On the Ball: Seeds are planted
That time of the year is here, where postseasons overlap and local fans have a full menu of options. Well, almost full — the Middlebury College men’s hockey team lost in the NESCAC quarterfinal round on Saturday, its earliest exit ever.
While the Panther basketball teams have wrapped up their league tournaments — the men in real style, by knocking off the No. 1 team in the nation, Williams, to win the NESCAC title and one of the top NCAA Division III tournament seeds — the high school tournaments are getting under way this week. Girls’ basketball and boys’ and girls’ hockey games are all on the docket.
Still, Coach Jeff Brown’s 25-1 Panther men are making the big news. They earned a first-round bye, straight into the round of 32. They play Saturday night against the winner of a Thursday game between Western Connecticut 21-5) and Salve Regina (17-10). The Panthers expect Western Conn., which would bring talented 22-point-per-game guard Daquan Brooks.
Tickets for Saturday’s game are $6 for adults and $3 for students and will go on sale Tuesday at http://boxoffice.middlebury.edu/index.php, or at 802-443-6433, or at the McCullough box office during normal business hours.
There is a chance the Panthers would host a round of 16 sectional the following weekend, but Brown said the NCAA does not always award sectionals to the highest seed. Gate receipts and travel costs are also factored into the equation. It is possible, therefore, that Saturday night could be the last chance for we locals to see seniors Andrew Locke, Ryan Wholey and Jamal Davis (whose defense last weekend on Williams all-star forward Troy Whittington proved invaluable).
Of course, watching the talented Middlebury women’s hockey team is free. The top-seeded, 19-4-1 Panthers take on No. 4 Bowdoin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, and No. 2 Amherst (the defending national champion) faces No. 3 Trinity at 4 p.m. The final will be in Chip Kenyon at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Both Middlebury and Amherst made the NCAA field a year ago, but there are no guarantees: Only Sunday’s winner is assured of making the dance.
Sticking with hockey the Middlebury Union High School boys last week only had to defeat one of two teams, both with losing records, to earn no worse than the No. 2 seed in Division II. Instead, they dropped a pair of one-goal games, and earned only a home quarterfinal.
That game is set for Friday at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Sports Center, probably against Burr & Burton, a team the No. 3, 12-4-3 Tigers have defeated twice. Their probable semifinal foe is Peoples (15-5) on the road. The Tigers won there, 5-1, this winter, so their prospects remain favorable. Especially if, as Coach Derek Bartlett is fond of reminding them, they play a full 45 minutes.
The Tiger girls finished 8-11 and got a No. 7 seed in D-II. They will host No. 10 North Country, a team they brushed aside easily earlier this winter when they were at full strength. A Saturday quarterfinal at No. 2 U-32 would be next. The Tigers gave the Raiders a good battle in a home game I saw this winter; hopefully they can do so again.
Only one thing is for sure in girls’ basketball: One of our four local D-II teams will be eliminated on Tuesday night. That’s when No. 7 Otter Valley (7-13) will host No. 10 Vergennes (4-16). The Commodores played a tougher schedule than the Otters, but OV did beat Middlebury, which defeated VUHS twice. Tuesday’s winner gets a long bus ride to No. 2 Lyndon (14-6) on Thursday.
No. 5 MUHS (8-12) got edged out for the No. 4 seed by U-32 (9-11) when the Raiders won by two points at Northfield on Saturday. The Tigers should have little trouble getting out of the first round: No. 12 Woodstock (0-20) visits on Wednesday at 7 p.m. That game will mark the final home appearance of four-year varsity players Katie Ritter and Nicole Brown. Then MUHS would have to visit U-32 on Saturday at a time yet to be announced, with a Monday trip to the Barre Auditorium on the line.
The Mount Abraham girls are off until Saturday, courtesy of their 13-7 record and No. 3 seed. At 1 p.m. they will host either No. 6 Fair Haven or No. 11 Missisquoi (0-20). The smart money — heck, even the dumb money — is on the Slaters to advance and face the Eagles in what will be the final home game for four-year starter Jenn Loyer. The winner of that game will advance to the Aud and face either Lyndon, OV or VUHS on Monday.
OK, other than that, this week’s Nordic and alpine ski state meets, this weekend’s the New England wrestling meet in Connecticut and the state cheerleading championships at VUHS, and the final regular season boys’ basketball games, there’s not a whole lot going on. Then mud season looms.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].