There’s a unique twist to the Division II basketball playoffs this winter as Spaulding crashes the party after nearly a century of D-I competition.
And with U-32 and Montpelier near the top of the boys rankings, the Barre Aud could have a strong Washington Country contingent in D-II.
The regular season wraps up in a week and all three local schools will play a few more games in attempts to improve their rankings. Although Spaulding has only won four times, the Tide will be battle-tested for the post-season after competing in 16 games against D-I teams. The Barre squad snapped U-32’s 11-game winning streak on Jan. 25 with a 65-47 victory.
The Raiders are on track to snag the No. 2 seed following Thursday’s 55-52 victory over Montpelier. Anthony Engelhard scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half, while power forward Owen Kellington poured in 17 of his 24 points in the second half for U-32. Kellington also blocked a potentially game-tying 3-point attempt in the final seconds.
Montpelier won 12 straight games before suffering a 73-71 overtime loss to D-I giant Rice (16-1). After falling to U-32 for the second time, the Solons could be in a position where they would travel for a quarterfinal at North Country (13-3) or Mill River (13-4).
“Montpelier is certainly a talented team,” U-32 coach Dan Gauthier said. “And the way we won the first one was a little bit of fluke, being down seven with about four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. (Thursday) was a little more traditional in terms of back and forth, and the largest lead was six points. We fully expected it to be a two- or three-possession game most of the way. And fortunately every time Montpelier threw a punch, we were able to either dodge it or take it and then respond with one of our own.”
Harwood (4-14) is ranked 17th and could miss out on the 16-team playoffs. The Highlanders will visit Lamoille on Tuesday before hosting Montpelier on Thursday.
Here is a glance at the four Central Vermont boys teams in the D-II picture:
RECAP: Taylor D’Agostino scored 21 points against U-32 to prove that the Tide are for real. Coach Jesse Willard’s team also beat D-I opponents BFA-St. Albans (9-7), Colchester (6-11) and Essex (3-13). Currently ranked 14th, the Tide have been talking about their “21st game” since Day 1 of preseason. This is not the type of underdog that will play scared.
HISTORY: Spaulding has advanced to semifinals 30 times since 1922 and is 12-6 in the finals. The Tide lost to Montpelier in the 1922 and 1926 quarterfinals before falling to MHS, 41-17, in the 1926 championship. Spaulding claimed its last playoff victory in 2015 and has not advanced to the semifinals since 2006.
TITLES: 1932, 1934, 1938, 1945, 1950, 1951, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1994, 2002
WHO’S NEXT: Burlington and CVU
RECAP: High pressure, fluid ball movement and a lethal inside-outside game make the Solons an obvious title contender. Coach Nick Foster’s roster is loaded with talented sophomores and juniors, so it might be tempting to look toward the future. But back-to-back home quarterfinal losses are still fresh in the minds of the upperclassmen and there is no time like the present in the Capital City. The Solons’ body of work includes two double-digit victories over Randolph (12-6), a 69-67 win over Hazen (15-3) and a 65-47 victory over North Country. Montpelier is ranked fifth behind North Country, Mill River, U-32 and Fair Haven.
HISTORY: Montpelier boasts 30 trips to semifinals since 1922, winning six championships during 14 title appearances. In 2005 the Solons captured their fist title in 56 years on a last-second 3-pointer by John Dellipriscoli. Times have been tougher lately and MHS has not advanced to the Aud since 2009. The Solons were the No. 4 seed in 2018 and suffered a 49-46 playoff loss against Otter Valley. Last year the Solons earned the No. 2 seed and wound up 16-6 after a 51-46 loss to Milton.
TITLES: 1925, 1926, 1935, 1944, 1949, 2005
WHO’S NEXT: Lake Region and Harwood
RECAP: Holding opponents to 18 points or less in the first half helped the Raiders take down D-I Rutland, BFA-St. Albans and Essex. Following mid-season hiccups against Spaulding and Randolph, coach Gauthier’s crew is back on track with five straight wins. Fair Haven (16-1) is the only team ahead of U-32 in the standings.
HISTORY: The Raiders have punched a ticket to the semifinals 20 times since 1975, going 4-6 in title games. U-32 earned back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004 by beating Montpelier in the final. The Raiders were the No. 5 seed last year and finished at 13-9 after falling short at Mill River, 60-49, in the quarterfinals.
TITLES: 1992, 2003, 2004, 2010
WHO’S NEXT: Thetford and Lyndon
RECAP: First-year coach Jay Bellows does not have the biggest team, but his squad has upset potential if players get hot from the perimeter. A 52-44 victory over Hartford (7-10) and a 66-60 win over Thetford (9-8) show that the potential is there. Harwood also defeated Vergennes (0-17) and Oxbow (3-14) and was able to hang with U-32 for three quarters during a 54-41 loss. A victory over Lamoille (9-9) is the Highlanders’ most likely path to the post-season. They trail Lake Region (5-13) and Springfield (5-11) in a battle for the last playoff berth.
HISTORY: The Highlanders are 2-6 in semifinal appearances since 1968. They beat U-32 in the 1975 championship and held off Lamoille for the 1988 crown. Harwood has not been to the Aud since 2012.
TITLES: 1975, 1988
WHO’S NEXT: Lamoille, Montpelier