNapoli and Funke did enough to keep their team afloat before a late putback by senior Gavin Bannister set the score at 29-19 at the half.

The Tigers ramped up their man-to-man defense in the third period, and the Eagles struggled to get good shots. Meanwhile all five Tiger starters scored — including a rare three-pointer by center Penn Riney — as they knotted the score at 32-32 on a Riney post move at 3:30.

The Tigers then closed the period on an 8-4 run, a three by Berry and five points from junior Noah Doherty-Konczal. Bannister scored four points in the period for the Eagles, and a late putback by senior Brenden Oxford made it 40-36 after three periods.

A Mattrick layup off a steal made it a six-point Tiger lead to open the fourth quarter, but they wouldn’t score again until a Berry jumper with one minute to go.

What changed? Clark said the Eagles hadn’t kept its offensive composure in the third period, and he asked them to apply full-court pressure in the fourth.

“We decided to go with a full-court press, and that changed our energy,” Clark said. “It seemed to work.”

As Tigers lost their edge on offense, the Eagles turned three turnovers into transition buckets, two by DiNapoli, one a three-point play, and one by Denecker.

At the other end Funke and Bannister blocked shots while the Eagles added points: Denecker on the break, a drive by sophomore Hayden Lutz and two Funke free throws at 1:17 to make it 49-42.

A Berry jumper broke the ice for MUHS at 1:00, and senior Cole Ashelin hit a three at 0:40 to make it 49-47. Bannister then missed a free throw at 0:26, but Eagle senior Norm Benoit rebounded, and his free throw a second later made it 50-47.

Benoit then rebounded a missed Tiger three and hit two free throws at 0:15.3. Trudeau drained a three for the Tigers at 0:08 to make 52-50, and the Tigers sent Benoit back to the line at 0:5.2. He hit the first and missed the second, but the Tigers couldn’t launch a potentially tying three as time expired.

Berry led MUHS with 14 points, followed by Mattrick (10), and Trudeau and Riney (nine apiece).

Altemose said he told the Tigers he was proud of their effort.

“We showed resilience. We showed togetherness,” he said.

DiNapoli (16 points), Funke (nine), Bannister (eight) and Denecker (seven) led the Eagles.

Clark said both teams deserved credit.

“They came out (in the third quarter) and hit shots, and we had a couple of bad possessions, and they were right back in the game,” he said. “So I’m really proud of our guys for fighting back and taking control again and closing the game out.”

 

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