Milton celebrates after the final whistle of Monday’s overtime victory against BFA-Fairfax (Ben Kaufmann, County Courier)


By Ben Kaufmann
County Courier

MILTON – Following Milton’s victory over Richford on Friday, its first win since February 2019, the expectation was that the Yellow Jackets would continue to improve. That expectation didn’t necessarily mean Milton would suddenly build a winning streak, especially with a senior-led and talented BFA-Fairfax team coming to town on Monday night.

Nobody would have blamed Milton for soaking in its first victory in 745 days and letting Fairfax take its expected win. Nobody would have blamed Milton if it had surrendered an early lead when leading scorer Mallorie Chalmers was relegated to the bench early in the second quarter with foul trouble. Nobody would have blamed Milton for packing up when Fairfax took its first lead of the night with 42 seconds left in regulation or when the Bullets again earned a lead with 20 seconds left in overtime.

But Milton never threw in the towel. The team that went more than two full years without a victory played Monday as if it expected to win. Chalmers never fouled out and led all scorers with 20 points and senior Noelle McElheny played the hero, sinking an equalizer with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter and scoring the go-ahead basket with 14 seconds left in overtime to give the Yellow Jackets a second win in four days, a 37-36 overtime triumph over the Bullets (2-4).

“We really just stick together as a team,” said Chalmers. “Our main chant is ‘family’ and we really stick with that and work as a team, win as a team and lose as a team. We just try to keep our heads up through everything and these wins have just been a celebration for us.”

It was Chalmers, undoubtedly, who led this fiery Milton (2-5) team to its second victory in as many games. But what was wonderful on Monday was the fact that even when Chalmers was forced to the bench early in the second quarter with her third foul, Milton didn’t surrender. And both times the Yellow Jackets needed to make a shot to extend or win the game, it wasn’t Chalmers who scored the points.

Those moments on Monday both went to McElheny, a senior who suffered through last year’s 0-20 campaign and had missed all seven shots she attempted before putting back the rebound of Chalmers’ attempt at a game winner with just seconds left in regulation.

“I had missed all my shots, so I was really happy when I made that,” McElheny beamed after the game. “I was just thinking that I’ve got to go to the basket. Even if she does miss, I’m still there for the rebound. That’s what we’ve been working on so much.”

Chalmers echoed the fact that coach Alissa Giroux has prioritized scoring from offensive rebounds this season. So it was fitting that with Milton down 36-35 and just 20 seconds remaining in the extra period, McElheny placed herself in the same spot on the right block and put back another missed shot to give Milton the victory.

“I’m so proud of the way they played,” Giroux said. “They worked hard and were where they’re supposed to be and doing what they’re supposed to do and making some baskets.”

It was a little bit of everyone on Monday for Milton: The 20 points from Chalmers and an impressive nine points and a crucial late steal from Gabby Wooten, McElheny’s heroics, vital picks by Laurie Olsaver, a game-changing jumpball won in the fourth quarter by Ciara Button, a rebound to give Milton its final shot in the fourth by Abigail Farrar, and calmness on the ball when Chalmers was out from Emma Philbrook. For a team which seemed so reliant on one player, Monday’s win was a genuine team effort.

On the Fairfax side, there were heroics too. Jaycee Douglas led her team with 19 points, scoring 13 of those in the second half and overtime. She converted a four-point play in the second quarter and what we’ll call a five-point play (Douglas made a three and was knocked to the ground, the foul was deemed to have occurred after she completed her shooting motion and she then made both ends of a one-and-one) in the fourth to help cut Milton’s lead to one point with four minutes to play. Hazel Albee scored to tie the game at 27-27 with 3:20 left and, after a pair of Chalmers free-throws, assisted a Courtney Burnor basket to again knot the score at 29-29 with two minutes to go.

All of that, regardless of what followed, was a testament to a gritty Fairfax team. The Bullets had fallen behind 9-0 early and trailed 17-9 at halftime but pushed right on ahead.

“They worked so hard tonight,” BFA coach Lee Tourville said of his girls. “The thing is, we started out in a big hole. And they never quit. That’s the thing about this team, we never quit.”

The Bullets kept coming and Paige Superneau drained a go-ahead three with 42 seconds left. Chalmers made a free-throw to get Milton back within two before Fairfax missed the front end of a one-and-one and Farrar pulled down the rebound. Giroux called a timeout with 14 seconds left in regulation to set up a final play.

It’s important to point out that even with a big halftime lead and its best player in foul trouble, Milton refused to park the bus and try to run the clock out. But with the Yellow Jackets down two, Philbrook fouled out, Chalmers in danger of fouling out and BFA with a 23-13 lead in the second half to that point, it was reasonable to expect Milton to try to win the game outright.

That’s just what the Yellow Jackets did, with a backup plan in place. Out of the timeout, Chalmers launched a quick three from the corner and when that didn’t go, there was enough time for McElheny to push the rebound back in to knot the game at 32-32 and send the contest to overtime.

Scoring came slowly in overtime. Chalmers hit a pair of free-throws a minute in and Douglas and Taylor Duquette each made a free-throw to square the score back up. Chalmers, who made 9 of 12 from the line in the fourth quarter and overtime, hit one more to give Milton a 35-34 lead with 37 seconds left in the extra frame. One more clutch play from Douglas followed as the Fairfax senior went coast-to-coast to make it a 36-35 BFA lead.

Milton stormed back, again missed its initial attempt and again benefitted from McElheny putting in the offensive rebound from nearly the same spot as her earlier basket to put the hosts up 37-36 with 14 seconds left. When Fairfax missed its next shot, it was McElheny who corralled the rebound and sealed the win for the Yellow Jackets.

“Milton, they wanted it tonight,” Tourville said. “They were hungry, they never quit. They played so hard tonight, you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”

It was a welcome sight to see Milton’s perseverance pay off. For a team unaccustomed to winning, they sure played like veterans on Monday. And throughout all the tough games, the squad has shown a remarkable positivity each time it takes the floor. Giroux had become a master at keeping it light and finding goals within the games for her team, her girls are happy to see that finally being rewarded.

“She always pushes us in practice,” McElheny said of Giroux’s support through the good and bad. “Even last year when we were 0-15 we were still optimistic every single game that we can go out and win.”

Best of all is the tone this sets for the Yellow Jackets going forward. McElheny and Wooten are two of just three seniors on the Milton roster. Chalmers, Philbrook, Farrar, Button and most of the rest will return next year ready to build on the successes arriving late in the current season.

Watching the team adapt to losing Chalmers for most of the second quarter was another positive sign, as was watching Chalmers on the sideline and once she returned to the floor.

“She’s just a great player overall and she knew when to step back and readjust what she’s doing. She also knows when to push it,” McElheny said of Chalmers, who managed to continue contributing and didn’t pick up a fourth foul until late in overtime.

“It’s hard, you want to be out there,” Chalmers said. “But I had faith in the girls and I knew I just had to sit on the bench and cheer my team on.”

For Fairfax, which concludes the season Saturday at Richford, Superneau finished with eight points, Faith Benjamin and Albee each scored three, Burnor scored two and Duquette added one to go with the 19 from Douglas. Milton is slated to finish the regular season on Friday at Winooski.