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Raptors Are Bedeviled in Semifinals

Shamus Peyton, of Rivendell, middle, gets ambushed by Brandon Carrier, of Williamstown, right, while trying to avoid Chris Hurlbert, of Williamstown, during their VPA Division III semifinal at the Barre Auditorium Thursday, March 6, 2014. Williamstown won 67 - 41.
Valley News - James M. Patterson
jpatterson@vnews.com
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Shamus Peyton, of Rivendell, middle, gets ambushed by Brandon Carrier, of Williamstown, right, while trying to avoid Chris Hurlbert, of Williamstown, during their VPA Division III semifinal at the Barre Auditorium Thursday, March 6, 2014. Williamstown won 67 - 41. Valley News - James M. Patterson jpatterson@vnews.com photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

Barre, Vt. — Sold-out Barre Auditorium was filled to the brim for Thursday night’s VPA Division III boys basketball semifinal between Rivendell and Williamstown. By early in the fourth quarter, some of the seats were already emptying as the unbeaten, top-ranked Blue Devils ran away with a 67-41 win.

The fifth-seeded Raptors (19-4) were ousted by their Central Vermont League rivals for the third straight season. Unlike last year’s six-point loss in the semis, this one wasn’t close.

Junior Hunter McLaughlin scored a game-high 26 points for Williamstown (22-0), helping the Devils lead by as many as 32 and advance to Saturday night’s final against second-ranked Randolph. The Galloping Ghosts came back to knock off No. 3 Lake Region in Thursday’s early semi, 70-59.

McLaughlin’s night helped compensate for the foul trouble of Jason Manwaring, the program’s all-time leading scorer who spent most of the second half on the bench with four fouls and finished with 11 points and six rebounds.

Rivendell was hurt primarily by its own poor shooting, hitting just 16-of-47 from the floor (.340) and 7-of-15 from the free throw line. DJ Stone added 10 off the bench for Williamstown, which shot better than 50 percent from both the floor (22-of-51) and the line (18-of-30).

The Raptors — who held a nine-point halftime lead during an eventual Valentine’s Day loss to the Devils in Orford — kept it close early. Both teams were shaky out of the gate with turnovers, and Rivendell trailed by just one, 7-6, after Cole Stever set up Scott Calhoun (seven points) for a layup midway through the first quarter.

With fast-paced Williamstown beginning to find its range and Rivendell remaining unsuccessful from the perimeter, the Raptors began feeding it to 6-foot-5 junior Shamus Peyton underneath. He scored nine points in the second quarter, his three-point play cutting Williamstown’s advantage to 22-20, before a 3-pointer from McLaughlin made it 27-20 and elicited a Rivendell timeout.

Williamstown benefited more from the break, stuffing the middle and shutting out Peyton for the rest of the night.

The Blue Devils scored the final 16 points of the first half, with two 3s from McLaughlin in the final two minutes and a buzzer-beating trifecta from freshman Brandon Carrier giving all the momentum to Williamstown at halftime.

“We tried to keep (Peyton) more involved, but sometimes it gets harder as the game goes on,” Rivendell coach Jeff Huntington said. “The bottom line is we never got into a rhythm. We tightened up a little bit and our shots weren’t falling. We’re a better team than what we showed.”

Junior guard Garret Poulin sparked Williamstown at the start of the second half, getting an offensive putback and executing a rapid steal and layup to extend Williamstown’s lead to 42-21.

The rout was truly on after Jason Premont hit from downtown and McLaughlin sank a long-range jumper. Even after the Raptors’ Nate Eastman sank two 3-pointers to make it a 20-point game again, McLaughlin hit another Williamstown buzzer-beater to make it 53-31 entering the fourth.

It was 64-33 by the midway mark of the fourth as the crowd thinned.

“We went into a man-to-man defense pretty quick. That’s what helped us in the second half the last time we played them, too,” Williamstown coach Jack Carrier said. “We just had some great performances from a lot of guys, including guys off the bench.”

Williamstown will be looking for its third straight title and sixth overall on Saturday.

Free Throws: All five Rivendell starters were seniors: Luke Bell, Stever, Scott Calhoun, Josh Marshall and Eastman. The team’s sixth senior, Cody Williams, scored four points in the final minutes off the bench. ... Manwaring has 1,710 career points. ... Williamstown held just a 26-25 rebounding advantage. ... Rivendell had 14 turnovers to nine for the Blue Devils, including just three by the Devils in the second half. ... It was Williamstown’s seventh straight win in the series, as it improved to 4-0 against Rivendell in the postseason. ... Barre Auditorium seats 1,856.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.