Barre, Vt. — Trailing by 15 points with fewer than six minutes remaining in the Vermont Division III girls basketball title game on Saturday, Thetford Academy somehow rallied for a 53-52 victory, stunning Upper Valley rival and top-ranked Windsor.
“Never leave Barre Auditorium early,” cracked Thetford coach Eric Ward, whose second-seeded team played in its fourth consecutive final. “This team has come back before, but not of this magnitude. It’s a great way for this group of seniors to end their careers.”
The Panthers cut their deficit to eight points with four minutes to play, then threw on a 2-2-1 press that clearly rattled the Yellowjackets. The Panthers at times triple-teamed Windsor forward Olivia Rockwood, who finished with 30 points, nine on 3-point bombs. Her open teammates couldn’t make shots when the freshman got them the ball.
The Yellowjackets made one of their last five field-goal attempts, missed three of their final five free throws and turned the ball over twice, all during the last 3 minutes, 32 seconds.
Meanwhile, Thetford’s Regan Covey couldn’t miss. The power forward repeatedly drove from the right side, using the baseline until that was taken away, then slicing back inside and finishing with 23 points. The senior scored 12 of the Panthers’ last 19 points and eight of their last 10.
“I think (Windsor) got a little tight, and we were playing with nothing to lose,” said Ward, noting that three Yellowjackets had three fouls each during the fourth quarter. “We went to the press at the right time to change the momentum, and then they couldn’t stop Regan inside. We exploited that as much as we could.
“We’re usually pretty balanced on offense, but tonight we needed someone to step up. She stepped up on center stage and during the last game of her career.”
Windsor coach Bruce Mackay said his troops were repeatedly reminded to deny Covey entrance to the paint, but that the execution simply wasn’t there.
“She’s quick and she finishes well, even when she gets bumped,” he said. “She got inside, and we had nobody there for weak-side help. We talked about it, but talking about it and getting the job done can be hard.”
Thetford led, 17-12, after a quarter but trailed, 29-24, at halftime. The teams combined for 20 turnovers before the break, playing frantic, physical ball. Rockwood had 19 points at that stage, but Covey had only five.
Windsor led, 43-32, after three quarters and seemed to have the game in hand when it pushed its advantage to 47-32 with 5:45 remaining. From there, however, the Yellowjackets (20-4) didn’t make a field goal for five minutes, missing four of them along with three of four free throws.
Mackay cited a Rockwood 3-point miss with 1:20 on the clock as a turning point. The ball went almost halfway through the rim before rattling out.
“I thought (Thetford’s) experience of having been here before was the difference,” the coach said. “We got caught up in emotion, and they made some great transition hoops. That press bothered us some, and we tried to dribble against it instead of passing.”
Covey made four consecutive baskets during the last two minutes. The penultimate bucket came with 24 seconds remaining and followed an Angelina Bigwood free-throw miss. The Windsor freshman was attempting to complete a 3-point play that would have put her team up, 51-49.
Rockwood made two free throws with 19 seconds to go, creating a 52-51 lead. Thetford dribbled over the mid-court line and called time out with 12 seconds to play. Taylor Hollis then inbounded to Izzy Wilmott, who moved it on to Covey for a drive from the right side and a left-handed layup on the far side of the rim with 6 seconds to play.
A Rockwood shot from near half-court fell short, and the Panthers had their second state title in four years.
“We weren’t going to go down without a fight,” Ward said of his 19-5 squad. “I didn’t know if we were going to win when we were down by 15 points, but I had a lot of faith in these kids because I’ve coached them for so many years. They didn’t want to go out on the short end and they realized their season was coming to a close.”
Said Mackay: “That’s a great team over there. I’m proud of how our kids acted on the court, and they have to hold their heads high because they went out like champions tonight.”
Thetford’s Emily Emerson had 13 points, followed by Danielle Robinson with nine, Dahlia Klarich with four and Hollis and Wilmott with two each. Windsor received eight points from Bigwood, seven from Anika Abrahamsen, six from Ashleay Wilcox and one from Kaycee Herschel.
Notes: Windsor won the teams’ first matchup in overtime at Thetford Academy, 60-57. The Panthers returned the favor at Windsor, 60-50. … TA concluded the season with seven consecutive victories and won 10 of its last 11 games. … The national anthem was sung by a Thetford Academy choral group. … The Aud appeared to be roughly 90 percent full. … Windsor’s warmup shirts are emblazoned with the stylized W created for the University of Wisconsin during the early 1990s.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.