Thetford 60, WRV 58: Epic comeback sends Panthers to state title game

The Thetford Academy student section cheers as a basket by Thetford’s Dillon Vance propels the team into the lead in the final 40 seconds of the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Thetford won, 60-58. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

The Thetford Academy student section cheers as a basket by Thetford’s Dillon Vance propels the team into the lead in the final 40 seconds of the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Thetford won, 60-58. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Thetford’s Mitchell Parkman (12) leaps toward his teammates after winning the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford’s Mitchell Parkman (12) leaps toward his teammates after winning the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

White River Valley guard Wyatt Cadwell (11) shoots the ball while being defended by Thetford guard Dempsey McGovern (5) during the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley guard Wyatt Cadwell (11) shoots the ball while being defended by Thetford guard Dempsey McGovern (5) during the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley head coach D.J. Craven glances at the scoreboard as Thetford begins to mount a comeback during the third quarter of the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley head coach D.J. Craven glances at the scoreboard as Thetford begins to mount a comeback during the third quarter of the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford’s Xander Oshoniyi (32) goes up for a shot during the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thetford’s Xander Oshoniyi (32) goes up for a shot during the Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America – Alex Driehaus

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-01-2024 4:22 PM

Modified: 03-03-2024 9:50 AM


BARRE, Vt. — The Barre Auditorium’s inner arena was deserted Thursday evening, half an hour after Thetford Academy and White River Valley concluded their Vermont Division III boys basketball playoff semifinal.

Silence inside the 85-year old building was suddenly broken by the distinct sound of sobbing. A door in the back stairwell near the WRV locker room slammed shut and quiet again descended upon the historic court.

There was little doubt about what had upset the unseen person — Thetford had won, 60-58, after trailing by 20 points during the third quarter and by overcoming a 12-point deficit with 5 minutes, 31 seconds to play.

The second-seeded Panthers face top-seeded Hazen (20-3) for the division title on Saturday at the Aud.

Hazen, located in Hardwick, a half hour’s drive northwest of St. Johnsbury, lost the teams’ first meetng this season by two points, then won the rematch in Thetford by 11.

“I’m still a little in disbelief,” said Thetford coach Jason Gray, whose team hit 5-of-8 field goals during Thursday’s final stretch. “When their guys who had been making shots started missing them, it took the wind out of their sails.”

The third-seeded Wildcats missed four shots and committed five of their 10 turnovers during the fourth-quarter meltdown. Thetford (20-3), which rarely presses, instituted that in-your-face defense during the third quarter, not long before WRV began slowing its usually fast pace to kill time.

“We started playing full-court defense and they were sucking wind,” Gray said. “The gas tank was empty on a certain few of them, and when they tried to rotate other guys in, it became disorganized. Our boys never felt gassed until they got on the bus.”

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Wildcats coach D.J. Craven regretted reining in his 20-3 team’s run-and-gun style.

“When we slow down is when we struggle,” Craven said. “We try it, and we don’t hit as many shots. The wheels fell off.”

White River Valley led, 23-13, after a quarter and 39-22 at halftime. Gray entered his locker room to discover intense conversation.

“Guys were pretty emotional and we talked about how (WRV had) shot about 70 percent (from the floor) and we’d only shot maybe like 20 percent,” Gray said. “I tried to make them understand that winning was still doable. I said one basket at a time and five players all the time.”

White River Valley led, 45-25, a minute and a half into the third quarter and that’s when Gray put on the press.

“I knew I had to do something and it was the right time,” the coach said. “You have to try to dictate what’s going on.”

Five different Panthers hits baskets to fuel an 11-2 run and Thetford trailed, 53-42, after three quarters. The score was 58-46 when it began to become apparent that a serious rally was underway.

Dempsey McGovern drained a three-point shot and Hunter Clay dropped a layup while being fouled. Sam Parkman hit on a put-back and Clay tossed in another trey to forge a 58-58 tie with 1:44 on the clock.

Wildcat Brayden Russ missed a rushed shot to end a lengthy possession. Thetford’s Dillon Vance, stymied during the first half, drove the lane to score the game’s final points with 40 seconds remaining.

WRV’s Russ and Wyatt Cadwell each had shots carom off the rim and the game was effectively over.

“We had two fouls to give for (the Wildcats’) last possession, so we could collapse hard if we got beat outside,” Gray said. “Sometimes you can play a little more physically at the end of a game because the refs don’t want to dictate the outcome.”

Cadwell scored a game-high 21 points and Russ 14.

Thetford’s McGovern had 18 points and Vance 11. Panthers post player Mitchell Parkman, often his team’s leading scorer, had only six points after picking up his third foul early in the second quarter and his fourth late in the third stanza.

Craven said addressing his players after the contest was the toughest challenge he’s faced in coaching.

“I love them and they gave everything to me and those Wildcat fans,” he said. “We were the better team and we had the game in our grasp.”

Gray said the Panthers can’t allow Hazen star Xavier Hill to beat them. The three-sport senior helped the Wildcats win their eighth state hoops title two years ago and his parents were also multi-sport, championship-winning athletes. The Hardwick Gazette reported last year that Hill holds the world record for the longest successful cornhole shot while blindfolded — 50 feet.

“We can’t let him have a field day,” Gray said. “Hazen’s been one of the best for a long time and we’re stepping into that role with them. It’s going to be a game of jitters and it’s who can overcome the bad and go on to win.”

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