Bulldogs, Commodores battle for Division II state title
Assistant Sports Editor
Everyone knows what unbeaten, top-seeded Vergennes wants out of the Division II boys basketball state final: The program's first perfect championship.
No. 2 Burr and Burton Academy, meanwhile, has a chance to stay perfect in the championship. With a 9-0 record in title games -- the best in the state -- BBA has its own history to defend.
"Let's make it 10-0," said Bulldogs senior Taylor Fuller.
And so the Commodores (23-0) and Bulldogs (21-2) face off at 3:45 p.m. Saturday at the Barre Auditorium, a pair of balanced basketball teams capable of playing up-tempo and with every reason to go all-out.
"There's probably a little more pressure on them being undefeated and the No. 1 seed but I'm not sure that matters at this point," said BBA coach Dave Shehadi. "I expect it to be a really great high school basketball game."
Vergennes, runner-up a year ago, was a likely contender from Day 1.
Its tight-knit core has a chemistry that dates back to elementary school, when the current crop of Commodores put on dribbling exhibitions at halftime of varsity games, Vergennes coach Peter Quinn said. The once-lofty idea of completing the first perfect season in team history is a now just a game away.
"It's like when you do anything, you want to be the best you can be -- the thought of running the table becomes even more enticing as you get closer to the end," Quinn said.
Led by Stanley Salley's 13 points per game, four starters average in double figures for Vergennes.
Point guard Zach Ouellette (11.1 ppg) orchestrates an offense that outscored opponents by an average of 23 points a night in the regular season. Shep Carter (10.5 ppg) offers another spark and Charlie Stapleford, the fifth starter, is a 3-point threat.
BBA will look to counter with their own intense defense that has given teams fits all season and never more so than the last 13 games -- all wins -- while holding foes to just 41 points a game.
"It starts in the locker room and it starts with our pep talks from our coach," said Fuller.
The Bulldogs have also ratcheted up the offense in recent weeks and hung a season-high 80 on Lake Region in the semifinals. Even before the playoffs, though, they demonstrated a knack for hitting a gear opponents could not match.
"We really work on trying to get the kids prepared mentally in our pregame routines. What we say, what we do, we try to get them thinking," Shehadi said. "You've got to remember they're teenagers, so you never really know what is going to happen, but we try to control what we can.
"This one, it's like trying to keep the lid on because there's so much psych and adrenaline and excitement, that can tire you out."
Senior center Jake Stalcup has paced the Bulldogs at 12 points and nine rebounds a game -- almost 40 percent of the team total -- during the season. Sophomore guard Joey Shehadi has stepped up in the playoffs to the tune of 17 points a game, including a game-high 23 in the Final Four.
Quinn highlighted BBA's balance, quickness, defense and guard play as standout attributes.
"Those are all really nice characteristics for a team to have," Quinn said.
Burr and Burton claimed its last state crown in 2006 with a 23-1 squad that beat Fair Haven, 24-22, in the title game. Vergennes last won in 2001.
The Bulldogs and Commodores split their only previous postseason showdowns, the last coming in 1979.
The Division II final is the middle game in championship doubleheader. D-IV goes off at noon and D-III at 7:15.
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