BARRE — Williamstown advanced to its eighth straight Division III championship game and coach Jack Carrier secured his 200th career victory during Thursday’s 48-36 victory over Peoples Academy.
Jacob Tassie went 6 of 6 from the foul line during the final 1:30 to help the No. 1 Blue Devils (18-4) eliminate the No. 4 Wolves (17-6). Tyler Orton (13 points) hit a pair of 3-pointers for Williamstown and went 7 of 7 from the foul line.
“Every practice we shoot a lot of free throws and it came in handy tonight,” Tassie said.
Power forward Ryan O’Neil contributed 10 points and eight rebounds in the victory, while teammate Ryker Townsend grabbed six rebounds. When O’Neil was on the bench, his team faced a major size disadvantage, but Williamstown still outrebound PA 32-18.
“Ryker is coming back from a pretty serious ankle injury and he got six key rebounds tonight,” Carrier said. “And our big guy, Ryan O’Neill, stepped up too. He’s played some big minutes for us down the stretch. And we have a lot of rebounding guards. When they hit the boards and they’ve got in the back of their mind to go ahead and get the ball, they go get it.”
Tassie grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists, while teammate Colby Gingras scored six points and pulled down four rebounds. Garrett Metcalf (six points) and Cole Banks (four rebounds, three steals) were also solid for Williamstown. The Blue Devils were cold at times from the field, but they wound up hitting four 3s in addition to going 20 of 25 from the foul line.
“We just have to keep shooting,” Orton said. “We have plenty of shooters on our team, and we just have to have trust in them.”
Owen Ebert did a little bit of everything for PA, tallying four points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Joe Buonanno (nine points, three steals) and Nichols Holbrook (eight points, two steals) paced PA, while Louis Angione added seven points and Charlie Veit chipped in with six.
“Peoples came to play, but we fought back and ended up with the win,” Tassie said.
The Blue Devils opened up a 4-0 lead when Metcalf assisted O’Neil in the paint and then scored himself. Williamstown held Peoples scoreless for the opening three minutes, but Angione finally put the Wolves on the board. Orton was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer and made all three foul shots, while Banks went 2 of 2 from the stripe for a 9-4 lead after one quarter.
Holbrook drained a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, with Veit and Buonanno also hitting long-range shots to build a 16-14 lead. Gingras countered with two 3-pointers at the other end and Gingras made another 3-pointer, helping their team carry a 23-20 lead into halftime.
Both teams struggled to score and were plagued by fouls during a slow-moving third quarter. A quick-release jumper along the baseline by PA’s Tamirat Tomlinson closed the gap to 23-22, but 20 seconds later Tassie made a heads-up inbound pass to O’Neil for two easy points.
Even though the Wolves held Williamstown scoreless for four minutes midway through the final quarter, Peoples failed to capitalize. The Wolves pulled ahead 28-25 behind four points from Angione and a fast-break layup by Buonanno, but after that the Wolves didn’t score for a span of 7:47.
“We knew (Peoples) is good at putting pressure on teams and they can rebound,” Carrier said. “They have some size as far as hitting the boards, and we knew Angione is their glue who holds that team together. And they have shooters who can spread it out too.”
Williamstown closed out the third quarter with a 29-28 lead, thanks to baskets by Tassie and O’Neil. The Blue Devils were red hot at the start of the final quarter, surging ahead 38-28. Orton and O’Neil sparked the run and Tassie followed with a spin move in the paint for two more points. Metcalf grabbed a defensive rebound and sprinted up the floor for a fast-break layup, extending the lead to 10 points midway through the fourth quarter.
Peoples entered the bonus with 3:58 remaining and promptly went 2 of 4 from the foul line. Tomlinson set up Buonanno for a basket in transition with 2:12 left to play, slicing the gap to 38-34. Angione picked up his fourth personal foul 20 seconds later and Tassie proceeded to make six foul shots in 70 seconds. Orton and Metcalf also went 2 of 2 from the foul line in the final minute, sealing the final outcome.
“They’re young men who have played a lot of basketball, but it’s a lot of pressure to put on them in this situation,” Carrier said. “They’re working out for their town and their coach and everybody else, and they’re putting the pressure on themselves. I pulled Tassie aside for a minute and I said, ‘Jake, just let the game come to you.’ And it came back to him. He didn’t try to force it. He puts a lot of pressure on himself sometime to perform. But when he lets it come to him he’s dangerous.”
Carrier was a player for Williamstown in 1986 when the Blue Devils beat Enosburg, 68-54, in the D-III championship. He won his first title as a coach in 2010, with the Blue Devils capping a 23-1 season by earning a 47-41 victory over Proctor in the D-IV championship. Williamstown moved up to D-III two years later, quickly developing a reputation as a team to fear every year.
“It’s a little bit of a different feeling as a player because you’re out there playing,” Carrier said. “As a coach, you put it in your team’s hands with everything you’ve practiced and put together. And these guys stepped up big-time — I can’t ask for more from a team. At the beginning of the year I think we were a little underrated. And I think they’re coming into their groove at the end of the season. They’re hitting their free throws now, and we struggled with that for awhile.”
Williamstown will face No. 3 Thetford (16-5) in Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. championship at the Barre Aud.