By Ben Kaufmann
MILTON – A young and shorthanded Milton team proved no match for BFA-St. Albans on Wednesday night. A 2-2 tie in the first minute of the game was the last time the contest was close; the Bobwhites led 19-6 after a quarter and 40-12 at halftime en route to a 66-32 blowout win.
Noah Earl’s 17 points for BFA (3-1) led all scorers in a balanced effort for the visitors and the senior added seven assists, seven rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Thomas Demar chipped in 10 points to go with four rebounds, four steals and three assists and Charlie Yates added nine points, six rebounds and three steals.
“He killed it tonight offensively,” BFA coach Tristan Menard said of Earl. “It’s good to see the ball start going down in a game because we see it in practice every day, we knew it was only a matter of time.”
Even more than its offense, the Bobwhite defense provided the catalyst for Wednesday’s success. The Yellow Jackets (2-4) combined to make just 10 field goals on the night and never strung together consecutive scores until the end of the third quarter when nine straight points cut BFA’s lead to 55-24 entering the fourth.
“They’re a tough team,” said Milton coach John LaFreniere. “They definitely from a defensive standpoint are much stronger than they were in the first game. They always had help, we tried to break them down and there was always somebody there, which is a sign of really good coaching and getting guys in the right spots.”
Menard said a rounded team effort stood out on Wednesday, noting an especially strong defensive game from one of his seniors.
“Charlie Yates did a really good job again, and I think everyone was more locked in than in the past. They all did a good job of talking and being in the right spot.”
BFA’s transition defense was stifling and, at one point in the third quarter, Earl and Demar stole three straight possessions from Milton and went the other way. With Milton unable to break inside and struggling to make deep shots, it was a recipe for disaster for the hosts.
“Their transition was tough,” LaFreniere said. “Whether we took a good shot or a bad shot they were gone and we didn’t have an answer.”
Justin Brown chipped in six points and four rebounds for the Bobwhites and Will Hughes had three rebounds and three assists. Liam Howrigan scored six points and pulled down half a dozen rebounds and Connor Leach had three points and seven boards. Isaac Gratton added three points and Tanner Smith chipped in two. The loudest noise of the second half came when BFA freshman Justin Munger – brought up as BFA struggled with absences of its own – scored four points on a pair of impressive shots in the final minutes.
LaFreniere’s squad lost to BFA 51-39 to open the season but entered Wednesday with three starters missing due to injury. He said Milton did a good job of working to get something out of the blowout despite the lopsided score.
“That’s what we discussed for the second half. The game was already out of hand by then but we just said we’re going to come out as a team and play with a lot of energy. I think we had spurts of that in the second half but we’ve got guys in roles they haven’t been in all year, so ultimately this is going to help us in the long term. Especially when these guys come back, we’re going to have some more experience from our bench.”
Colin Mathis led Milton with eight points and Mi’Sean Graham chipped in six. Josh Reil, Ian Bessette, Connor Reen and Ben Godin scored three points apiece and Donovyn Dallas, Kayden Geraw and Aidan Garrow each scored two.
Like Milton, BFA didn’t want to waste any valuable game time regardless of the score. Wednesday marked the final non-league game for the Bobwhites this season and, beginning Monday at Essex, 28-point halftime leads are likely in the rearview mirror for BFA this season.
“It’s easy to start watching the scoreboard when it’s 40-12 at half but I’m not even focused on the wins and losses,” Menard said. “We’ve got to be the best version of ourselves every quarter, every four-minute stretch of every game. If we can do that, the scoreboard will take care of itself.”
MOVE TO THE METRO
The next two months will offer the toughest schedule BFA has played in more than a decade and provide Menard with a massive first-year challenge. This will be the first time since 2005 BFA has played in the Metro League, facing off each night against the biggest schools in the northern half of the state.
Despite sharing a population with other Metro League schools – BFA-St. Albans is the sixth-largest high school in Vermont just behind South Burlington and just ahead of Rutland – a change was needed in hockey-crazy St. Albans 16 years ago. The Bobwhite program went 10-95 between 2001-2005 and, like programs in many schools for many reasons, moved to the Lake League where competition would be more productive.
The move to the Lake, which has frequently had at least one other Division I team depending on the alignment of Middlebury and North Country but was mostly Division II and even Division III competition, brought mixed results for the Bobwhite program. There hasn’t been another losing season since 2005, just one .500 season, and BFA hasn’t been worse than a No. 9 seed for the Division I tournament in those 16 years. However, when the playoffs arrive, the months of games against the likes of Mt. Abraham and Vergennes have left the Bobwhites woefully unprepared for the Division I tournament.
In its first year in the Lake, No. 4 BFA lost to No. 13 South Burlington in the opening round of the postseason in a sign of what was ahead the next 15 years. BFA is just 4-5 in home playoff games since joining the Lake and an astonishing 0-12 in games against a team one seed above or below them. Despite zero losing seasons in 16 years, the Bobwhites never reached the final-four. BFA’s last program championship came in 1987 and its last semifinal appearance came in 1996.
This season’s move to the Metro League signals an aim for a return to glory for the BFA-St. Albans basketball program and an emphasis on postseason success over regular-season dominance. A postponed game against two-time defending champion Rice still to be made up, BFA’s next scheduled games come against Essex, CVU, Colchester, Burlington, St. Johnsbury and Mt. Mansfield. After that, the Bobwhites will face each of those teams a second time. There’s a strong chance this will be BFA’s first year entering the postseason as a double-digit seed for the first time since 2005 but an equally strong chance that the Bobwhites will be prepared to win multiple Division I playoff games for the first time in that same span.
Menard’s comments following the Milton game about focusing on the process more than the scoreboard display the right attitude for a team with Division I title aspirations. A 20-point win against Middlebury in January might be good for playoff seeding but does little to prepare a group to face Mt. Anthony in March. If this Bobwhite program can learn to grow from a 10-point loss in January, it won’t be long before BFA is finally on the right side of a playoff upset on its way back to the final-four.