Tradition and success run deep for the Burlington and Mount Anthony Union high school boys basketball programs. The Seahorses lay claim to 20 Division I titles; the Patriots’ eight state crowns include a five-year reign from 1988-1992.
Today, these teams square off in an unexpected Division I quarterfinal.
The No. 12 Seahorses (10-11) play host to the No. 13 Patriots (7-14) at Buck Hard Gym, with the winner advancing to next week’s semifinals at University of Vermont’s Patrick Gym. Today’s victor will also be the highest seed to reach the D-I semifinals since a BFA-St. Albans squad made the final as a 16 seed in 1985.
BHS — a team that reached Patrick seven times between 2003 and 2010, earning three titles in that span — hopes to take advantage of home court.
“Any time you are hosting a quarterfinal game, you have to look at it as a great opportunity to do something special,” said Burlington coach Matt Johnson, who played for the 1985 BFA-St. Albans squad where he scored 2,000 career points. “Mount Anthony and us are in the same boat. We are right there and probably both think we have a chance to win.”
Behind Josh Hale (17 points) and Bryan Vachereau (15), the Seahorses knocked off No. 5 and defending-champion MMU in Tuesday’s playdowns. The next night, with a contingent of the Burlington team in attendance, the Patriots topped No. 4 Middlebury.
“I think the kids recognized the fact that they worked so hard preparing for that game and for them to reap the benefits of that hard work is a good thing,” Johnson said. “We have a ton of respect for MMU. They had a real passion for defending their crown. So for us to knock off a team like that says a lot about the character of the guys in our locker room.”
Hale, a freshman, averages 11 points per game, Vachereau is around nine per game and Jervon Montgomery is a lockdown defender on a balanced Seahorse team.
“In terms of offense, Josh and Bryan have done a great job. Jervon, who’s a sophomore, he’s brought a nice presence with what he can do. He’s a very good defender,” Johnson said. “We’ve just had guys knock down shots when we’ve really needed them to.”
Senior captain Ryan Boera said the team remains focused at the task at hand.
“Home-court advantage is nice, but it doesn’t matter where we are playing — it’s just exciting,” Boera said. “We know this win means we get to go to Patrick, so there’s that motive to win on Saturday.
“Once we get on the court … playing in front of our home fans is definitely going to be exciting,” Boera said.
In the team’s lone regular-season meeting, the Seahorses won 62-41. Aaryngston Bibens, who had 26 points in the playdown win, is MAU’s leading scorer. Sean Brundage, who missed the BHS game, is another weapon for coach Dan Sleeman.