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No. 8 Oxbow continues Cinderella run, advances to D-III final

  • Oxbow's Kaysea Neil dribbles toward the basket during the VPA Division III girls basketball semifinal against Green Mountain at Barre City Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oxbow's Emma Parkin tries to pass around Green Mountain's Maya Lewis (5) and Anne Lamson during the VPA Division III girls basketball semifinal at Barre City Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oxbow's Mariah Shumway fights for the ball with Green Mountain's Maya Lewis during the VPA Division III girls basketball semifinal at Barre City Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oxbow coaches Heidi Wright, Shawn French and Barry Emerson begin to cheer with their team as the VPA Division III girls basketball semifinal against Green Mountain nearly ends at Barre City Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Oxbow won, 40-33. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Oxbow team embraces and cries joyful tears after winning the VPA Division III girls basketball semifinal against Green Mountain at Barre City Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Oxbow won, 40-33. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Oxbow team embraces and cries joyful tears after winning the VPA Division III girls basketball semifinal against Green Mountain at Barre City Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Oxbow won, 40-33. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Sports Editor
Thursday, March 07, 2019

BARRE, Vt. — At some point during the national anthem, the members of the Oxbow High girls basketball team began swinging their arms.

The anthem has no discernable rhythm, so it wasn’t a case of the Olympians trying to match it. Just 13 girls clad in purple, hands held, silent, one unit at once still and in motion. A team.

And an adequately self-assured team can accomplish anything.

“They’re confident right now,” Oxbow coach Barry Emerson said after his eighth-seeded Olympians posted a 40-33 upset of No. 5 Green Mountain in a VPA Division III semifinal at Barre Auditorium on Thursday night. “They’re confident in their ability. They’re confident in what they’re doing. And we’ve been lacking that a little bit this season.”

That’s a product of the Olympians’ tough Capital Division schedule, one that sent Oxbow (10-13) to the postseason riding a five-game losing streak.

But even that slide produced the spark of confidence that now has the O’s readying for Saturday’s championship game, the 23rd in the program’s illustrious history.

Oxbow defended its way to the win, getting key points from freshman Emma Parkin and senior Kaysea Neil when the points were most needed.

“Oh my god, it’s crazy,” said Parkin, who finished with a team-high 10 points. “I wouldn’t be here without my teammates. I just love them so much.”

This Oxbow edition is the lowest-seeded in program history to book a championship game date. According to Vermont high school sports historian Paul Stanfield, the Olympians are the first No. 8 seed to make the D-III final as well.

Oxbow turned the tide with its second-half defense. The O’s scored the final nine points of the third quarter to turn a 23-20 deficit into a 29-23 lead and never trailed again.

Parkin started the charge by putting back a Neil miss with 3:30 left in the third. After a turnover by Green Mountain (16-6), Parkin scored on a give-and-go penetration move to give Oxbow the lead. Lauren Wright sank a short jumper for her only hoop of the night, and Tiffany Longmoore drilled a long-bomb 3-pointer to send the O’s confidently into the game’s final eight minutes.

“We worked our butts off,” said Neil, who had eight points. “Our last game (last Friday’s quarterfinal upset of No. 1 Hazen), we came together as one. Normally, we don’t do that.”

The Chieftains never put enough together against Oxbow’s fourth-quarter defense to mount much of a comeback. Rachel Guerra sank a pull-up 3-pointer with 1:27 left to bring GM to within 35-33, but Oxbow hit enough late free throws to pull away.

“We kind of mixed it up a little bit; we did both zone and man just to see how they would handle it,” Parkin said. “Zone really worked out for us. We defeated Hazen with zone, and we just knew that we could play it.”

Oxbow kept a close eye on GM point guard Paige Karl in the opening quarter, limiting her to just one shot attempt — off her own steal — until the senior took the bench in the final minute. Fellow senior Anne Lamson (12 points) picked up the slack, however, Hitting the Chieftains’ first three buckets for an 11-7 lead at the intermission buzzer.

With Karl curtailed, the Olympians grabbed their first lead by scoring the first seven points of the second period, on a Kaysea Neil hoop and free throws from three teammates. Although unable to put the ball in the hoop, Karl did help the Chiefs late with a rebounds, a pair of steals and assists on baskets from Madison Wilson and Guerra, the latter a 3-pointer that left the contest tied 18-18 at the half.

At the outset of the season, Emerson maintained that the Olympians were ready to move up the D-III ladder. The early results — five wins in their first eight starts — backed that up.

The Capital Division drumbeat took its toll over the second half of the schedule. Oxbow managed only wins Williamstown and Montpelier after Jan. 14, and what appeared to be momentum seemed to be fading.

Emerson found a silver lining in a 58-37 loss to Thetford on Feb. 21. The O’s stayed within a point of the perennial powerhouse Panthers at halftime, and that told the Oxbow coach his girls would be just fine.

“They’re a top team in this division, and we played right with them for a solid half of basketball,” Emerson said. “We got some confidence out of that.”

It has carried over ever since.

After seven straight Oxbow misses, Neil sank a foul shot with 55.8 seconds left and followed it with three more late. The defense denied the Chieftains good shots in the final minute and a half.

Oxbow’s Arianna Bolles corraled the final miss, held the ball until the buzzer, then joined her teammates in a midcourt hug-fest.

One team, together, confident — and moving on.

Notes: On a team without stars, Kaysea Neil stood out thanks to an elaborate tattoo that ran from her left shoulder to her left elbow. She said it’s something she had done in October to honor her grandmother. ... GM starter Hannah Buffum went down in a collision with Oxbow’s Bolles and two Chieftain teammates just 16 seconds into the contest. Already playing with a brace on her right ankle, Buffum didn’t return and was seen hobbling up the stairs for the second half with the same ankle wrapped in ice. … The Chieftains were making just their second Barre Auditorium visit in program history, having made the D-III semis in 1982. ... Oxbow made the Aud for the first time in five years. The program now owns a 23-6 all-time mark in state semifinals and will be looking for its 14th state championship on Saturday night at the Aud.

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