NORWICH — Burr and Burton Unified gave everyone a show Wednesday during the state championship game against Burlington at Norwich University.
Thirty two minutes was not enough time to decide a winner between the Bulldogs and Seahorses, as the game went to overtime knotted at 38.
BBA’s magical run fell just short of a state championship for the second consecutive year, as Burlington outlasted BBA 42-38 to claim the championship.
Mustafa Khudaier was the only player to score during the extra period, recording his first bucket six seconds in to give Burlington a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. He added the dagger in the closing minute, a nice floater that served as the cherry on top of his 18 point performance.
Both teams benefited from standout games, as BBA’s Jillian Kersten was on fire from the block, totaling a game-high 22 points. Kersten scored all eight of BBA’s fourth quarter points, as it erased a three point deficit to force overtime. Her final points came at the 2:11 mark, as she converted a short jumper from the left block over a Burlington defender to tie the game at 38.
Lane Sargent’s impact didn’t show up in the box score, but he was vital to BBA’s game plan throughout. The sophomore carved shooting lanes for Kersten by using body to create space. He was also a beast on the defensive end, blocking shot after shot, including a timely rejection after a Kersten bucket on the other end of the floor trimmed BBA’s deficit to two with under three minutes remaining in regulation.
BBA coach Don Benasich said his team put the work in day in and day out to reach this point.
“We run a workout, and we run it like a real varsity team,” he said.
The Bulldogs watched film and knew they were in for a challenge.
“We knew what to expect, we knew this was going to be a tough game,” Benasich said. “They have a lot of good shooters and a lot of good players.”
One of those key shooters for the Seahorses was Jeremie Gouala, who poured in 10 points and seemed to be within shooting range, no matter where they were on the court.
Burlington coach Mike Leonard said Wednesday’s final at Norwich is just the latest example of the legitimacy of the varsity sport.
“It’s about spirit, it’s about community — All of those things are so present in Unified,” Leonard said. “I’s also just not an after school club. These kids have put in tons of hours of practice.”
That commitment showed itself time and time again on Wednesday, as the Bulldogs and Seahorses battled in a back and forth affair. Neither team grew its lead past seven points. Each team was able to handle the other’s run, and respond.
Dylan Skandera took charge out of the gate for BBA, scoring six of BBA’s eight first quarter points. Skandera finished with 10 points, and hustled up and down the court on every possession.
Vincent Wilbur and Kieran Staples rounded the scoring for the Bulldogs.
Dino Kablar, Evara Shapiro and Mayele Coimin added points for Burlington.
“To win the championship as a team is phenomenal,” Leonard said. “But then think of all the people that helped us get here and the kids that have put in the effort, it’s great.”
Benasich said the defeat stung, but is confident his team will move past that soon and what will remain are the memories that were created along the way.
“We’re a great team and we had a great time,” he said. “It’s all about inclusion.”
Leonard summed up the atmosphere of Unified, which is a balance between competition and camaraderie, perfectly.
“It’s not just a feel good story,” the Burlington coach said. “It makes you feel good, but we’re gonna get out here and work, too.”