The Poultney boys basketball team hardly looked like a state finalist during the first half of Wednesday night’s Division IV semifinal game, going to the locker room trailing Twin Valley 16-9.
Danville coach Jason Brigham understands slow starts at Barre Auditorium. He played there for Enosburg before coaching there.
“The Aud jitters. They’re real,” Brigham said.
But Poultney looked every bit the part of a state champion in the second half. Blue Devils coach Bob Coloutti knows it will take 32 minutes of inspired play, not 16, when the Blue Devils go against Danville on Saturday at noon at Barre Auditorium. The Devils be gunning for their first state crown since 2001, when they overwhelmed Black River 73-45 in the Division III championship game.
Coloutti is expected to put a starting lineup on the floor comprised of Eli Rosario, Caden Capman, Taylor Dunlap, Heith Mason and Levi Haviland.
Poultney’s trump card has been size in the form of a bruising inside game that features Haviland and Mason. Haviland was saddled with foul trouble in the semifinal game so Mason took over with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Danville has its own inside presence with the likes of Tito Chamul and Garrett Sinclair.
But Coloutti knows it all starts with Ian Steele for the Indians. Steele reached the 1,000-point standard as a junior this year. He is athletic and has an explosive first step with the ball, and is a leaper.
“I think he is the best guard in Division IV and probably one of the best in all of the state,” Coloutti said. “I don’t think you can stop him but we have got to slow him down. That is what we have to do first and foremost.
“And their big guy (Chamul) is someone we played against in the summertime and he always gets down on the block. We have got to keep him out of there.”
While the inside game has been the Devils’ calling card, Dunlap is capable of doing damage behind the arc. He rang up eight treys in a regular-season game, and knocked down three in the semifinals, including one with less than a minute remaining that pretty much sealed the 46-42 victory.
Coloutti marvels at the way this team has responded to adversity. The Blue Devils lost Levi Allen before the season to a football injury and then lost Jon Baker to an injury during the season — both would be key starters in the backcourt.
“I just can’t get over how well the kids have stepped up. They haven’t blinked,” Coloutti said.
The depth has been curtailed by the injuries, making Jesse Combs’ role as sixth man extremely important.
“He has come a long way in a very short time,” Coloutti said of Combs’ maturation since Feb. 7, when Baker was sidelined.
Danville won the state title as recently as 2014, when the Indians mounted an incredible comeback on a 17-0 run in the final minutes to stun Twin Valley 50-43.
No. 1 Danville and No. 2 Poultney each bring a 17-6 record into the game. The teams did not meet during the season.
Both teams finished the regular season strong. Poultney won its final six games going into the playoffs and the Indians won their final four including a signature 59-52 victory over Peoples Academy, the No. 4 seed in Division III.
Brigham came aboard the year after the Indians captured that 2014 title. The championship team had graduated the bulk of its talent and Brigham had to rebuild.
Block by block, the Indians got back to where they were and in 2018 they made it all the way to the title game, where they succumbed to Sharon Academy 60-56.
Now, they want to take that next glorious step.
Brigham will start Steele, Chamul, Garrett Sinclair, Tim White and Cole Beliveau.
You will likely see others on the floor.
“We go nine deep,” Brigham said.
Jacob Baesemann is the sixth man and Aaron Goodwin and Dillon Brigham also see appreciable minutes.
“They have a couple of bigs who are tough in the post and we have one too (Chamul). That is going to be a key, how we handle their big kids,” Brigham said.
The Devils and Indians see one another during summer basketball games and are pretty familiar with each other despite the distance between the schools.
“Everyone is pretty connected in this day and age. In fact, Levi and Ian talk just about every day of the year,” Brigham said.
Brigham has enjoyed this group, a unique blend of personalities.
“We were having a team dinner Thursday night at the school and all the kids were talking about was playing hide-and-seek in the dark at the school. They’re kids. It’s a fun bunch,” Brigham said.
Haviland and Baker are grandsons of Rod Willard, who was the coach of Brighton High School when it lost the 1967 Division IV state championship game 75-50 to North Troy.
Fifty-two years later, Willard would love to see his grandsons get that state crown that eluded him. He, along with a large fan contingent, will be splashing portions of Barre Auditorium with blue and gold.
And if the Devils come up short, the delectable stuffed peppers with the spring special balsamic salad at Danville’s Marty’s First Stop will taste even better to the locals.
NOTES: Caden Capman is the grandson of Poultney High Athletic Director Dave Capman, who won six state titles coaching the Blue Devils in boys basketball, three in Division III and three in Division IV. ... Danville alumnus Dwayne Lynaugh was inducted into the Vermont Principals’ Association’s Hall of Fame in 1918. A three-sport star for the Indians, he scored 1,578 points in basketball before graduating in 1966. ... Poultney has won 10 state titles, Danville six. ... Steele reached the 1,000-point plateau in the quarterfinal win over neighboring rival Twinfield. He joined Dwayne Lynaugh, Ryan Lynaugh, Daniel White, Charles Remick, Mark Zangla, Brandon Cochran, Logan Calkins, Mark Chamberlain and Logan Calkins in the program’s 1,000 circle. ... Brigham scored 1,519 points at Enosburg.