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Thetford Outscores Williamstown for First Title

  • Thetford's Ella Chapman hugs teammate Jill Clark  while a pile of Thetford players covers center court after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Thetford's Ella Chapman hugs teammate Jill Clark while a pile of Thetford players covers center court after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford fans react to head coach Eric Ward holding up the net cut from the basket after  Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Thetford fans react to head coach Eric Ward holding up the net cut from the basket after Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy goes for a layup ahead of Williamstown's Shayna Guild in the second quarter of Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy goes for a layup ahead of Williamstown's Shayna Guild in the second quarter of Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Ella Chapman hugs teammate Jill Clark  while a pile of Thetford players covers center court after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Thetford fans react to head coach Eric Ward holding up the net cut from the basket after  Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy goes for a layup ahead of Williamstown's Shayna Guild in the second quarter of Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball division three state championships at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Barre, Vt. — Defense wins championships. A good defense beats a good offense.

The Thetford Academy and Williamstown High girls basketball teams offered a simple, concise response to those two basketball canards on Saturday night: Piffle.

In a game that borrowed more from road rally than roundball, top-ranked Thetford reversed a seven-point third-quarter deficit with a ton of offense — OK, a little bit of defense, too — for a 90-84 win over Williamstown in the Vermont Principals Association Division III girls hoop final at Barre Auditorium. The 174 points shattered the VPA’s single-game championship tally, in the process delivering to the Panthers (22-1) the first girls basketball title in school history.

“I’m shaky, emotional,” said TA guard Shyann Josler, owner of 18 points and an ear-to-ear grin. “Very happy.”

That’s because she, her teammates and a jam-packed Aud had a blast.

“They said we walk the ball up the floor, and we don’t walk the ball up the floor,” Thetford coach Eric Ward said. “We knew we could score points against them. They’re a great offensive basketball team. They made some great shots tonight. … They played well offensively, but we played just as well offensively.”

TA owned the superior strength of schedule; the Panthers played 13 games against teams in higher divisions this year, compared with five for the Blue Devils. That, in the end, may have set up Thetford for its title.

Faced with 32 minutes of full-court pressure from Williamstown, the Panthers had to be patient getting the ball from baseline to mid-court. When they did, guard Josler, Michaela Pomeroy (team-high 23 points) and Jill Clark (15 points) had free rein to the basket. The rare times Thetford didn’t gave the Blue Devils opportunities to get away. They never did.

“We had normally practiced with our guards on the front line and them getting the ball first (on inbounds plays),” Clark said. “We knew that Williamstown was going to pressure the first line, so we kept our guards back in hopes of getting the long ball to them so that the fastest players on the team could get back (on attack) for the shot.”

The race turned the Panthers’ way following a Ward timeout with 3:46 left in the third quarter and Williamstown holding a 61-53 lead, its biggest of the night. Thetford had shown signs of losing its patience with second- and third-quarter turnovers, leaving Williamstown uber-guard Dani Jesmonth (game-high 28 points) a frequently easy route to the lane.

That’s when the defense finally took its bow. Panther defenders let Jesmonth into the paint, but forced her to her weaker left side. The super junior still got her points, but the move slowed Williamstown’s attack when it most required it.

“Dani is an amazing ballhandler; we knew to force her left because that’s her weak point,” Pomeroy said. “We collapsed in the center and we just worked hard. Everyone worked hard together, played amazing defense and boxed out and rebounded.”

Like everything else in this track meet, Thetford’s comeback came in a rush.

Tara Pellerin (nine points) and Ella Chapman got the Panthers going with putbacks in the paint. A Josler layup cut the gap to 65-60, Elise Jackson went glass from six feet and Josler added another transition bucket to bring TA within one.

Thetford answered a Shayna Guild bucket with Josler’s only 3-pointer of the night to tie the game at 67 with 35 seconds left in the third. Carissa Carrier’s trifecta — one of 10 for the Blue Devils — put Williamstown in the lead after three, but barely.

“We’ve got so many options this year,” Ward said. “This team didn’t want to lose. They got down in the third quarter, and they fought back. Even though they got a little deeper than we do, it’s great to have kids that believe in themselves and don’t want to lose.”

With the defense forcing Jesmonth to the left every chance it got, Thetford engineered an 11-0 fourth-quarter run that decided the night.

Down 74-71, Clark started the charge with a layup, then fed Josler cutting through the lane to give the Panthers the lead. Pomeroy sank a free throw, and added a layup off a Josler steal. Gray added two more gimmes from the blocks as TA contented itself by making Williamstown defenders chase the ball, gratefully accepting trips to the charity stripe when the Blue Devils’ profligate ways with fouls came to the surface.

“With us running, we scored a good amount of the time between layups and just regular shots,” Josler said. “We just had to get stops in the end at the defensive end. That was always our bread and butter: defense. You’ve got to get stops to make up for it at the offensive end.”

The Panthers didn’t hit another field goal the rest of the night after Gray’s last bunny gave Thetford an 82-74 cushion with 2:17 to play. They didn’t have to: Josler, Clark, Pomeroy and Jackson combined to hit eight of 12 free throws down the stretch, more than enough to overcome a Williamstown attack that wore the cloak of desperation as the fourth quarter advanced.

“It’s an amazing feeling; I’m so proud that I’m part of this team,” Pomeroy said. “I have amazing teammates, seniors that are going to be gone next year. I’m so happy we got this far as a team.”

Thetford did so by jacking up 63 shots, hitting 32 of them, never letting the Blue Devils’ red taillights get too far in the distance. The Panthers adjusted to the pace and never let themselves get overwhelmed by it.

It was fast, wild, fun, a scoring display unlike any other Vermont had seen. The kind of affair any basketball fan would gladly wrap up in a box and deliver with a bright blue-and-white bow.

Sorry, defense. No offense intended.

Free Throws: The previous scoring record for two teams in one VPA girls basketball final was 162 points, in St. Johnsbury’s 95-67 win over Vergennes in the 1982 D-II title game. … Clark’s state championship medal simply adds to a family haul. Her mom, Jody Ameden, won a couple of girls basketball crowns at Oxbow in the early 1980s. “She’s told me about them,” Clark said afterward. “It’s about time I got one.” … Ward hiked into the grandstand to present a medal to fan Tom Fetter after the game. Fetter and his wife, Susan, had become friends to the team during the season. Susan Fetter passed away after a bout with cancer on Feb. 21. … TA finished 32-for-63 from the floor and 24-for-38 from the line. Williamstown was 31-for-76 on the field and 12-for-21 from the charity stripe. The Blue Devils heaved 31 attempts from beyond the arc compared with just seven by Thetford. … TA had fallen in three previous D-III finals, in 1980 (Twinfield, 45-38), 1983 (Oxbow, 54-29) and 2005 (Arlington, 55-42). … Thetford loses 1,000-point scorer Josler along with Erika Gray, Chapman, Clark, Shenia Covey and twins Tara and Tegan Pellerin to graduation. Tegan Pellerin missed most of the season with an arm injury.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.