Epic comeback sends MVCS boys basketball to first state final in program history

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-07-2023 8:12 PM

BARRE, Vt. — Down by 14 points early in the fourth quarter, senior guard Joel Roberts led the Mid Vermont Christian School boys basketball team to a stunning 47-46 win over Long Trail on Monday night at Barre Auditorium to reach the program’s first VPA Division IV championship game in school history.

The No. 4 seed Eagles trailed the top-seeded Mountain Lions by two points with 9.6 seconds left in Monday night’s semifinal when junior guard Abel Goodwin was fouled attempting a 3-pointer. After making one of his first two free throws, Goodwin missed the third, but MVCS kept the ball when the referees determined it was knocked out of bounds by Long Trail.

“To be honest, I thought it should have been their ball,” Eagles coach Erva Barnes said. “I wasn’t sure what happened there.”

On the inbounds, Roberts passed to Goodwin, who dribbled twice and put up a fadeaway jumper over three defenders that found the bottom of the net with five seconds remaining to give MVCS the lead. Long Trail’s deep 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the back of the rim.

“There was no drawing it up, but all offseason we were working on a shot like that,” Barnes said. “We worked on shots like that for so long with him that it doesn’t surprise me that it went in.”

While Goodwin hit the game-winner, it was Roberts, who finished with 18 points, who brought the Eagles (18-5) back within striking distance when the game appeared lost. MVCS’ top scorer had just seven points entering the fourth quarter, but he knocked down three 3-pointers in succession midway through the period, each more contested than the one before it.

With three minutes left, Roberts made it 11 straight points with an off-balance layup, single-handedly putting the Eagles within one possession.

“Somehow he knocked down all those shots and pulled off a bit of a miracle,” Barnes said. “We knew the pressure was on them, we knew they didn’t want to lose the game, they’re the No. 1 seed. We put an emphasis on jumping the passing lanes, and we’d make a bucket and we were able to get a steal. We were able to string that up enough to make us have a chance at the end.”

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MVCS hung close in the first half, in part because two Mountain Lion starters, Jacob Leary and Ty Dickerson, both picked up two fouls in the first quarter. Dickerson was called for his third early in the second quarter.

Long Trail (21-2) opened up an eight-point lead in the second before the Eagles closed the half on a 10-2 run to forge a 21-21 tie.

Roberts’ first 3-pointer of the night gave MVCS a one-point lead in the third, but the Mountain Lions took control from there, hitting a trio of shots from behind the arc to close out the quarter. The last of those, from Jack Dickerson, came just ahead of the buzzer to make it an eight-point game.

Long Trail added six quick points to start the fourth, and then came Roberts’ heroics.

The closer the 6-foot guard brought Eagles in the closing minutes, the tighter the Mountain Lions looked. MVCS resorted to fouling in the final minute to stop the clock; Long Trail twice missed the front end of a one-and-one, setting the stage for Goodwin’s game-winner.

In addition to timely shooting, Barnes credited his team’s defensive intensity with fueling the comeback.

“Other teams know it by now, but we almost never go man,” Barnes said. “That is partially to conserve energy, but we’ve tried to mix it and cook our 2-3 zone into something that shuts down your inside game and shuts down your outside game, too.”

The Eagles will play either No. 2 seed Rivendell or No. 3 seed Danville in Saturday’s title game. They faced the Raptors in a preseason scrimmage and fell 58-43 to the Bears in the regular-season finale. But MVCS also lost regular-season games to Blue Mountain and Long Trail and has now beaten both during this playoff run.

“This is a new atmosphere, and it was really good for us to get this experience,” Barnes said of Barre Auditorium. “It’s a lot different trying to call out plays and trying to get hold of your team. We’re going to go through a bunch of scenarios, and we’re going to work on our hand signals. I’m really glad we got this one out of the way.”

Notes: Goodwin finished with 11 points, and senior center Roman Goeppner and sophomore forward Carson Meloon each had eight to round out the Eagles’ scoring. … The MVCS girls team had forfeited a first-round playoff game against Long Trail on Feb. 21 due to a refusal to play against an opponent with a transgender student-athlete. Some of the Long Trail students wielded pride and transgender flags at Monday’s game. … The Eagles were playing their first-ever game at Barre Auditorium, having fallen short in the quarterfinals against White River Valley last year. Prior to last season, they had just one playoff win in program history. … Rivendell will play Danville in the other semifinal on Wednesday at 6:30.

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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