And regular readers thought I was excited last week! I went back to Riverside Middle School’s Dressel Gym Wednesday night and saw a game reminiscent of those tournament games of long ago, which I wrote about last week. This one was a girls’ game.
That made it extra special. In the 1950s and ’60s, there were girls’ basketball teams, but league titles were all they could win. There were no state tournaments. The opening round play-off thriller last week was special. So special, it seemed like the old days again.
There was good news when I arrived. It was so cold out that the ground of the parking lot was frozen, and my feet didn’t get wet when I stepped out of the car. The line to get tickets was longer and the buzz leading up to the game could be felt as soon as I walked into the building. It wasn’t just the post-season feel; it was similar to the feel of any Bellows Falls versus Springfield game from other eras. It was a feeling that brought excitement.
And the game more than matched it.
The final score of Springfield 54, Bellows Falls 42 didn’t sound special, but you can’t judge a book by its cover. There has been very few times in the past 30 or so years – one exception being the boys’ title run in 2009 – that the old mecca of Vermont has been treated to such a show. Both communities brought decent crowds and resulted in bursts of cheers from both sides of the building. The game itself set the stage with runs of points by both teams that convinced both fan bases, their team would win on this night.
The final one decided the encounter. Bellows Falls was in charge 40-27 with most people accepting they would be the winner, when the Cosmos astoundingly stole the show with a 27-2 stretch to end the contest.
Springfield is clearly the better team, having won three competitive games between the two rivals. However, I am certain both coaches entered the game deeply worried about the outcome. Cosmo coach Joe Costello told me following the contest, “When BF is clicking, they are hard to stop. Tonight was anyone’s game and our defense stepped up when it needed to.”
The biggest thing I walked away with was that players and fans on both sides experienced what became an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Few in the building, especially the young ones, had ever seen anything like it. Others were more than glad to see such a great night of hoops as well.
Springfield fans who traveled to Enosburg may have heard plenty of noise, especially when the hosts were rallying at the end. But with seats on only one side, witnesses have told me the game as a whole was nowhere comparable to the Riverside experience, despite the one-point outcome at the end.
However, Springfield fans head to Barre Wednesday, March 6 and the Auditorium will present yet another experience. The biggest crowd they have ever competed in front of will be there. It will be loud. Things will move quickly. And it likely will be very hot.
The good news is that Springfield won’t be the only area team making a trek to the Auditorium this week. Green Mountain has earned their way there too. These are two teams who cherish this trip more than most. You see, this is Springfield’s third trip in history and Green Mountain’s second. The Cosmos most recently took part in the Final Four in 1995, when after wins over Mill River 66-58 and Otter Valley 64-56, they lost a tough one to Randolph 55-49 in the semi-finals.
The earlier outstanding season was back in 1977 when Springfield downed Brattleboro in the first round 47-38 and then advanced to the Final Four by getting past Essex 46-41. They then fell in heartbreaking fashion 57-56 to Champlain Valley Union in an earlier era of CVU success, in which they competed in four finals in seven years.
For Green Mountain, this will be the second trip for the Lady Chieftains ever. Their maiden voyage came back in 1982. That Chieftain squad defeated rival Black River 35-27 in their opening game before dispatching of Enosburg 42-40. West Rutland proved to be too much in the semi-finals though, 37-18. This year’s edition of each area team has a chance to be the very first team from each of the schools to earn an appearance in the finals. Good luck. See you there.