Assistant Sports Editor
MANCHESTER -- Everything Burr and Burton Academy did -- free throws, rebounds, tipped passes -- drew a passionate reaction, usually a fist pump or a high-five.
For the Bulldogs, it was a December game that still carried hints of March.
But this time, unlike last year's Division II semifinal with Mount St. Joseph or the two regular-season showdowns before that, the Bulldogs were the ones leaving the court pumped up with an emphatic, 61-47, win against the Mounties on Thursday night.
"MSJ is a good matchup for us. Last year we played them four times and we came up on the short end so we wanted to defend our home court," BBA coach Dave Shehadi said.
"We were excited, no doubt about that," Shehadi said.
A 13-3 first-quarter surge, including a trio of 3-pointers, put the Bulldogs (4-0) in front for good as tapped into the energy and bad memories that lingered during the past eight months.
The last time the two squads met, the Mounties stormed to a 30-13 halftime lead, burying BBA and, one game later, securing the D-II crown with a powerhouse squad.
"Last year, the only thing I remember is the first half and [us] just not even existing -- us being there and them scoring," said BBA senior Weston Muench, who finished with a team-high 17 points Thursday, the team's fifth meeting in a year.
"Last year's game was a huge disappointment, we didn't finish what we could've," Muench said.
Neither BBA or MSJ (2-1) returned many of the faces that led them to their Final Four clash, but veterans set the tone for both.
After Muench, senior forward Jake Stalcup collected a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs while senior David Shehadi (seven points) held MSJ standout guard Jahnathan Mitchell to just eight points in the first half.
Mitchell finished with 19 points to lead all scorers but his last 11 came in the fourth quarter.
"He's great. He's got great legs, he's strong, and he gets to the rim," Dave Shehadi said. "We just wanted him to earn his points."
The Bulldogs claimed an early foothold when, after back-to-back 3s from Shehadi and Tieshawn Gadson, the Mounties were whistled for a technical foul for sending a player to the floor who was not in the scorebook.
BBA sophomore Joey Shehadi sank the ensuing free throws then nailed a 3-pointer seconds later for a 5-point possession and a 13-6 lead.
"I think coming off the loss in Barre kind of hung around with [BBA]," said MSJ first-year coach Jason Cassarino. "They were ready for us. The crowd was into it. It was a fun atmosphere."
The Mounties trimmed the deficit to five points in the second quarter but Muench's deep 3-pointer on the left wing in the dying seconds of the half put BBA ahead 34-20 at the break.
"We've got kids who worked hard in the off-season. Everybody we put out there we have confidence in and I thought they held up well," Dave Shehadi said.
Ahead by double digits most of the second half, Burr and Burton staved off any late rally by methodically draining the clock in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs also went 12-of-16 at the foul line in the final stanza to cement the win.
"As a team, they play very well. They run their offensive sets well," said Cassarino. "We knew we were going to be in for a pretty good fight."