The final test: BBA faces CVU with title on the line

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MANCHESTER — The CVU boys lacrosse team doesn't let goals in all that often.

In 15 regular season games, the Redhawks kept opponents under 10 goals in nearly every game.

Except one.

That one game came against Burr and Burton in a 13-12 win for CVU.

Saturday at Virtue Field on the campus of the University of Vermont, the Bulldogs get another shot at CVU, and this time, the Division I state championship is on the line.

The six-time defending champion Redhawks are no strangers to this spot, so BBA knows it has a major challenge on its hands.

Having played CVU earlier in the year, the Bulldogs have an idea what to expect out of their No. 1-seeded opponents.

"I'm glad we did play them because I have a better understanding of their players and their capabilities," said second-year BBA coach Tom Grabher. "It was a one-goal game, but to be honest, they had us by seven goals in the third period. It wasn't as close as the score would indicate. We're real happy to the chance to play in this game against them."

In any playoff game, no matter the sport, the defensive end of play figures to be critical in determining a winner. Whichever team can stop the other with consistency is almost assured to come out on top.

While CVU's defense is known for being stout, the Bulldogs have a group that can more than matchup with the Redhawks.

Nine times in the regular season, BBA held opponents to five goals or less. On the year, the Bulldogs allow 6.7 goals per contest.

Seniors Steven Schmitt, Olivier Cazaudumec, Ned Thompson and Conor Stauss are some of the essential pieces on a veteran back line for the Bulldogs.

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Saturday's championship contest has a good chance to be decided on that end of the field.

"Whether it's what defense is going to be stronger or what offense is going to be overcome that strong defense, it's going to be huge," Grabher said. "I think that's indicative of a lot of finals, championship games. Offense wins games, defense wins championships. I would think that would be the story tomorrow. They have a solid group up there [at CVU]."

The Redhawks have plenty of talent on the offensive end. Senior Jake Schaefer is their go-to threat and he had a standout effort in CVU's state semifinal 10-9 win against Essex, scoring five of the Redhawks' goals including the game-winner.

Fellow senior Sam Sturim scored three times against the Hornets.

It's hard to poke holes in a team that's made a yearly pilgrimage to UVM for a state title game.

"It's not just [Jake] Schaefer, they have a whole complement of players around him," Grabher said. "Their defense, you don't see a weakness, along with their midfield play with their faceoffs and wings. For seven years, they've been there for a reason. They're a strong group and extremely well-coached."

BBA has one of the most balanced offensive groups in the state in its own right. Jake Baker, Logan Sands and Egan Schmitt, among a host of others, can put the ball in the back of the net at any time.

For the Bulldogs, winning the smaller battles is how they see themselves having success Saturday afternoon.

"I think possession will be a big thing, winning that battle. I think composure with the ball will be big for both teams," Grabher said. "I know they're composed and confident when they have the ball and I'm hoping we can do the same thing. It'll be about what good player is going to be great and what great player is going to be absolutely exceptional."

Just getting to the state championship game is something the Bulldogs are proud of. The last time it happened was 2015 and coming off a season last spring where building a culture was essential, BBA is seeing the fruits of that experience and gets a chance to show what it has on the largest stage.

"I'm just so happy for the boys that they had an idea that if they worked hard and did little things right, that big things could happen," Grabher said. "They had a lot of confidence in themselves and that confidence grew as we went through the season and learned from our mistakes. I'm proud of the boys that they understand that they understand what commitment and selflessness means in playing together."

Saturday's state championship game is set for an 11 a.m. start at Virtue Field at UVM.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@benningtonbanner.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.


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