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Redhawks elminate Tiger boys from basketball playoffs

MIDDLEBURY — This winter, the Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball team won 16 times, went undefeated in the Lake Division to earn the league title, and finished the regular season on a 10-game winning streak.
But in Tuesday’s first-round Division I playoff game, No. 12 Champlain Valley Union brought that run to a halt with a dominating performance, 70-45.
The Redhawks, who entered with a 9-11 record compiled against the state’s toughest competition, the Metro Conference, dominated the boards, blocked at least 15 shots, and played suffocating man-to-man defense in their almost wire-to-wire victory — the Tigers’ only lead was at 2-0, and they quickly fell behind by 7-2 on the way to a 17-9 first-quarter hole.
Afterward, Coach Chris Altemose reminded his team of what a good winter it had been.
“It’s been a wonderful season, a great group of guys. Even tonight, on a night when we didn’t play our best game, they played really hard and played to the finish,” Altemose said. “I’m proud of them for that. They had a tough matchup with CVU. We knew it was going to be tough. I just said to them, as hard as it is in the moment, not to let one game define our season. It was a great season.”
For most of the season, the Tigers have relied on rebounding and transition to spark their offense. But CVU outrebounded them, 42-32 overall and 14-8 in the first quarter as the Redhawks took control. The Redhawks also got back quickly to deny the Tigers on the break, either forcing them to rely on half-court sets, where MUHS struggled to get good looks, or swatting shots when they attacked in transition.
“That’s a good team that works very hard, and we could never get our train on the tracks,” Altemose said. “They had some long kids, and they were athletic, for sure, and they made us think. And I think we rushed stuff early on.”
Altemose also said when the Tigers started missing, the basket became “smaller and smaller” as the game wore on. Senior forward Bryce Burrell, who tied CVU sophomore swingman Walker Story for game honors with 18 points, was the only Tiger to make a shot from the floor in the first half.
“We tried to go out of our way to keep them extra loose, because it’s easy to become tight in playoff games,” Altemose said. “If we can get a couple of shots to go early, we’re good to go. If a few of them rim out, or we don’t get a whistle here or there to get going, then sometimes we’ve struggled a little bit offensively, and tonight that was the case.”
Meanwhile CVU shot effectively from long range, with senior guard Chris Reiss (17 points) joining Storey in benefitting from CVU ball movement that often using penetration to set up jumpers or layups. Reiss and Storey combined for 10 points and each hit a three in the first quarter as CVU broke on top, 17-9.
The Redhawks managed only a free throw during a five-minute stretch spanning the end of the first and beginning of the second periods, giving the Tigers a chance to get back in the game. But MUHS simply could not get shots to drop, although Burrell converted an offensive board at 5:15 of the second to make it 17-11, and Connor Quinn followed with a huge block at the other end.
But Storey hit a three, Reiss drove for a sweet left-hand finish, and Rayne Supple scored in transition at 3:00 to make it 24-11. Back-to-back hoops by Burrell, both assisted by Quinn and the second one a three-point play, made it 24-16 at 1:40. But CVU closed the half with a backbreaking 7-0 run fueled in part by a blocked Tiger shot and a Richard Baccei buzzer-beater. It was 31-16 at the half, and MUHS was in trouble.
Five points by Austin Robinson early in the second gave the Tigers some hope at 34-21 at 5:45, but CVU went on an 8-1 run to lead by 20 for the first time. After three periods it was 53-27 even though Tiger leading scorer Oakley Gordon — who played despite being ill — drained a three for his first field goal.
A pair of threes by senior guard Cullen Hathaway, strong rebounding by reserve center Jon Fitzcharles, and two clever assists by senior point guard Bobby Ritter highlighted the fourth quarter for the Tigers.
Gordon went six for seven from the line and finished with nine points for MUHS, while Robinson scored eight. Quinn added a second acrobatic block and played a strong all-around game.
Seniors Quinn, Ritter, Robinson, Burrell and Hathaway suited up for MUHS basketball for the last time after years of playing together, something Altemose noted afterward.
“It’s a tough way to go out, but only one team goes out a winner,” Altemose said. “I just told them as time goes on they’ll think of the good things of playing with this group. A number of them have played together since they were 10 years old, 11 years old. And then to finish up with the season that we had, that’s special. And to have a good group like that, that’s special.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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