Eagles trek back to the Aud
The Eagles' coach, knowing just how difficult it can be to get to the semifinals, encouraged the youngster to round out his trip to the Aud by grabbing a ball and hoisting some shots himself during warm-ups.
"I took a couple shots," said Hawley, now a senior. "Just in case I never got back there, I wanted to at least say I took a couple shots there." That was six years ago.
Today, Hawley and the Eagles (14-8), again the 7-seed, are back for the first time since. They meet No. 6 West Rutland (15-7) in the Division IV semifinals at the Aud tonight at 6:30 p.m.
To get there, senior-laden Arlington had to rally in the second half of Saturday's quartefinal game against No. 2 Mid-Vermont Christian to pull off a 50-38 upset.
First-year coach Chris Taft likened the season-extending win to a rollercoaster ride. The Eagles were confident before tipoff but a stalling Mid-Vermont team -- led by standout Austin Sayers -- that had been propped by a weak record soon had them trailing by as many as 14 points.
"In the first half [Sayers] dominated and their defense -- we threw the ball all over the gym," Taft said before practice Monday at Burr and Burton Academy.
"We had a pretty informative halftime talk," he said. "And mostly it was senior leadership. We got to the line and were 16-for-21. They were 6-for-20. Alex Hawley -- it's not the first time he's done it for us this year -- kind of took over in the fourth quarter."
Hawley went 9-of-11 at the free throw line in the final period to finish with a team-high 21 points. The performance fueled a 20-4 fourth for Arlington that wiped away a 34-30 deficit.
"I was just thinking, at that point, DJ [Jennings] wasn't a factor on offense, he was out with foul trouble," Hawley said, referring to the Eagles' imposing 6-foot-4 center. "I was thinking to do whatever it took to put the ball in the hoop, put some points up and see what happened."
Averaging 16 points a game in the regular season, Jennings, a junior, remains a game-changing interior presence for the Eagles.
But on a team with a half-dozen players who have struck for double figures at some point during the year, Jennings has plenty of outside complements in seniors Hawley (12 ppg), Olden Dwyer (9.5 ppg) and Alex Trayah, who delivered 14 points Saturday.
"We don't need DJ to score. We need DJ to rebound and DJ's scoring comes off of his rebounding," Taft said. "He also changes the complexion of a defense. If he's in there, just posting up, that's sucking somebody away from Olden, that's sucking somebody away from Trayah.
"Just his presence and his rebounding, we look to dominate everybody on the boards and that's what has gotten us on this winning streak the last couple weeks."
Arlington entered the postseason with wins in six of its final eight contests. The only losses were to D-II schools Otter Valley and Woodstock, two of nine games on the schedule against upper-division opponents.
In the season finale, the Eagles beat West Rutland for the second time this season, 54-43, on the road.
The Golden Horde, traditionally small-school basketball powers, own a 22-10 record in 32 semifinal appearances and 13 championships. Today is their first trip to Barre since 2008.
Arlington is 12-12 in the Final Four with nine titles, the last coming in 2003. The program has gone 2-5 against West Rutland in the postseason.
"We're just going to soak it in and enjoy every minute while we can and hopefully play a good game of basketball," Trayah said.
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