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Brattleboro hosted Burr and Burton in the Southern Vermont Unified Basketball finals on Friday, May 19, 2023.

BRATTLEBORO — In a game that was intense and featured tough defense and physical play, the unified basketball southern finals matchup between Brattleboro and Burr & Burton Academy (BBA) was everything and more that a playoff game embodies with a trip to the state championship game on the line.

In the end, BBA put together a strong third quarter, outscoring Brattleboro 8-0, to gain the lead and never relinquished it, earning a 19-18 win.

“I’m proud of the players. They did a great job all season and Brattleboro has a great team. They have very talented players and it was a very rough game. We worked hard,” said BBA head coach Don Benasich. “We watched films all week and we knew what to do against each player and they knew what to do against us. They watched our films all week. So, this was a very strategic … low scoring game.”

Brattleboro’s Ben Stauffer started the scoring off early in the first. A score by the Bulldogs Lane Sargent tied the game, but Stauffer put Brattleboro out in front again a short time later. Over the next few minutes, the score remained unchanged as both squads remained deadlocked and engaged in intense play, playing tough defense and fighting for loose balls.

Just inside of two minutes left in the quarter Sargent scored on a layup to tie the game at 4-4. A late 3-point attempt by Stauffer in the closing seconds, that included a questionable no call during the shot attempt, did not fall and the teams remained tied at the end of the quarter.

Prior to the start of the second quarter, the coaches and the referees spoke for awhile and the coaches spoke to their teams before play resumed.

Brattleboro opened up the scoring with Austin Pinette dribbling out of a double team and scoring on mid-range jump shot to reclaim the lead for Brattleboro. Shortly after, Pinette came up with a steal, raced the length of the floor and slipped under Dylan Skandera, who had raced back to contest the shot, for a layup to make it 8-4. A steal by Evan Velez and a pass to Pinette for a close-range score pushed the Brattleboro lead to six leading to a timeout with just under four minutes left to play in the half.

With 1:37 left to play, Sargent blocked a shot and moment later got the ball inside for a score to cut the lead to four points. Skandera then stole the ball from Brattleboro and started on a fast break. Two Brattleboro defenders raced in front of him to try to stop the play, committing a foul to put Skandera at the line where he made one-of-two to make it a three-point game with 1:01 remaining in the half.

“They did a great job stopping us. They stopped our best player. They shut him down. … He got a couple of points, but normally he gets 16 points, 17 points a game,” Benasich said of Skandera.

Stauffer again came up huge for Brattleboro, drilling a 3-pointer with 48.4 seconds remaining on the clock. A steal by Brattleboro in the waning moments led to a fast break opportunity and another 3-point opportunity for Stauffer that just wouldn’t fall to send Brattleboro into the half with the 13-7 lead.

“At the half our whole strategy today was stay together. Play as a team. The way that we have in nine other games this year and Burr & Burton’s strategy was to try and knock us off our game and they did a great job at that. Credit to BBA,” said Brattleboro head coach Tyler Boone. “My goal at the beginning of the year was to make it to this game. We succeeded. We beat BBA in the regular season and I think everybody on both sides of the court on April 3 knew that we were going to meet back again to go to the state championship.”

BBA put in Riley Barton to start the third quarter who received a pass from a teammate for a close-range score. Barton was immediately subbed out and Brattleboro head coach Tyler Boone crossed over to BBA’s bench to high five the athlete on the score.

Consecutive scores by the Bulldogs Jillian Kersten tied the game 13-13.

“It was really physical,” Benasich said of the game. “It was a physical game and the only way that we were going to get a shot was have someone block out for Jillian because she’s a good shooter. … So, luckily we got a couple of those in.”

A turnover by Brattleboro with 1:54 remaining in the third led to a timeout. Shortly after, Kersten scored again to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the game, which they took into the final quarter.

Following a timeout just 30 seconds into the fourth, Skandera got the ball, avoided a Brattleboro defender and pushed the BBA lead to 17-13 with just over six minutes left to play.

“Dylan Skandera, he’s done such a great job over the years. I hope he gets his championship next week. If there’s anybody in southern Vermont that deserves a unified basketball championship it’s D-Dog Skandera,” said Boone.

About a minute later, Pinette came up with a steal and ran the floor for a layup to pull Brattleboro within two.

A loose ball not long after led to scary play in which Pinette and Skandera collided and Pinette remained down on the court, stopping play. When he got up, he grabbed his ribs and exited the game.

When play resumed, Sargent scored on a layup to make the score 19-15.

Then, with 1:36 left to play Stauffer made a huge 3-pointer to pull Brattleboro within a point, prompting a timeout to be called.

For much of the remainder of the game, BBA worked the ball around the half court, limiting Brattleboro’s chances, and running the clock out to advance to the state championship for the second time in as many years.

While Brattleboro’s great season may have ended and Boone said the pain of the loss will linger for a bit, there are silver linings as well.

“I couldn’t be more proud of all of our kids. Beyond the basketball game, kids are staying in school because of unified. Kids are catching up with their work because of unified. It’s making a real difference in the school community and the school culture,” Boone said. “We need to take stock of all of the positive things that have happened over the past two and half months.”

BBA will play in the state championship game next Wednesday at Norwich University. The game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.


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