BENNINGTON -- The Mount Anthony Union High School and Rutland boys basketball teams were stuck in what looked like a back-and-forth contest through 12 minutes of action on Friday night.
But a crushing run by Rutland over the final four minutes of the first half set the Raiders up for a 87-73 win at Kates Gym.
"[That run] was definitely the difference in the game," said MAU coach Dan Sleeman. "I thought for us, it was the lack of converting some easy opportunities on the offensive end. That, with some poor free throw shooting, I thought really, really hurt us in that second quarter."
The game started off with both teams making early runs for the lead. Rutland would start by going up 8-2 on a baseline drive by Patrick O'Rourke (game-high 38 points), but MAU would respond after the basket with a 12-2 run to go up 14-10 on a bucket by Tyler Champagne (10 points). At the end of the first, MAU led 15-14.
In the second quarter, the ebbs and flows continued as Rutland would take an 18-17 lead on a free throw from Sam Brochu (4 points), only for MAU to respond with a 9-2 run to take a 26-22 lead on a three from Damon Burgess (15 points) on a pass from Ethan Anderson (12 points).
But once MAU took that 26-22 edge, the game went from runs for both teams to a run for Rutland.
Over the final four minutes of the second, O'Rourke helped spark a 22-2 run to close out the half with an assist for Joseph Couture. Six different Raiders would score during the run, with Wyatt Socinski (6 points) capping the run with a three at the buzzer to send Rutland into the break with a 44-28 lead.
"I think it was a game of runs," Rutland coach Michael Wood said. "It is always tough to sustain a lead with how they play and shoot the ball. I was proud o my guys for just continuing to execute."
After the restart, MAU looked close to breaking back into the game on several occasions, but the Patriots were unable to string together enough stops on defense, and score enough baskets on offense, to ever get within striking distance.
Sean Brundage (team-high 17 points) opened the third with a bucket, but O'Rourke answered on the next possession with a trey. MAU would cut the deficit to 53-39 midway through the third, but again O'Rourke drilled a trey to push the lead back to 17 points.
"He was unbelievable," Wood said of O'Rourke. "He took a fall in the first quarter and it seemed to rile him up a little bit. He is a big part of what we do."
And while O'Rourke was one source of concern for the Patriots, teammate Bailey Plante scored 23 points to help supplement the scoring, including capping a mini-run to end the third when MAU had cut the deficit to 13 on a steal-and-finish by Brundage. After three, Rutland led 69-51.
"We haven't been too concerned with individual players of other teams. We are worried about pace and tempo," Sleeman said. "I really think the difference was we had some empty possessions at critical moments. It became a little bit of a mental thing for the guys."
In the fourth, MAU would trim the deficit to 10 on a Brundage trey to make it 71-61, but two buckets by Plante pushed the lead back out to 75-61. Rutland would go up 82-63 with just under three minutes to play before ending up with the 14-point win.
"One thing I have to say was positive is that we didn't fold and we continued to fight in the second half," Sleeman said. "I had that feeling that we were one run away tonight...but they were able to sustain their lead."
O'Rourke added three steals and two assists to his totals on the night, while Plante had six rebounds and a block. Justin Burgess led all rebounders with nine for MAU, and Hao Guo added four assists in the losing effort.
MAU falls to 7-4 while Rutland improves to 7-6. MAU plays next on Monday at home against Mount St. Joseph.