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The Good of a Loss: Past Pain Preps Sharon Boys

  • Sharon Academy head coach Blake Fabrikant calls out a play as guard Tanner James brings the ball upcourt in the third quarter against Twinfield on March 4, 2015. Sharon Academy defeated Twinfield, 54-45, in the Division IV semifinal game in Barre, Vt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sharon Academy boys basketball coach Blake Fabrikant leads his team in a cheer before heading back to the court after halftime of their 79 - 39 win over South Royalton in Sharon, Vt., Thursday, March 1, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Cole Ward, of Sharon Academy, passes off to teammate Joshua Amodeo, left, while under pressure from Sam Fisk, of South Royalton, during their game in Sharon, Vt., Thursday, March 1, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sharon Academy's Camden Morrisonm center, sits quietly as awards are handed out following the team's 70-66 overtime loss to Proctor High School in Barre, Vt., on March 7, 2015. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sharon Academy alumnus Stephen Usher supports the boys basketball team while wearing the school colors in their Division IV championship against Proctor in Barre, Vt., on March 7, 2015. Proctor won in overtime, 70-66. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sharon — Blake Fabrikant has already experienced what he consideres the worst scenario a postseason contest at the Barre Auditorium can conjure. Everything that comes next will never be that bad.

He still vividly remembers the feeling of helplessly watching his Sharon Academy boys basketball team let a late lead slip in the 2015 VPA Division IV championship game, a eventual 70-66 overtime loss to Proctor at the Aud that left the Phoenix’s coach questioning everything from his decisions to his coaching future. That night presented a perfect storm; everything just went horribly wrong.

On Sunday, the No. 2-seeded Phoenix punched their ticket to the Aud for the first time since that season-closing defeat. This time around, Fabrikant has a new perspective. He’s already lived through the absolute worst it can get.

“I will never suffer a loss, as a coach, worse than that,” said Fabrikant, who also served as TSA’s girls soccer coach until this past fall, after his team’s 73-44 D-IV quarterfinal win over Chelsea on Sunday night. “I’ve lost in the soccer finals with the girls, and the semifinals. That was easy to swallow compared to what I felt back then.

“That was four years of building up a program, spending countless hours with these kids, busting their butts, going to camps, playing AAU, working on basketball 24-7,” he added. “To have it all come crumbling down in the final minutes, it really was — and it’s going to sound very trite and shallow of me — but really one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve ever had.”

Sharon’s loss in that D-IV title game happened with a painful sequence of events.

The Phoenix were outscored, 7-1, in the final 1 minute, 26 seconds of regulation to allow Proctor to force overtime. Three Sharon starters — Brandon Tracy, Ethan Silovich and Tanner James — all fouled out late in regulation and in overtime, joining the list of unavailable players that included injured junior regulars Jay Knoerlein and Carter Blanchard when the game mattered most. The Phantoms then overcame a two-point deficit late in the extra frame, scoring the game’s final six points to win its 15th state title.

“There were a lot of things that didn’t go our way,” Fabrikant recalled. “It was just so much emotion tied into that season, and we were so good that year. We had three losses, but one loss was to Williamstown — which won the D-III championship that year — and Rivendell, which was the D-III runner-up.

“We were fired-up and intense. Ultimately, that was our undoing. I think in overtime, when emotions got high, even I’ll admit I’m an intense guy. I’m an intense coach. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve known when to reign it in, to pick my spots.”

Sam Knoerlein, a senior force on this year’s Sharon squad, was on the Phoenix’s title-game team three years ago. He even got some minutes on the court in overtime, with his team in foul trouble. He said he also remembers the sinking feeling of watching it all collapse around him, but he has not been able to fully appreciate the emotions of his teammates until this year.

“It was overwhelming, like a three-year thing for all the seniors building up to that moment,” Knoerlein said. “They had been practicing through the summers. I think we were overwhelmed. A lot of pressure was on us. This time, with Danville (the top seed in D-IV) taking the role that we had three years ago, we’re sort of the underdogs. Knowing what happened to us three years ago, I know we can definitely go in and win that way.”

“I remember it all went downhill in a hurry,” he added. “Personally, as a freshman, I wasn’t as invested. It wasn’t my senior year. I mean, I was invested, but I don’t think I was as invested as some of the seniors were, who had putting in all that work for the last three years. Now as a senior, after having some scares, I think it’s helped me realize what they went through with that kind of loss. I don’t want that to happen to us this year.”

This year’s high-scoring Sharon squad heads to Barre with a different collective personality than the one that graced the court in 2015, as Fabrikant is quick to point out. The Phoenix are an undefeated 22-0 this winter, averaging 63.8 points per game while surrendering just 36.8, on average.

“I think this group is more mellow, more relaxed, but every bit as talented, if not more talented (than the 2015 group),” Fabrikant said. “A player like Austin Gaudette, he’s phenomenal. He’s a playmaker. Sam Knoerlein, he’s phenomenal. He’s an offensive force. Our supporting cast — Josh (Amodeo), Fisher (Kelley), Cole (Ward), Olly (Skeet-Browning) — are great role players. They know their roles and play well. I feel like we have a good chance; we just have a very different style.”

TSA’s biggest challenge has been the season-long fight with complacency.

“The pressure of being undefeated gets to you,” Fabrikant said. “I think with the talent we have, I think we can play complacent, lackadaisical and waiting for (the other team) to make mistakes instead of us facilitating positives. Like, ‘This guy isn’t going to make a shot; I don’t have to close out on him.’ That can shoot us in the foot.”

Sam Knoerlein said his team performs better with the underdog label. Fabrikant admitted playing as the underdog fits well into his team’s style.

“I think, at least in Barre, we’re going up against Poultney, the three seed, a team with a similar record,” Fabrikant said. “We’re not the favorites anymore. This squad in general relishes the role of an underdog. This wasn’t planned. If you told me I would be 22-0 going to the Aud, I would have had a hard time believing you.”

This time, he’s ready for anything.

“As a coach, it’s made me more loose, more relaxed, more free-thinking,” Fabrikant said of that three-years-ago loss and how it’s changed him. “I think, in a way, it’s what has led us to this undefeated season. We’ve come back eight or nine times. If we were tight? I’m not sure we’d be able to do that.

“Once you experience a loss of that magnitude, you’re not afraid to lose anymore. You’ve been through it all. You’ve been through the wringer. Whatever happens, happens.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.