March 11, 2010
By Mal Boright
That second-seeded Essex High knocked off once-beaten and top-seeded Burlington High 44-37 in Saturday’s Division 1 championship basketball contest was not really much of a surprise.
Essex, which had divided two regular season contests with the Seahorses, had more weapons — although Burlington had Joe O’Shea, one of the top all-around hoopsters in the state.
When Champlain Valley Union High gave Burlington a mighty challenge in the final regular season contest at Bremner Gymnasium, the 6-foot-4 and very mobile O’Shea knocked down 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to keep BHS afloat at a time when CVU was rocking the boat. The Seahorses, ahead by just two points with 13 seconds left, won, 51-44.
In a 51-46 Division 1 semifinal victory over Mount Anthony Union High at the University of Vermont’s Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium, O’Shea pulled the game out of the fire with 11 points under final period pressure, bringing BHS from behind for the victory.
And O’Shea netted 23 points and hauled down 12 rebounds in the championship test, but had little meaningful help. Meanwhile, Essex got solid contributions from starters plus the bench, a combination that proved lethal to CVU in its 60-46 quarterfinal defeat at the hands of the Hornets.
In that game, CVU’s D (for defense) Troop of seniors Chris Nigh and Nick Hart limited Essex ace Demir Smajovic to 10 points on three-of-10 shooting from the floor. Smajovic did grab 12 rebounds and contribute three assists.
The D Troop was coach Scott Bliss’ first option defenders who could keep the opposing forces’ big guns from going wild and controlling the outcome of games.
Nigh, with Hart and others in relief, also held Spaulding High sharpshooter Evan Tullar to 13 points (four-for-10) in the 50-41 playoff victory over the Tide that earned the Redhawks a trip to Essex.
And, in the previous game, Nigh had gone mano-a-mano with O’Shea with solid results (six points first half) until the BHS star took over the game late in the third period.
So who was the best player the defensive ace had to work against this year?
“Oh, it was Joe O’Shea, no doubt about it. He is quick and has those long arms and can get up there,” Nigh said following CVU’s finale at Essex.
“Demir (Smajovic) is also a very good player,” Nigh added, noting that the Essex star does a lot of things very well.
Next season, the Redhawks for the first time in four years will not have to devise a defense for O’Shea. He will be at NCAA Division 1 Holy Cross College, where he has a scholarship.
After knocking out CVU, St. J makes history
In the Division 1 girls basketball tournament, 12th-seeded St. Johnsbury Academy made history, becoming the first school to come from that low a seed to take the championship. St. Johnsbury Academy knocked off Rutland High 27-24 in the title test Thursday night at the Patrick gym.
The Hilltoppers, down at the half, came from behind by holding Rutland without a hoop for the final 14 minutes of the game, a defensive payoff rare at that level of play.
St. Johnsbury earned a trip to the semifinals — where it popped Burr and Burton Academy 36-25 — by nudging CVU, 40-37, in a quarterfinal contest in Hinesburg.
In that game, the Hilltoppers got in front early (12-4 end of the first period) by forcing turnovers and disrupting the Redhawks’ offense. CVU put together a furious rally in the final minutes but could not force a tie.
St. Johnsbury, which split a home-and-home series with CVU during the regular season, finished with an 11-13 record and the Big Trophy.