Blue Devils Get Their Due at the Free-Throw Line
Billy Ross, a former Rivendell player, hugs Rivendell’s Luke Bell after the Raptors’ 60-54 loss to Williamstown last night. Bell took an elbow to the forehead late in the third quarter, keeping him off the floor for the remainder of the game. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Rivendell coach Tim Dyke reacts to a call in the third quarter of last night’s semifinal against Williamstown at the Barre Auditorium. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Rivendell's Tom Stinson, left, and Cole Stever, right, challenge Jason Manwaring for the ball during their semifinal game in Barre, Vt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Barre, Vt. — Against almost any other team in Vermont Division III, you might get away with raining 3-point baskets and taking your chances with sending your opponents to the foul line after each trey.
Last night at Barre Auditorium, the undefeated, defending champion Williamstown Blue Devils made the fourth-seeded Rivendell Raptors pay for that trade-off, sinking all 10 of their free throws in the final 78 seconds, shooting 13-for-14 in the fourth quarter and converting 24 out of 26 overall to pull out a 60-54 victory and earn a trip to the finals tomorrow night against Thetford Academy.
“They were incredible from the line,” Rivendell head coach Tim Dyke said. “Most teams don’t shoot that kind of percentage. When we starting hitting (3s) in the fourth quarter (three of them from Tim Stimson), the shots were going easy for us, but then you’ve got to foul them and hope they miss a few.”
No such luck against these Blue Devils.
“We shoot a lot of free throws in practice,” said Williamstown forward Hunter McLaughlin, who deposited two foul shots with 27.4 seconds left in regulation to finish with a game-high 18 points, moments after Nathan Eastman’s 3-spot had pulled Rivendell within six points at 54-48. “Every day at the end of practice.”
And at the end of big games: After Stimson drained the second and then the third of his three fourth-quarter bombs from the top of the key to make it 56-51 and then 58-54, Williamstown’s Garret Poulin calmly swished two free throws to deliver the final dagger.
Rivendell had rallied from a 10-point deficit to grab a 34-32 lead in the third quarter, with Eastman, on his way to matching McLaughlin’s 18-point outing, completing the run by catching a Jack Steketee kickout at the right elbow and converting the 3-pointer with 2:10 left in the period.
Both defenses clamped down over the next minute and a half, and with four seconds before period’s end, Logan Gardyne hit a free throw to pull the Raptors within 36-35. But on the way back down, McLaughlin stuck a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Devils a four-point lead heading into the final eight minutes.
“That 3 at the end of the period hurt,” Steketee said after finishing his Rivendell career with 14 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists. “You make a few mistakes like that, the way we did tonight, and they add up.”
At least it was closer this time than in last year’s championship game — which saw Williamstown top Rivendell by 20-plus points — and in the teams’ two meetings during the regular season, both Blue Devil wins.
“We knew it was going to be tight this time,” McLaughlin said. “We knew we had to come out strong.”
The Devils came out with a 10-5 start, and took a 16-9 lead before the Raptors started nibbling away.
“We went out there knowing we could beat them,” Steketee said. “Toward the end of our season, we knew we had the potential.
“Last year we lost ugly, this year, we worked hard. Last year, it wasn’t disciplined the way we got to the finals. This team, we worked together, to our potential.
“It’s not about the outcome, but how we get there.”
They got to within one five minutes into the second quarter on a Steketee pull-up jumper from the left lane, only to see Williamstown go on an 8-0 finishing kick to halftime featuring a putback, a coast-to-coast, driving lay-up, and a drive of the right baseline from McLaughlin, plus two free throws from Poulin.
“They’re a great team,” Dyke said of Williamstown. “We played extremely hard. If you give it your all for all four quarters, what more can you ask?”
Notes: Stimson finished with 11 points for Rivendell, while Eastman contributed nine rebounds and four assists and blocked a shot. ... The Raptors played the fourth quarter without guard Luke Bell, who fell heavily not long after hitting a 3-point shot in the third quarter, and was being checked for a possible concussion at game’s end. ... For Williamstown, point guard Seth Atherton finished with 13 points and five assists, and shot 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. Jason Manwaring scored six of his 11 points on free throws in the second half, and contributed nine rebounds. Center Kyle Laughlin reeled in 10 rebounds and blocked a shot for the Blue Devils.