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Williamstown Has Too Much For Thetford in D-3 Finals

  • Dominic Chatot, right, consoles Thetford teammate Ian Weider, middle, following the Panthers’ 63-39 loss to Williamstown. Cole Eastman is at left. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Dominic Chatot, right, consoles Thetford teammate Ian Weider, middle, following the Panthers’ 63-39 loss to Williamstown. Cole Eastman is at left. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford’s Dominic Chatot dives at a loose ball dropped by Williamstown’s Seth Atherton during their VPA Division III championship game last night in Barre, Vt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Thetford’s Dominic Chatot dives at a loose ball dropped by Williamstown’s Seth Atherton during their VPA Division III championship game last night in Barre, Vt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford fans give a cheer for their team, including Andrew Cawley, foreground left, after the game. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Thetford fans give a cheer for their team, including Andrew Cawley, foreground left, after the game. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dominic Chatot, right, consoles Thetford teammate Ian Weider, middle, following the Panthers’ 63-39 loss to Williamstown. Cole Eastman is at left. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Thetford’s Dominic Chatot dives at a loose ball dropped by Williamstown’s Seth Atherton during their VPA Division III championship game last night in Barre, Vt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Thetford fans give a cheer for their team, including Andrew Cawley, foreground left, after the game. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Barre, Vt. — Doff your hat to the Williamstown Blue Devils, by far and away the best Division III boys basketball team in Vermont this winter.

Duff it, too, if you’d rather.

With Devin Duff lighting up second-ranked Thetford for a game-high 22 points, the top-seeded Blue Devils rolled to a 63-39 win over the Panthers for their second consecutive D-III title at the Barre Auditorium last night. That Duff did the most damage was only a matter of circumstance.

After going 16-7 in recording last year’s championship win over Rivendell, the Blue Devils (23-0) ran the table for their second straight. Williamstown’s big bodies denied Thetford (19-5) any sort of inside game, while the champs’ guards forced a pace that was took quick for the Panthers to match.

Jason Manwaring followed with 14 points for Williamstown. Sophomore Brandon Gray finished with a team-high 11 for Thetford.

“I thought, the second quarter, we actually got some shots that we needed to hit, shots that we wanted to get,” a hoarse Thetford coach Justin Smith said. “We just didn’t make them.

“Duff hit a couple of 3s straight on; Jason Manwaring hit a couple of tough shots. Once we got behind, they dictated a style and tempo that we really didn’t want to play against.”

The Panthers did well to erase Williamstown’s first bid to gain control. They were helpless to stop the second.

Transition play and offensive rebounding started the Devils toward an early 10-2 lead. Duff drained a 3-pointer inside three baskets from second chances, something Thetford slowed with its own aggressive play on the glass.

With Williamstown sitting in a 2-3 zone, TA dropped 3-pointers from Dominic Chatot and Ian Weider (seven points apiece) to start a 10-1 run to close the first quarter. Aiden Cleaves sank two free throws and Gray converted his own miss for a 12-11 lead. It seemed good things were on the way.

“We wanted to play a little slower pace,” Smith said. “We hit a couple of shots against that zone. Then, all of a sudden, we went cold.”

When the Blue Devils bolted in the second period, Thetford had no answer.

Manwaring and fellow big bodies Kyle Laughlin and Hunter McLaughlin challenged every Cleaves attempt to go strong to the hoop. The Devils raced back on fast breaks, denying the Panthers the potential for easy baskets. In all, Thetford missed its first 10 shots of the period, and the Devils blocked two more.

Duff also extended his damage at the other end of the floor. Owner of the game’s first two buckets, Duff added three more on a 13-0 Williamstown run that ended only when Gray notched a breakaway layup with 30 seconds left in the half.

Williamstown’s Garrett Poulin snuck inside Chatot for a reverse layup to close the half, giving the Devils a 26-14 cushion.

“They’re united when they play together; they’re not selfish players,” Williamstown coach Jack Carrier said. “We work hard on our defensive end. Our defense we try to turn back into offense. We’ve got some scorers, we’ve got rebounders, we’ve got some defenders, we’ve got people who work hard every day at practice.

“When they’re practicing against each other, everyone is getting better because they’re challenged in every different direction.”

Duff and his teammates dusted any TA hopes for a second-half rally quickly after action resumed.

Laughlin, Williamstown’s Mohawk-coiffed center, powered through traffic for an opening putback. Duff followed a Gray reverse layup with a 3-point bomb — the last of his four on the night — and a three-point play after putting back a Manwaring miss. Manwaring made amends with a three-point play of his own on Williamstown’s next touch.

A Chatot layup and a Cleaves putback left TA trailing, 37-21, with 4:35 left in the third. The Devils put the contest away at that point, scoring 11 straight points to close the stanza and 13 of the first 17 in the final period.

“He fell off the radar for a couple of games, but he had a big game against Blue Mountain with 41 points,” Carrier said of Duff, normally a 15-points-per-game complement. “Double-digit rebounding, double-digit scoring all year long.”

Thetford went from an 8-12 squad that entered last winter’s D-III tourney as an underdog to one that handled a tough Capital League schedule with aplomb this winter. The elements that made the Panthers so good — solid outside shooting accompanying athletic inside play despite limited size — just couldn’t make themselves obvious bathed in Williamstown’s dominance.

“This group, more than any other group that I’ve coached, kind of surprised me at times,” Smith said. “I think, a lot of times, we’re quick to hear about what young students do in a bad way. But I think every one of these student-athletes that I had … they show up to practice, they work hard, they’re super-coachable and they’re very unselfish.

“That’s one of the reasons we got here.”

Free Throws: The loss was Thetford’s second in a boys title game this school year. The Panthers fell to Stowe in November’s D-III boys soccer championship match. … A member of the Williamstown program passed out 32-page media guides in the press box that offered detailed information on all of the school’s basketball teams, right down to seventh grade and a concession stand menu. … Thetford students tried singing Happy Birthday to Weider in warm-ups, but Williamstown students drowned them out. … TA graduates Chatot, Weider, Cleaves, Andrew Cawley and Cole Eastman.

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

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