Thetford 57, Hazen 53: Third championship in six years produces a sweet celebration

Thetford fans Mellissa Lovely, left, Layliana Benjamin, Preston Perkins, and Braylee Phelps cheer their team on as the Panthers hold a slim lead in the fourth quarter of the VPA D-III boys basketball state championship against Hazen in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford fans Mellissa Lovely, left, Layliana Benjamin, Preston Perkins, and Braylee Phelps cheer their team on as the Panthers hold a slim lead in the fourth quarter of the VPA D-III boys basketball state championship against Hazen in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Thetford's Mitchell Parkman drives to the hoop with Hazen's Sullivan Laflam guarding him during the VPA D-III boys basketball state championship against Hazen in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford's Mitchell Parkman drives to the hoop with Hazen's Sullivan Laflam guarding him during the VPA D-III boys basketball state championship against Hazen in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Thetford's Matthew Vivian chases down a loose ball during the VPA D-III boys basketball state championship against Hazen in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford's Matthew Vivian chases down a loose ball during the VPA D-III boys basketball state championship against Hazen in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Thetford head coach Jason Gray talks with his players in the fourth quarter of the game with Hazen during their VPA D-III boys basketball state championship  in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford head coach Jason Gray talks with his players in the fourth quarter of the game with Hazen during their VPA D-III boys basketball state championship in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Thetford teammates Mitchell Parkman and Hunter Clay celebrate their VPA D-III boys basketball state championship win against Hazen in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford teammates Mitchell Parkman and Hunter Clay celebrate their VPA D-III boys basketball state championship win against Hazen in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Thetford's Dempsey McGovern passes the ball with Hazen's Morgan Michaud and Sullivan Laflam guarding him during the VPA D-III boys basketball state championship in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford's Dempsey McGovern passes the ball with Hazen's Morgan Michaud and Sullivan Laflam guarding him during the VPA D-III boys basketball state championship in Barre, Vt., on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Thetford won, 57-53. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-03-2024 6:30 PM

Modified: 03-04-2024 5:50 PM


BARRE, Vt. — And on the 108th day of the Thetford Academy basketball season, a VPA Division III boys hoop championship was created. How would coach Jason Gray celebrate?

“We’re going to go back to the academy to have some cupcakes and Gatorade,” the bearded bench boss said Saturday with a smile, one of the Barre Auditorium’s nets draped around his shirt collar. “There were times I got nervous, but it turned out well.”

The Panthers’ 57-53 defeat of top-seeded Hazen produced their sixth state crown and their third in the last six years. TA also won in 2019 and 2020. Hazen won its eighth championship last winter, bouncing the Panthers from the semifinals at the Aud.

On Thursday, second-seeded TA overcame a 20-point deficit to beat third-seeded White River Valley. Panthers guard Hunter Clay said recalling that amazing rally imbued his team with confidence when it trailed Hazen by 10 points early in the third quarter on Saturday.

“We didn’t want to be in that situation again, but I think (Thursday) helped us greatly,” Clay said. “We were a little bit more prepared and we knew what to do.”

Hazen star Xavier Hill had 17 points, but only one other Wildcat scored in double figures. Clay said limiting Hill’s damage was foremost on his team’s collective mind.

“We would let everyone else have 10 if he didn’t have 30 on us,” Clay said. “He started to heat up, so we switched things up on him defensively and it worked. He got flustered.”

Said Gray: “They did what I asked, which was to rebound and box out. We couldn’t give them second opportunities.”

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Thetford post man Mitchell Parkman, his time and points limited during the semifinals because of foul trouble, roared back with a team-high 22 points in the title game.

“I told him he was rested up and had some work to do,” the TA coach said of the senior and Chelsea resident whom he describes as the Panthers’ best all-around player. “He really wanted this one, and it showed.”

Clay had 15 points and Dempsey McGovern had 10 for Thetford (21-3). Xander Oshoniyi, a key contributor, missed the game because of a strained ligament in his knee, Gray said.

“How we pulled this off after losing him, I don’t know,” Clay said of Oshoniyi, who was also a standout on the baseball team’s state title team last spring. “If we’d had him, it wouldn’t have even been a game, because he helps us so much.”

Trailing, 34-24, a minute into the third quarter, Thetford embarked on a 19-6 run that put it up by three points at the stanza’s end. McGovern had five points during that span and Sam Parkman delivered a pair of three-point baskets.

Hazen (20-4) would never lead again, although it forged ties at 45-45 and 47-47, the latter with 3 minutes, 42 seconds to play.

Parkman sparked a 6-0 run after that second deadlock, and he received a beautifully timed Clay pass in the paint for a layup that pushed the Panthers ahead, 54-51, with a minute remaining.

“We all wanted it for him, and he knew he needed to take control of the game,” Clay said of Parkman. “The coolest parts where when I drove the lane and five guys came at me and I dished it off to him. We did that three times for easy buckets.”

Gray held a wobbly ladder beneath one basket as his players ascended, one by one, to cut down the net and take a snippet with them.

“The determination of the guys in that semifinal game showed our heart,” the coach said. “Tonight, we were down a little bit, but not too bad, and we kept clawing and playing defense.

“I’m appreciative of these guys, they’ve worked their butts off all season long.”

Notes: Hazen is 8-5 in division title games, while Thetford is 6-5. … There are also high schools named Hazen in Arkansas, Washington and North Dakota. … Some of the Wildcats wore old-school warmup pants with snaps up the outside edges. … A television reporter in the Auditorium press perch was asked how much his handheld video camera was worth to his station. “More than I am,” he replied with a thin smile. … High schools on the Vermont Principals Association sports postseason results site that no longer exist include Alburg, Austine, Barton, Bennington Catholic, Brigham, Brighton, Greensboro, Groton, Marian, McIndoes, North Troy, Peacham, Pine Ridge, Shoreham, Swanton St. Anne’s and the Weeks School in Vergennes.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.