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Oxbow Stuns Rivendell in Playoff Opener

  • Oxbow's Jillian Smith.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2018 12:08:11 AM
Modified: 3/1/2018 12:08:16 AM

Orford — Once again, the Oxbow High girls basketball team is moving on in the Vermont Division III playoffs at the expense of neighboring rival Rivendell Academy — and this one came down to the final possession.

The No. 11 Olympians used a stellar second half to build a 13-point advantage, then staved off a furious rally by the No. 6 Raptors in the final minutes to hang on for a 39-36 win.

Oxbow (8-13) avenged a pair regular-season losses against Rivendell and improved to 4-0 all-time against the Raptors in the postseason, upsetting them in the first round in Orford for the second straight year.

The O’s advance to a Saturday afternoon quarterfinal at No. 3 Windsor, a 65-36 winner over No. 14 Williamstown in the bracket’s other first-round game.

Rivendell finishes the year 16-5.

Kaysea Neil and Jill Smith scored 10 points each for Oxbow, which led 36-25 before Rivendell’s 13-3 run in the final 3 minutes and 15 seconds.

It wasn’t quite enough as Olympian senior point guard Bailee Wheeler — the defensive star of the game — hit one of two free throws with two seconds remaining, and Raptor senior Mikayla DeBois’ game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer hit the back iron.

The Raptors had scored seven quick points during the final minute, six on a pair of 3-pointers by freshman Cora Day, who scored a game-high 15 points on five 3s. Oxbow had one turnover during that stretch but protected the ball during the final seconds, highlighted when Neil forced a held ball during a frantic scramble for a rebound.

Possession Olympians, who were able to dribble the ball until Wheeler was fouled with two ticks remaining.

“It was a lot of pressure, a crazy finish,” Oxbow coach Barry Emerson said. “I think the fact that we were able to do just enough to win says a lot about the way the team has matured during the season.”

The O’s had been blown out in the season opener on the same floor, 50-9, and lost to the Raptors by 10 in Bradford in late December. Rivendell seniors Riley Thomson and DeBois scored 18 points each in the second regular-season meeting, but combined for just 14 on Wednesday.

Thomson, a career 1,000-point scorer averaging 15.1 points per game coming in, was virtually neutralized in a one-on-one matchup against Wheeler. Part of Oxbow’s matchup zone scheme, Wheeler held Thomson to just four points until she escaped to drain two outside jumpers during the Raptors’ late rally.

“We wanted to just get in their face and make them uncomfortable on their home court,” Wheeler said. “We wanted to get in their head with the way we played defense.”

Both teams struggled to score for most of the night and were turnover-plagued, but Oxbow improved its prospects with a 33-27 rebounding advantage, 18-11 in the first half.

Rivendell led 7-2 early before a 6-0 Oxbow run gave it the lead. The Raptors responded with 3s by Thomson and Day, but more turnovers came as the O’s finished the half on an 8-0 run: a three-point play by sophomore Tiffany Longmoore and five straight points by Smith, who reached double figures for just the second time of her career and added a game-high nine rebounds.

“We really didn’t want this to be our last game,” said Smith, one of three Oxbow seniors, including injured guard Shirley Hayward. “We wanted to get back at them for the regular season.”

Rivendell coach Hank Tenney said his team suffered from a lack of execution.

“We couldn’t hit our shots for the first three quarters and didn’t play the way we practiced,” said Tenney, who started two freshmen, Day and Adele Tilden, who’d each spent much of the season playing for Rivendell’s junior varsity squad. “We knew we needed to have more scorers for this game, but we didn’t hit shots or set picks, and we didn’t rebound.

“Credit (Emerson) for a great game plan, but that’s what we were expecting from them. The difference was they hit some big shots. We were still able to make it a one-possession game at the end, but we didn’t play our game until then.”

Oxbow had no turnovers in the third quarter and outscored the hosts in the period, 12-6. A 3-pointer each by Day and Tilden kept it 20-19 for the Olympians, but Oxbow finished the quarter with 3s by Neil and Smith sandwiched around a feed from Maddie Fornwalt to Neil for a layup.

A putback by Neil and baskets by Longmoore and Wheeler gave the O’s their largest lead of the night, 34-21, with 6:30 remaining. It was an unfamiliar position for a team that had lost five straight to end the regular season, all against opponents in the formidable Capital League.

“When we got it up to 11, 13 points in the fourth quarter, it’s not something we’ve dealt with a lot,” Smith said. “It was a little hard on our heads to play smart down the stretch, but still play our strategy.”

Wheeler assisted to Longmoore to make it 36-25 before Rivendell’s late charge. Knowing her season was on the line, Thomson delivered 3s on back-to-back Raptor possessions.

Day hit two more quick 3s, the first after her own missed free throw when Thomson gathered the rebound and found her on the wing to make it 37-33.

Day drained her fifth 3 soon after a Rivendell steal to make it a one-point game, and Oxbow’s Melanie Neil drained one of two free throws. The Raptors misfired with a chance to tie it and Kaysea Neil’s hustle play forced the held ball to give Oxbow possession with 14 seconds left.

Wheeler missed the first free throw with two seconds left, and Tenney called timeout. If the coach had icing the shooter in mind, it didn’t work as the senior sank the second to force DeBois’ ultimately unsuccessful 3-point attempt for the tie.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.




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