Cloudy
54°
Cloudy
Hi 71° | Lo 52°

Mid Vermont Boys Earn a Milestone Win

Quechee — For all that was new about Mid Vermont Christian’s 64-42 win over Websterville Baptist in the first round of the VPA Division IV boys basketball tournament last night, there was a lot of been-there-done-that, too.

Not that the second-ranked Eagles (16-5) prefer it that way.

As he had in two previous (and narrow) wins over the 15th-seeded Warriors (5-15), MVCS junior Austin Sayers scored early and often on his way to a game-high 30 points. But it was the moments when Sayers was absent — normally a rare occurrence — that the Eagles showed their mettle.

The first VPA tournament victory in program history sends Mid Vermont into a home quarterfinal with No. 7 Arlington (13-8) tomorrow afternoon.

“It’s good; it was a goal,” MVCS coach Brian Sayers said. “We set three goals before the beginning of the year. One was to win 14 games, which at the time I thought was ambitious; we’ve topped that by a couple now. Second goal was to never lose to the same team twice … and the third one was to win our first VPA playoff game.

“But I stopped right there. No self-respecting Vermont kid is going to set a goal shorter than going to Barre. We want to win our first one, but really we want to win our second one.”

The difference between the 14-win squad that bowed out in last year’s opening round and the Sayers-led unit that dominated last night is how Mid Vermont plays without Sayers.

The best test came in the final 1:49 of the first half, after the forward drew the second of two quick fouls. A Sayers-led 8-2 burst had turned a three-point game into a 28-19 lead, but Websterville still had enough menace to stay close.

Instead, the Warriors found the deficit even larger come the halftime buzzer, and larger still as the night progressed. Junior Anthony LaPlaca’s two hoops kept the visitors at bay until the second half, when other Eagles joined Sayers in locking down the victory.

“I thought it wasn’t going to be easy,” said LaPlaca, who finished with eight points. “We lacked intensity in beginning of the season. (Now) we’ve got more, and that helped us push right in and win.”

Sayers’ best scoring performances came in the Eagles’ two wins over Websterville, 35 points in a 56-50 victory on Jan. 12 and 34 in a 67-63 decision just 10 days later. Both also featured key time without Sayers: He missed the first four minutes of the first game with the flu and the whole first quarter of the latter — in which Mid Vermont rallied from a 19-point deficit in the final 7 minutes — having missed an entire week of practice with another illness.

Such moments have given the other Eagles room to improve. Now, when LaPlaca has to sit, junior Joe Zhou (12 points) can capably run the point. Sayers doesn’t have to do all the rebounding; he led MVCS with 12 last night, but sophomore James King (eight), junior Jonah McPherson and sophomore Panda Su can do it, too.

“I wasn’t too worried,” the younger Sayers said. “We came out strong. We took care of business when we needed to.”

The Eagles outmuscled Websterville en route to a 32-21 halftime lead. Mid Vermont built the edge on a 22-10 advantage on the glass and a 12-0 lead in second-chance points, all coming from Sayers.

The visitors still hung around until MVCS scored 20 points over the final 5:16 of the third quarter for a 54-31 advantage. Sayers did his part, as always, but the Eagles received scoring help from LaPlaca, Zhou, sophomore James Horner and junior Shane Li as well.

“I don’t think we can go long” without their main scorer and rebounder, LaPlaca admitted. “Austin gets over 15 rebounds a game, over 20 shots. He’s our main player. He makes it all happen.”

As the Eagles displayed last night, it doesn’t have to be a one-man show.

Free Throws: Brady Orr had 18 points and Noah Johnson finished with 16 for the Warriors. Long-armed junior Hayden McIntyre blocked seven shots for Websterville, but he became less of a factor as MVCS got into transition. … Sayers came up short on an uncontested dunk attempt in the third quarter, but did succeed on a nifty behind-the-back pass to Zhou with 52 second left in the game to finish a two-on-one. … Mid Vermont lost to South Royalton in the first round last year and Williamstown the year before that in its only two previous VPA appearances.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.