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Repeat performance: Thetford retains VPA D-III boys basketball championship

  • Thetford Academy Coach Jason Gray gives his team a last word before they take the court against Enosburg in the Division III championship at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alex Emerson, of Thetford Academy, drives in for a shot against Enosburg in the Division III championship at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alex Emerson, of Thetford Academy, celebrates after sinking a shot against Enosburg in the Division III championship at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jackson Ransom, of Thetford Academy, evens the score at 11 on a breakaway against Enosburg in the Division III championship at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thetford Academy students fan the bench as the Panthers gather after the first quarter against Enosburg in the Division III championship at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Saturday, March 7, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alex Emerson, right, hugs Thetford Academy teammate Eli Dunnet after winning the Division III championship against Enosburg at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Satruday, March 7, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/7/2020 10:30:58 PM
Modified: 3/11/2020 2:45:05 PM

BARRE, Vt. — The Thetford Academy boys basketball team captured its second consecutive VPA Division III state title on Saturday night as the No. 7 seed Panthers defeated No. 4 Enosburg, 54-44, at Barre Auditorium.

Junior Ryen Wolf scored a season-high 19 points, Jackson Ransom had 13 points and Alex Emerson added 11 points for the Panthers, who now have five titles in school history. TA improved to 5-5 in state finals all-time, adding to championships in 1994, 2002, 2004 and 2019.

“When you’re on such a big stage, you have to come out with heart,” said TA coach Jason Gray, who graduated from the school in 2009. “Belief that you can win, put the ball in the hoop and play disciplined.”

TA trailed, 11-5, only five minutes into the game, but a Wolf jumper brought the Panthers within four points with 2 minutes, 40 seconds to play in the first quarter. Baskets from Eli Dunnet and Ransom in the final 90 seconds of the first stanza tied the game, 11-11, entering the second quarter.

The Panthers turned the ball over only once in the second quarter as they outscored Enosburg, 13-8, to take a 24-19 halftime lead.

The Hornets clawed back into the game in the third quarter, shooting 4-of-4 from the free-throw line and outscoring TA, 15-10.

Entering the fourth quarter, TA and Enosburg (13-11) were tied at 34. Knowing the Panthers’ season was on the line, Emerson told his teammates they only had eight minutes left to win a state championship. 

TA (14-10) responded to Emerson in quick fashion, opening the final quarter on an 11-2 charge over the span of 2:53. Eamon Deffner knocked down a free throw and jumper, Emerson made a free throw, Wolf made a pair of free throws and had a layup, and Ransom converted a 3-point play. 

The run completely shifted the course of the game and shifted any momentum for the Hornets over to TA. By the time Enosburg coach Chad Lovelette called timeout with 4:26 remaining, the Thetford crowd erupted. 

“We had trouble running our offense in the first and second quarter because nobody wanted to touch the ball,” Emerson said. “Patience was key. We either slow it down and take care of the ball, or we go home.”

TA had attempted only one shot from the charity stripe entering the fourth quarter but finished the game shooting 13-of-17 from the free-throw line. The Panthers were 3-of-6 from beyond the arc on the night and grabbed 17 defensive rebounds to go with four offensive boards. 

The most telling stat of the night was TA’s 10 turnovers. After four came in the first quarter, they turned it over just once in the second, twice in the third and three times in the fourth. 

The ball security, along with patience late in the game, had the Panthers walking out of the Aud on Saturday night with a victory. 

“This one feels different,” said Deffner, a senior. “The first one, I just really couldn’t believe. I was just so surprised. This one, we knew coming into the playoffs that we had to play well for four games.”

Notes: Thetford donned black, long-sleeve T-shirts in pregame that read “Journey to the Tourney — Panther Style.” … The Panthers will lose eight seniors to graduation: Emerson, Deffner, Alan Xi, Zac Beland, Kodiak Shepard, Ty Clay, Kobe Pierson and Gavin Lanctot. … Emerson plans to join the Marines. … TA’s mascot, the panther, made an appearance and joined the student section for the beginning of the game. The cat had bulging gold eyes. … TA’s girls basketball team will be making a trip to the Aud this week, too, as it takes on rival Windsor in the D-III semifinals on Thursday night. Tip is set for 8:15 p.m.

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.




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