In a fairy tale finish, the number-12 seeded St. Johnsbury girls' basketball did it, completing an improbable run to capture the Vermont Division I state championship by knocking off the number-three seeded Rutland Raiders, 27-24, at Patrick Gym in Burlington.
Not only was this the lowest-scoring state title game ever in Vermont girls' high school hoops, but the Lady Hilltoppers, with a 7-13 final record, are also the lowest seeded team to ever win a state championship. Quite an amazing feat indeed.
The stunning win over Rutland capped off an improbable tournament run that saw St. Johnsbury knock off number-five Rice (14-6) in the first round, number-four CVU (16-4) in the second round and then number-one Burr & Burton (18-2) in the third round before finally beating number-three Rutland (17-3) in the title game.
It doesn't get much more miraculous than that, folks.
In a defensive struggle throughout, neither team could muster much offensive flow, but when the chips were down in the waning minutes it was the Lady Hilltoppers who hit the big shots when they needed it.
St. Johnsbury jumped out to an early 9-4 lead on back-to-back three-pointers from Bianca Calkins and Brittany Regis, but Rutland fought back to only trail by one point at the end of the first quarter, despite two starters going to the bench with two fouls each.
The Lady Raiders would fight back in the second quarter, however, and after two drives to the basket by Liz Douglass, Rutland had a one-point lead at the half.
At the start of the second half Rutland continued to gain momentum and built a seven-point lead (24-17) at the 6:30 mark of the third quarter.
However amazingly, it would be the last points Rutland would score, as they went into a drought the rest of the way. In fact, the Raiders did not score a single point in the final 14-plus minutes of the contest.
By comparison, in the first meeting between the two teams Rutland dominated in a 15-point win.
Somehow the Raiders hung in there with some great defense of their own, but St. Johnsbury chipped away n the fourth quarter and when St. J's Molly Moran hit a jumper with just over six minutes left, they had a one-point lead.
Remarkably, there would only be two more points scored the rest of the way (two St. Johnsbury free throws) while Rutland would miss their last 15 shots of the contest. A stunning end to quite frankly, a bizarre title game, but the Lady Hilltoppers will take it!
"Someone just told me that we shut them out in the fourth quarter," St. Johnsbury coach Jack Driscoll told reporters after the win. "
This just puts an exclamation point on the kind of play we have been working toward.
Our run through the playoffs has been something special. We've had tremendous support, our fans have followed us all over the state, all season."