Everything was primed for a storybook end to the Champlain Valley boys basketball season.
With eight seniors, the program’s best-ever regular-season record, only one loss, and a No.-1 seed, the Redhawks were looking to cap it all off with the first Division I boys hoops title in school history.
Unfortunately, Rutland High School had other plans.
The second-seeded Raiders (22-2) topped CVU 43-37 in overtime to capture the D-I state championship, the program’s first since the 1967 season.
“It’s been a long time,” said Rutland coach Mike Wood. “Fifty years and these guys have been reminded about it every day. For them to play with composure and win a state title, it couldn’t be more gratifying.”
The Redhawks nearly pulled off their own picture-perfect ending, with a late comeback and some Josh Bliss heroics pushing the game into extra time.
“That fight and the togetherness and the composure in the timeouts sums up why we were here in the first place,” said CVU coach Michael Osborne. “Josh (Bliss) was a silent leader for us, it was cool to see him make some plays.”
Trailing by five points with less than two minutes to play, Josh Bliss canned a three-pointer to pull CVU (22-2) within two. The senior then stole the ball under the basket and laid it up for the tying score, causing the capacity crowd to match, if not surpass, the noise levels of Saturday’s America East Championship game.
“It’s tough that someone has to lose a game like this,” Wood said. “CVU has incredible class, they have had an incredible season.”
The Redhawks may have entered OT with the momentum, but Rutland stole it right back. Kyle Cassarino hit two free throws – the foul knocked CVU’s Matt Spear out of the game – to put the Raiders ahead, then forced a couple of turnovers to keep the Redhawk offense off the board.
“Ultimately, what decided the game was we weren’t able to secure the ball late in the game,” Osborne. “We had some pretty crucial turnovers in overtime and late in the fourth.”
Nathaniel Kingsley followed with a lay-up and Cassarino hit two more free throws to effectively clinch the win for Rutland.
“These guys have been in these battles the entire (season),” Wood said. “We had guys step up and make plays all night.”
The game started slowly, taking three minutes before the first point was on the board – a free throw from CVU’s George Davis. After the first quarter the game was tied 4-4.
A little more offense appeared in the second quarter, giving Rutland 15-14 lead heading into the second half. The third quarter saw more back-and-forth action as CVU tied the game at 24-24 heading into the final frame.
“We weren’t able to ever really get the pace of the game,” Osborne said. “Our goal was to try to push the ball offensively…we were never able to get a good push in transition.”
The fourth quarter was when the real fireworks started, with Matt Lorman and the Raiders pulling ahead and then the Redhawks slowly chipping away until Bliss’ late plays sent the game into OT.
Lorman led all scorers with 18 points, while Cassarino added nine points for the Raiders. Kingsley chipped in with eight points and Noah Tyson grabbed eight rebounds.
Bliss scored 10 points for CVU and Colin Monsey had eight points. Walker Storey had eight boards and six points for Redhawks.
Storey, Bliss and Monsey are part of a senior class that propelled Champlain Valley to its best boys basketball season. The Redhawks will also say goodbye to Spear, Davis, Marc Hoeppner, Reece Pawlaczyk, and Brad Reynolds.
“I’m proud of these guys regardless,” Osborne said. “Eight really, really special dudes in there, they are going to so much greater things than win basketball games and lose basketball games.”