BARRE — After the Vergennes Union High School boys’ basketball team defeated No. 2 Burr & Burton in Saturday’s Division II final, 62-49, the No. 1 Commodores’ hundreds of fans — who once again made a neutral site sound like a home game — chanted what their team had accomplished for the first time in program history.
“Undefeated! Undefeated! Undefeated,” echoed around the rafters of the Barre Auditorium and washed over the 24-0 Commodores, including the 10 seniors, most of whom have been playing together since their parents had to help lace their sneakers.
It was an emotional moment for a team that plays with a high level of trust for one another, and enjoys a bond with the five-town VUHS community that is almost certainly unsurpassed in Vermont.
“It’s unbelievable. We’ve had a great season, great coaching. Our players have been awesome, stuck together. We’ve been like a family,” said Shep Carter, whose 18 points led VUHS. “I don’t really know how to describe it, how amazing it was.”
Possibly the most unbelievable part was that the Commodores outscored the 21-3 Bulldogs by 36-9 from 5:33 of the second period through 3:40 of the third.
In that span, VUHS turned a 15-11 deficit into a 47-24 lead. They forced nine BBA turnovers in the third period, when they charged out from a 33-24 halftime lead with a game-clinching 14-0 run.
Carter, playing on an ankle sprained in Monday’s semifinal, scored seven in that surge, including a fast-break three-pointer that made it 45-24 and forced BBA to call time at 4:41. Cody Quattrocci (nine points overall) added a steal conversion, and center Stanley Salley (10 points, six rebounds) contributed five points.
One of those Salley hoops was a three-point play after taking a feed from forward Charlie Stapleford on the right block, and the other capped the run and might have been the play of the game. BBA tried to trap VUHS on the left sideline, but the ball went to forward Devin Hayes on the baseline. He drove, drew the lone defender, and at the last second fed Salley for an easy hoop to make it 47-24.
Stapleford (10 points) said the team’s familiarity with each other helped them play their best when it mattered, in those second and third quarters.
“We’ve all been playing together for so many years,” Stapleford said. “We know where each other are going to be and everything, and we move the ball really well.”
He also tipped his hat to the sea of blue in the stands.
“The crowd today was unreal, really fueled us, all these people,” Stapleford said.
Early on, however, the Bulldogs fans made some noise. Their team played tough man defense in the first quarter and took a 13-11 lead. Guard Joey Shehadi (12 points) had two hoops and four other Bulldogs scored, while Carter and Salley combined for nine VUHS points in the period.
BBA forward Jake Stalcup (12 points) opened the second period with a jumper to make it 15-11, and then VUHS came alive. After a Stanley free throw, Stapleford erupted for eight straight points on two threes (the first tied the game, and the second, from the East Montpelier zip code, put VUHS on top) and a layup after a BBA turnover.
VUHS coach Peter Quinn said he had encouraged Stapleford to look for his offense.
“I said to him earlier in the day, you should attack a little more, and he said he was planning on it. I didn’t know he was going to use that long-range dagger,” Quinn said. “But as Red Auerbach once said, every shot that goes in is a good one.”
The Bulldogs went on a 7-2 spurt to tie the score at 22-22. Stalcup hit inside twice, and Shehadi sank a game-tying three at 3:10, after a Zach Ouellette transition hoop set up by Dan McGrath.
The Commodores answered with a 10-0 run. McGrath scored on a putback and fast-break hoop on one of Ouellette’s five assists, Quattrocci sank a three, and Carter hit three free throws at 1:26. BBA forward Weston Muench’s layup broke the spell, and a Hayes free throw made it 33-24 at the half.
BBA was struggling to shoot anything but pressured three-pointers during the stretch.
“We just played great D,” Quinn said. “The other team would call timeout and I would say just keep doing what you’re doing. And we took the game over.”
After the VUHS lead peaked at 47-24, the Commodores became more deliberate — and possibly a bit more tentative — as the title clearly was in their grasp. BBA hit a couple threes, and VUHS missed enough free throws (the team was 18 for 30 from the line) to allow the Bulldogs to close to nine points in the final three minutes.
But the lead always seemed safe, thanks in part to rebounding by Salley and Ouellette, who led VUHS with eight boards. BBA led on the glass, but only by 32-31.
Again, VUHS showed scoring balance. As well as the four players between nine and 18 points, McGrath and Ouellette chipped in six apiece.
“We do have a lot of weapons,” Quinn said.
Afterward, the Commodores talked about what it took to go 24-0. Stapleford said it meant a winter of work.
“Every day to practice, to every game, we just brought 100 percent focus and intensity, really tried to be the best we could be,” he said.
Quattrocci said the Commodores had to also be mindful of taking care of business as they went along.
“One step at a time is the only way to do it. You can’t look forward to this moment in the middle of the season. We just couldn’t do it. We looked at Missisquoi. We looked at Middlebury. Those were big games,” he said. “So taking those little steps allowed us to take the biggest step, which is the undefeated season.”
Quinn said the Commodores met both of those goals in order to achieve their larger goal.
“We could have gone 23-1, and we would have been so disappointed to lose this game,” he said. “So to actually stay focused all year long, every game, is just a real tribute to them. They’re just a great team.”
Quattrocci, wearing a medal, listening to cheers, and watching teammates taking turns cutting down the net, tried to sum it all up.
“It feels great. I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s completely hit me yet, but it’s getting there, and I love it,” he said. “It’s perfect. It’s what I‘ve been looking forward to since I stepped on the court as a freshman.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
When the VUHS boys' basksetball team arrived back in Vergennes after winning the state championship they were greeted by a long parade of firetrucks and other vehicles. View the parade here: