Bulldogs back in finals after 5-year drought

MANCHESTER - Every now and again a team comes along that defies the odds and advances in the postseason for a shot at the ultimate prize. This year, the Burr and Burton Academy boys lacrosse team is among the select few in all of Vermont sports.

BBA (11-7) - the No. 7 seed - defeated No. 2 Stowe (12-3) on Saturday and No. 3 Burlington (15-4) on Tuesday for a shot at the Division II state championship against No. 1 seeded Green Mountain Valley School (14-0) on Thursday.

Though they may be the No. 7 seed, team captain Ben Alexopoulos said he doesn't look at it that way.

"On paper we look like the underdog, but mentally I don't think our team's there," said Alexopoulos. "I feel we have a lot of confidence in the playoffs and as a whole we have a really good chemistry right now. All three wins we've only let the team score five or less goals and our defense, our middies, our attack, we're all playing as a family."

Thursday's matchup against Green Mountain Valley is a familiar, which comes with a history. Green Mountain Valley defeated BBA10-9 in the quarterfinals last year and in the semifinals the two previous years - 12-11 in 2012 and 10-7 in 2011. It's a match that Alexopoulos and team captains Mike Sztorc and Will Helmetag are looking forward to.

"I'm pretty excited," said Sztorc. "I mean, we wouldn't really want another team in the state championship other than them because we've had such a big history and we've lost to them three times in our high school career and the playoffs. So, we want it. They're the right team to be there."

Alexopoulos agreed.

"Since I was freshmen we've lost to them in the playoffs and there would be nothing better to beat them the day before we graduate as a class, as a team," he said.

"It's the perfect situation, the perfect team and the perfect time," added Helmetag.

The team's played earlier this season, which BBA coach Jason Pergament said provided him with a good idea of what to expect on Thursday.

"We got a good look at them in that first game so I think we have a decent grasp on what they are and what they have to offer," he said. "So, we watched some game film following our loss, we analyzed the game film so we have that in the back of our brains because we all knew we would see them again."

Going into Thursday's matchup, Pergament said there was one thing he believed would ultimately make the difference in whether or not the team returned as champions.

"We've got to play good defense; we have to stop them. They are a very strong, athletic team," said Pergament. "There's the old mantra that defense wins championships; offense wins games, but defense wins championships, and so tomorrow with a championship team I feel confident that we will put goals on the board. The question is can we keep them to less goals than we score."

Helmetag had similar sentiments.

"I think it starts with defense and kind of keeping the penalties to a minimum because that hurt us in [our] game against Burlington." he said.

Sztorc said he felt it was important for the team to stop Green Mountain Valley's transition game and if their defense played like they have been of late, he believed it would help tremendously. But Alexopoulos felt there was something else that would help as well.

"I think keeping our composure," he said. "We started out strong against Burlington and they matched us and tied up the game and we took that and instead of letting them walk all over us, or instead of letting them go ahead, we just answered back with more goals. So, I feel the playoffs has helped us."

Alexopoulos led the way for the Bulldogs, scoring four times on Tuesday in the 7-5 win over Burlington to help punch BBA's ticket to the finals for the first time since 2009 when they defeated Lamoille 12-6 for the state title.

"He definitely owned his role as a captain," said Pergament. "He gave us the insurance goal at the end of the game. He stepped up on both sides of the field. He was on the field for the greater portion of the game. He's a great player and he's a force to be reckoned with."

The outstanding play of Sztorc in net has been a big part of the Bulldogs success all season long. Tuesday was no exception as he came up with a big save at a key moment and turned the Seahorses away throughout the game.

"He continues to be outstanding. It's got to be real frustrating on the other side of the line [taking] your best shot and having Mike come up with the save," said Pergament. "He is a force to be reckoned with. He is an ultimate student of the game, he understands how the game is played, he eludes the defense, He's certainly done a great job of clearing the ball and setting us up for some great opportunities."

Throughout the season, Pergament has challenged the team - and in particular the seniors - to make their mark and several of them, he said, have taken the statement to heart.

"My seniors have not been to a lacrosse finals. So, it's a big deal for them to be in this spot," said Pergament. "I've been [using] the catch phrase all year 'Leave a Legacy' and I heard that word coming up a lot yesterday. They've got graduation on Friday [and] the idea of being able to watch graduation with a gold medal around their neck, that's the kind of thing that lasts a lifetime."

The game will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Castleton State College.

Follow on Twitter @BrandonCanevari


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