by Bill Murphy

Everyone I know was caught off guard with last weeks’ news that UVM standout guard Trae Bell-Haynes was declaring for the NBA draft. In announcing that news, it was also stated that Bell-Haynes is not hiring an agent, which means in less than a month, he could decide to return officially to the University of Vermont roster at that time.

Bell-Haynes was the Player of the Year in America East and deserves the opportunity to test his skills against others in the field. Here’s hoping that is exactly all he is planning to do. There is little chance he has an NBA future next winter and so many Catamounts and Catamount fans remember all the positive moments from the proud effort versus Purdue. UVM basketball stands a chance of putting itself on the map again next winter and those chances would not be anywhere near the same without Bell-Haynes.

Before we completely move on to spring, we can’t put the winter behind us without commenting on the Division I and II Girls basketball championships at the high school level.

From our perspective, the girls competition provided followers with a something new and a something old, which was a different kind of old. The new was Lyndon Institute capturing their first title ever.

Eric Berry told us a long time ago when he took over the Viking program that this day would come, BUT, isn’t that exactly what any new coach is suppose to say when he comes on board? I am not doubting him, he may have seen a bunch of potential on the horizon, BUT, he said state title and he was coaching at Lyndon.

There are many coaches who have visions, BUT, actually very few of them are ever realized. The main reason I will tilt towards accepting Berry’s vision, as more than a coaches enthusiasm is the final outcome. Not winning the title, BUT, winning the finale by the count of 40-15.

Berry told us, “our goal for this year is to hold teams to 30 points and it basically came to fruition. I think in the end, we were peaking at the right time defensively.”

That makes sense Eric, BUT, how do you hold a Barre Auditorium tested team to 15 points in a title game?

The winning leader told us, “I think it was the combination of us playing very sound defense and really the culmination of our players understanding what we actually wanted to accomplish. We didn’t want anybody to get into the paint against us and we did that well the last part of the season.”

You may call all that coach speak, BUT, you have to call it well done.

It is difficult to remember the last time Ute Otley’s Champlain Valley Union team didn’t win the state title, BUT, this time around, those in contention, knew someone else had a chance. I really like it when the title is passed around among schools, BUT, I also really like it, when the field is somewhat wide open. Otley told us prior to the season, there would be competition and it is likely possible IF you gave the contenders a dose of truth serum, they might have said, Otley’s team may have been an underdog this time around.

Checking the final standings, the seeds were: 1) St. Johnsbury 18-2, 2) CUU 17-3, 3) Mount Anthony 16-4, 4) Rice 15-5, 5) Bellows Free Academy 15-5, 6) North Country 14-6, 7) Essex 12-8 and it likely can be said each one of those teams had some type of dream.

Most of those in the know probably eliminated Mount Anthony, North Country and Essex from title consideration first, BUT, were likely realizing any of the three could spoil someones day. MAU was from the south, which doesn’t get much respect in DI Girls basketball and their only win of consequence all season was a 60-57 victory over Essex on a neutral floor. Essex had to be considered, because they held wins over BFA (44-35 on the road and Rice at home 38-34 and also North Country at home, BUT was there anyone outside of their own city limits, who thought they could beat three contenders in a row. N Country was in the same boat, BUT, by the way of two close battles to the end with BFA, their capabilities of making some noise was there.

This elimination game brought us down to four most legitimate title contenders when the 2017 tourney began. Top seed St. Johnsbury was definitely part of the field. Of course, since both of the Hilltoppers losses had come at the hands of CVU (54-47/44-29), the TEAM of the decade had to be taken serious. Taking things to the same level, the fifth seeded Bellows Free Academy Lady Bobwhites could not be left out, BECAUSE, they were THE TEAM, who defeated CVU twice (37-36/49-48). Who didn’t want to see a rematch in the tournament? Rounding out the field was Rice. They were the ballclub, who stopped CVU’s long time winning streak and had split a pair of games with BFA. The only top tier team they had been unable to solve was the top seeded Hilltoppers. In the end, it was how those seeds played out that determined the winner.

CVU and St. Johnsbury met in the finals and the 36-33 exciting finish to the season was the third time win for Utley’s team.

“Obviously you never want to lose, BUT, if that was going to happen, the timing was right for us,” Otley said of the early season streak breaking loss to Rice. She went on to say that her team, “was quiet about it, BUT at the same time, determined by it.”

The semi-final match-ups of CVU 51 Mount Anthony 36 and the magical St. Johnsbury 32 BFA 30 overtime affair, prevented everyone from seeing how the third meeting with BFA, who had CVU’s number would have played out.

So many people believe tournaments are again and again decided by the match-ups. Was that the case again?

Regardless of any answer to that question, one thing is certain: No matter what the match-ups have been, CVU has been the Division I girls title holder for five straight years and that is something special.

When people ask me who was the best pitcher I ever saw, it doesn’t take me long to answer Pedro Martinez. I have seen most of the great ones of the past fifty years, BUT, Pedro at his best, was so very special. He wins my eye test on the subject, BUT, here are some incredible numbers to chew on. When Pedro’s team scored three or more runs in a game when he was pitching, he was 184-28. WOW!!!

Since Chris Sale’s team averages less than three runs a game for him, it might take awhile to see IF the wiry lefthander can come anywhere close to Martinez’s numbers, BUT, a couple of things stood out about him at Fenway Park Tuesday night when he was the winning pitcher in the big win over the Orioles.

First, his first inning message pitch towards Manny Machado was something Pedro would have done, BUT, with even more flair. Secondly, when Sale was alerted following the game that he joined only Pedro in Red Sox lore with five consecutive 10 strikeout games, he responded by saying, “I don’t put a whole lot of weight in those kind of things, numbers, stats, that kind of stuff, BUT,when your talking about him, that’s special and I appreciate that.”

Sale is certainly special to have around.