Late surge takes Commodore boys’ hoop team sailing past Tigers

VUHS FORWARD DEV Brisson soars in for a layup against host Middlebury on Saturday as Heath Odell, left, and Keenan Chicoine, right, defend.
Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — With 5:20 to go in Saturday’s boys’ basketball game at Middlebury Union High School, the Tigers seemed to be on the way to their second win — they led, 36-25.

TIGER FORWARD COLTON Odell lays the ball in during Saturday’s game in Middlebury after a no-foul collision with sprawling Commodore guard Spencer Grimm.
Independent photo/Steve James

But visiting Vergennes had other ideas.

VUHS clamped down in its man-to-man defense, and five Commodores scored in a game-closing 18-0 run that gave them a 43-36 victory. They carried a 7-2 record heading into games at Fair Haven on Sunday and Enosburg on Tuesday (See boys’ basketball wrap).

What happened to change things, Commodore Tri-Captain Oakley Francis and Coach Eric LeBeau were asked?

Both pointed to subs coming in late in the third period and early in the fourth and holding their own to give the starters a physical and mental breather. Francis said they reminded the Commodores to move the basketball more patiently at one end and dig in at the other.

“The second string just came in and did their job wonderfully, and it gave us the momentum to come back in the fourth,” Francis said. “We … were not playing our basketball. And we just all needed to slow down and play our style, which we did.”

LeBeau said the few minutes on the bench gave the starters a chance to reflect on what they needed to do “to get back to the basics” and not play at the Tigers’ quicker pace.

“They gave us a bump, the second string, but honestly having the five guys sit and just kind of center themselves and see the game and kind of relax … I think it was good for them,” LeBeau said. “When I sent them back in they were a completely different basketball team. They were focused on the defensive end, and they were working the ball on offense.”

COMMODORE LEVI COGGER, left, and Tiger Camden Whitlock dive for a loose ball as Commodore Oakley Francis looks on during Saturday’s game at MUHS, won by VUHS with a late surge.
Independent photo/Steve James

The better defense helped with the offense, he said, pointing to transition baskets as well as patience in the set offense.

“The harder we work on the defensive end, the more we get to work on the offensive end,” LeBeau said.

The good news for Coach Chris Altemose’s inexperienced Tigers is that they were coming off their first win three days earlier, by 16 points over Missisquoi. He was also pleased the team held Division I Rutland to 52 points in the game before that.

“Defensively we’ve been playing well. This is the third game in a row where I thought we made it really hard for our opponent. We’re doing a good job on the boards,” Altemose said.

But the offense remains a work in progress, Altemose said, he felt his team became tentative when Vergennes began to make its late run.

“It’s super disappointing to blow an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter,” Altemose said. “Congratulations to Vergennes. You’re down 11 in the fourth quarter and you come out and play like you’ve got nothing to lose. They made something happen, and we got on our heels.”

VUHS led after the first period, 10-9, as Francis and sophomore forward Ryker Mosehauer combined for all the points. Four Tigers scored at the other end, including a three from Keenan Chicoine.

The Tigers dominated the boards, 12-2, in the second period, and closed it on an 11-3 run to take a 22-19 lead into the locker room. Guard Tassilo Luksch scored six points in that run, two on the fast-break layups, and sophomore forward Cooke Riney converted four points on offensive rebounds in the quarter.

Senior forward Dev Brisson helped the Commodores tie the game at 24-24 three minutes into the second half, hitting a three-pointer and feeding Francis for a layup, plays sandwiched around a jumper by Tiger forward Noah Doherty-Konczal.

VUHS FORWARD RYKER Mosehauer rejects this shot by MUHS guard Tassilo Luksch during Saturday’s game between the local rivals in Middlebury.
Independent photo/Steve James

Then the Tigers went on a 9-1 run to take a 33-25 lead after three periods. Riney hit in the post, Luksch hit a three and stole the ball and converted a layup, and Carter Paquette sank two free throws. VUHS went cold, answering with only a Ryan Wright free throw.

A Riney free throw and then a Luksch layup at 5:20 of the fourth pushed the Tiger lead to 11 before the well ran dry.

Slowly the lead evaporated with a Spencer Gebo putback for VUHS, a Reese Paquette free throw and three-pointer that made it 36-30 at 4:05, a Mosehauer putback, a Francis move in the paint at 1:52 that made it 36-34, and then two Brisson free throws that tied the game, 36-36, at 1:31.

Then Francis blocked Riney in the post, and Wright scored in transition. The Commodores led for the first time since the second quarter, 38-36. The Tigers missed. The Commodores got the rebounds. The Tigers had to foul. Paquette hit three of four, and Wright hit a pair to create the final score.

For the Tigers, Luksch led with 13 points, Riney scored nine, and Kyle Stearns chipped in four.

Altemose said the effort is there for his young team, and hopes Saturday’s outing can spark growth.

“That’s the first time this season we’ve been in a close game with the lead down the stretch. So we have to learn how to handle those situations,” he said. “That’s what I just said to them. You want this one to sting. That should hurt a little bit. Monday show up ready to work hard, and let’s make it a learning experience so we can figure out how to win those kinds of games.”

Francis led VUHS with 12, followed by Paquette, nine; Wright, eight; Mosehauer; six; and Brisson, five.

TIGER FORWARD COOKE Riney contests a shot by Commodore forward Oakley Francis during Saturday’s hard-fought boys’ basketball game at MUHS, eventually won by VUHS, 43-36, with a late run by the Commodores.
Independent photo/Steve James

Francis said intangibles have helped the Commodores this season.

“Just staying composed, keeping our heads the whole time. Runs will to come, for and against us. We just keep our heads and keep pushing,” he said

Coach LeBeau pointed to the leadership of his more experienced players and willingness of his players and assistant coaches to work on fundamentals as reasons for the team’s success so far.

“It’s a work in progress just like any basketball team. They’re up and down,” he said. “But I’m pretty happy with them. They’re working on building something.”

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