Rutland Herald: MSJ wears D-II state crown

posted Mar 13, 2012, 7:38 AM by   [ updated Sep 11, 2012, 11:26 AM ]

Staff Writer Date: March 11, 2012 Section: SPORTS02

BARRE - All season long the mantra of the Mount St. Joseph boys basketball
team was that they were hungry and would settle for nothing less than a state
championship. On Saturday on the floor of the Barre Auditorium the 10 members
of the team realized that dream and slaked their hunger with a 56-48 comeback
victory over Vergennes in the Division II championship game.

The win puts the finishing touches on a tremendous 22-2 season and vaults the
second-seeded Mounties to the top of the D-II heap, finally knocking the No. 1
Commodores off the perch where they sat all season.

The title is the first in Division II for MSJ and its first since winning a D-I crown
in 1999. Vergennes finished at 21-3 and was denied its first title since 2001.

But this was not an easy-breezy win: MSJ found itself behind 11-3 with less than
three minutes left in the first period, trailed 21-19 at the half and had to fight off
afourth-period challenge.

"We got away from playing MSJ basketball: playing great defense and being
disciplined on offense," said Mountie captain Matt Sanborn. "We had to have
players step up; this was a tremendous team win."

"I felt fortunate to be down by only two," MSJ coach Mark Benetatos said. "I told
them that they had to play harder and that this would be the last time they got to
play together."

MSJ opened the second half with renewed vigor and with a determined sense of

Jaskin Melendez, who had been quiet and in foul trouble for much of the first half,
swished a baseline jumper to even the game. Then John Dewey stole the inbounds
pass and fed Jahanathan Mitchell for an easy layup allowing the Mounties to take
their first lead, 23-21 at 7:35. That kicked off what was an outstanding period of
basketball for MSJ.

The Mounties used a 6-0 run at the top of the period, bumped it up to 8-2 and went
on to outscore Vergennes 18-8 in the third and build a 37-27 lead.

"The third quarter killed us: one bad quarter," Vergennes coach Peter Quinn
said. "We missed some assignments and some easy shots. There were not big
things but those little things led to them getting easy baskets."

During that third period five different Mounties - Melendez, Mitchell, Dewey,
Robert Cassells and Shannon Murray - scored. Cassells did double duty, playing
lock-down defense on Vergennes' mercurial guard Shep Carter, while everyone in
a green MSJ uniform went hard to the boards.

"We needed to play harder but also smarter," Murray said. "These are two high-
paced teams and we didn't want to play to their tempo. We had to be disciplined."

MSJ might have been over-amped in the first half and uncharacteristically
committed eight of its 14 turnovers in the first 16 minutes. The Mounties also
didn't shoot especially well as jump shots rimmed out and layups or putbacks
caromed off the rim or backboard.

Meanwhile, Vergennes seemed confident in its play. With Carter driving the
pace and Stanley Salley working well in the paint and everyone else cutting and
moving, the Commodores had things to their liking on offense. Defensively the
Commodores sat in their matchup zone.

Even when MSJ surged ahead and took the double-digit lead after three,
Vergennes seemed content to stay in the zone.

MSJ just pulled the ball out and moved it crisply around the perimeter, or in the
post and back out, taking its time and looking for the right shot. Sanborn played
inspired ball and steadied the frontcourt, while Cassells, Mitchell and Dewey were
solid in the backcourt.

Even though MSJ shot poorly from the line (10 of 24), the Mounties converted
eight in the final period. It was on Murray's foul shot at 2:28 of the fourth that MSJ
took its biggest lead at 50-38.

But Vergennes would not go away. The Commodores cranked up the defense and
tried to helter-skelter the Mounties and dropped in some 3s. But it was too late; the
clock was the Commodore's enemy and the Mounties' milked it as much as they


When the final buzzer sounded, the Mounties raced to the floor in ecstasy, the long
journey of the season all washed away in the peak emotion of the moment.

"We did it; we're the champions," said captain Melendez, hugging the
championship trophy in his strong arms. "This is a great feeling."

Murray led the Mounties with 13 points and nine rebounds, while Dewey added 12
points and 10 boards. All eight Mounties who played scored.

Carter led the Commodores with 15 points, and Salley chipped in six points and 10

Vergennes loses only one player and could be back again next year. But that's
another story and this night belonged to MSJ.

"Everything we've been through this year and last ... this is a special group of
guys," Cassells, a senior, said. "This is a great experience and I'm happy to have
gone through it with this team."

"We did it, it took three years and we did it," said Benetatos, who assumed the
head coaching position three years ago. "This is a special night for these kids and a
special night for MSJ."

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