WOLVES OVERCOME BOBWHITES’ BIG START

Story by Ben Kaufmann
Photos by Ben Kaufmann and Gregory J. Lamoureux

County Courier

 ST. ALBANS – BFA-St. Albans got off to an electrifying start and held a nine-point advantage on title contender South Burlington after a quarter on Monday, but the Wolves pulled the plug and drew the shades for good measure to leave BFA in the darkness with a 69-50 final.

 The Bobwhites (2-5) inexperience against Vermont’s top teams began to show once the adrenaline wore off. The only Division I team not to play in a top league, BFA surrendered a 26-point advantage over the middle two quarters as South Burlington (7-3) continued its impressive season.

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 Kam Dunsmore scored 22 points to lead BFA. He, Nick Voyer (six points) and Hunter Livingston (eight points) played perhaps their best basketball of the season in helping the Bobwhites hang with one of Vermont’s best teams for a time. 

 South Burlington’s depth and experience ultimately proved too much, and the Wolves doubled up BFA in each of the middle two quarters, 30-15 and 19-8. 

 As the game wore on, a difference in the competition level between the two teams became apparent. Most glaringly, BFA plays in the Lake League and South Burlington in the Metro. A change in leagues can only happen every four years, and BFA has spent the last few cycles in the Lake. The Bobwhites are the only Division I team not to play in the best league available, with all other schools either playing in the Metro or southern Vermont’s Marble Valley League.

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 “I do think it’s helped our mindset just in terms of mentally preparing for other team’s best shots,” South Burlington coach Sol Bayer-Pacht said of how playing a Metro schedule was useful when BFA took a 13-4 lead into the second quarter. “Once you’ve absorbed that blow, you can kind of look around and see what’s happening and just say ‘OK, we need to finish some layups.’ Certainly, the day-to-day challenge in the Metro and also going against each other is helpful just in terms of making sure that we didn’t get rattled, didn’t get crazy and try to come back in one possession.”

 BFA coach Matt Toof says he feels BFA is ready to make the jump from the Lake, where it faces teams like Vergennes, MVU and Enosburg twice a year to a Metro schedule of Chittenden County opponents and defending Division I champion St. Johnsbury. But the process is not immediate and is not entirely up to the coach – what’s best for the leagues will also be taken into consideration when changes are proposed. 

 “I want to play the best teams,” Toof said. “I want to play the best teams from game one through game twenty because that gets you ready for playoffs. No matter what your record is, as long as you’re playing against the best teams in the state, I think that prepares you for the divisional playoffs.”

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 Preparing for the playoffs is where BFA’s light schedule hurts the most. In the last 20 years, the Bobwhites have rolled through the Lake well enough to earn a home game to open the Division I playoffs nine times. They’ve gone 4-5 in those games and never won a second-round contest; BFA’s last trip to the final four was a 1996 semifinal loss to Burlington.

 Against SBHS on Monday, BFA showed it has the potential to play with the state’s best, if not the big-game experience to close out.

 “Against a great team like that, you have to play four quarters,” Toof said. “Unfortunately tonight we just played a really strong first quarter. I don’t think we played a horrible second, third and fourth quarter, I just think they were that much more quick to the ball, quick to rebounds. I think their athleticism paid off the last three quarters.”

 Dunsmore got BFA off to a quick start with a steal and layup. Voyer threw in a post-up, and Logan Keelty put the Bobwhites ahead 6-0 with a basket of his own. After the Wolves hit a free-throw, Taylor Yates sent the crowd into a frenzy with a three from well behind the line to make it 9-1. The Bobwhites held South Burlington to four free throws in the quarter, and Keelty closed the quarter with a three to send BFA into the second with a 13-4 lead.

 Yates found himself in foul trouble after picking up a third midway through the second quarter. With 24 total fouls in the first half, South Burlington was hit the hardest when center Brett Bohlmann picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of play. Bohlmann got his third just before halftime attempting to rebound a free throw after he’d just been subbed in.

 Bohlmann was sent back in to start the third quarter and picked up an offensive foul, his fourth, just over a minute in. With Bohlmann essentially a non-factor, Evan Parker picked up the slack for South Burlington. The senior scored 13 points in the second quarter. His game-high 23 was ultimately the undoing of BFA.

 “It’s a pretty special feeling to have. You just kind of feel the weight of the team being lifted when he starts making buckets,” Bayer-Pacht said of Parker.

 Toof said his Bobwhites were ready for Parker but could only do so much to slow one of Vermont’s best players.

 “Logan Keelty did a great job on him,” Toof said. “You can watch film and plan for things and take certain things away, but he can still create and score outside of their offense. You can’t lose track of him. You give him an inch and that kid is dangerous.”

 Trying to match Parker was Dunsmore, who played his best offensive basketball of the season. His two consecutive offensive rebound/put-back combinations early in the second quarter and a three to give BFA its last lead of the night at 27-24 were appropriate displays of his effectiveness on the night.

 “He made great decisions with the ball, and he finished,” Toof said of Dunsmore. “I think it was the best job he’s done finishing at the basket all year.”

 Bayer-Pacht said his Wolves had no answer for Dunsmore’s toughness on Monday.

 “I would take twelve #14’s (Dunsmore’s number), he was the real deal,” Bayer-Pacht said. “So many offensive rebounds for them and second-chance opportunities, not to mention getting into our best players and guarding them really well.”

 South Burlington ended the first half on a 10-1 run for a 34-28 lead and never let the Bobwhites back in. Still, Bayer-Pacht said BFA made the Wolves work for the win.

 “When you come and play a team like BFA that had an opportunity tonight, they were fired up. I love the way those guys played; they all crash and play hard defensively. They’re a tough group. You’ve got to be ready to bring it every night.”

 Behind Dunsmore, Livingston and Voyer, Keelty and Yates each finished with five points for BFA. Yates’ absence due to foul trouble was significant for BFA, but Toof said he was thrilled with the way Voyer played after SBHS lost Bohlmann to his own foul woes.

 “I really like the way that guy plays, and obviously he’s an important piece on the boards for them,” Toof said of Bohlmann. “That freed up Voyer, we were able to get him some good looks early, and he played probably his best game offensively this year.”

 Each team picked up a technical foul in the third quarter as BFA tried to battle its way back in. The intensity in the gym as BFA’s lead slipped away was one the Bobwhites rarely see outside of a pair of annual rivalry matchups with Missisquoi.

 South Burlington, on the other hand, faces intense battles with Vermont’s premier teams on a nightly basis and was better equipped for Monday’s pressure.

 “I would say the night-in-night-out mental toughness you need in the Metro helps you prepare for that,” Bayer-Pacht said.

 BFA has one final game this season against a Metro opponent – a Friday trip to Mt. Mansfield. That will be followed by 11 games in the Lake against opponents in Division II or III. After Friday, the Bobwhites’ next game against a fellow Division I opponent will come in the first round of the playoffs. 

 Bayer-Pacht says the Bobwhites he saw in the first quarter Monday will be a tough draw for anyone when the postseason rolls around.

 “We didn’t know a ton about them going in because we hadn’t seen a lot of matchups locally, but man that team can compete with anybody,” Bayer-Pacht said. “Not a team you want to play in the playoffs with the size and toughness they have. They’ve got guys who can make shots and make plays.”

 Until BFA spends its seasons squaring up with schools its own size, they’ll have to hope that Bayer-Pacht is correct in his assumption that the Bobwhites will remember what Division I basketball is like come March.

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