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Canes See Victory Clearly

Hartford Opens D-II Tournament With Easy Win

  • Hartford High guard Chris Bateman, left, looks for a passing lane while being defended by Harwood’s Corey Remick last night. The Hurricanes’ 57-45 victory in a first-round Vermont Division II playoff game, propelled them into a quarterfinal matchup tomorrow at Burr & Burton. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Hartford High guard Chris Bateman, left, looks for a passing lane while being defended by Harwood’s Corey Remick last night. The Hurricanes’ 57-45 victory in a first-round Vermont Division II playoff game, propelled them into a quarterfinal matchup tomorrow at Burr & Burton. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford point guard Josh Claflin is guarded by Harwood’s Nathaniel Kazlow last night in White River Junction. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Hartford point guard Josh Claflin is guarded by Harwood’s Nathaniel Kazlow last night in White River Junction. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford High guard Chris Bateman, left, looks for a passing lane while being defended by Harwood’s Corey Remick last night. The Hurricanes’ 57-45 victory in a first-round Vermont Division II playoff game, propelled them into a quarterfinal matchup tomorrow at Burr & Burton. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Hartford point guard Josh Claflin is guarded by Harwood’s Nathaniel Kazlow last night in White River Junction. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

White River Junction — Josh Claflin sauntered out of the Hartford High locker room last night wearing a pair of black-rimmed eyeglasses. Although the spectacles are for cosmetic purposes only, the diminutive senior basketball player can see that his Hurricanes are headed in the right direction.

“Last year, we just wanted to win a few games and this year, we’re really working on developing the whole program,’’ said the point guard, who had 12 points as his team defeated visiting Harwood, 57-45, in a Vermont Division II first-round playoff clash. “Having three coaches in three years is something you don’t experience very often. We were never really a family before, and you can’t be successful until you do that.”

Hartford, seeded seventh in the 16-team divisional bracket, advances to play tomorrow afternoon at No. 2 Burr & Burton, which is 18-2. The Hurricanes are 12-9, while No. 10 Harwood ended its season 9-12.

Hartford’s seniors had Mike Gaudette as their varsity coach during their first two seasons, only to have the veteran bench boss step down suddenly before the start of last season, citing health concerns. Junior varsity coach Mike Hathorn guided the Hurricanes the rest of the way, but gave up coaching at the campaign’s end.

Enter Steve Landon, fresh off winning a state title with Hartford’s girls team last winter. His son, Branson, is a Hurricanes junior, and the father knew his new players from years of watching them perform alongside his boy.

“For the program to really turn the corner, it needs the full support of the kids, their parents and people in the community,” Steve Landon said. “If it’s important to all those people, it amazing how quickly that happens.”

Landon’s first step was to establish consistent discipline and a close second was to ramp up the team’s defensive mindset. Last night, the Hurricanes led 35-20 at halftime.

“Giving up 20 points in the first half was a good effort and I liked our intensity out of the gate,’’ Landon said. “We played very well tonight, but we can play better.”

Claflin needed to just be able to play. His kamikaze style of driving the lane resulted in repeated injuries during past winters, so Landon prohibited him from moving below the foul line on offense for much of this season.

“We took that out of his arsenal early,” the coach said. “His game was go to the rim and get dumped on his face, miss the shot and then watch the other team score. Now, he’s a much smarter player who can still get to the rim, but when he does it, he knows he has to recover and get back on defense.”

Said Claflin: “ It was very tough at the beginning and I got yelled at a lot during practice. It definitely slowed the game down for me though, and now I can pick when I want to go to the basket or get a teammate going.”

Also penetrating last night was Taylor Potter, another senior guard, who finished with eight points and was lauded by Landon for his hustle. Shooting guard Cameron Gaudette had 14 points and post player Justin Devoid had nine, despite limping through the second half with a leg injury. Also having a good night inside was Nick Fucci, who had 10 points.

Hartford lost to Burr & Burton by three points on the road and by 10 at home earlier this season but Claflin said his team is disinclined to fill the underdog’s role.

“We’re a road team and we really had them down there,’’ he said. “If we buckle down for four quarters, they’re going to be scared of us.”

Notes: Claflin said he was inspired to don glasses by NBA player Russell Westbrook, who wears frames with no lenses in them as a fashion accessory. … Joe James, Hartford’s athletic director, said his school will play on a refurbished basketball court of a lighter color next season… Landon is the transportation manager for the Harwood school district in South Duxbury and faces a 73-mile commute to get to work each day, a bit west of Montpelier… The Hurricanes and Highlanders hadn’t played each other previously this winter, but Harwood knocked visiting Hartford out of last season’s playoffs during the quarterfinal round.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.