Panthers Win Title Rematch

  • Thetford's Namya Benjamin.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/28/2018 12:00:41 AM
Modified: 12/28/2018 12:00:53 AM

Thetford — If only the Thetford Academy and Windsor High girls basketball teams could play all of their games against each other. We’d surely see a full season of nailbiters.

Thetford sophomore Namya Benjamin netted a team-high 16 points and senior Lily Brown hit three of four free throws in the final 38.8 seconds of the game to help the Panthers top Windsor in a back-and-forth 52-49 contest at Vaughan Alumni Gymnasium on Thursday night.

The game was the latest in an ongoing rivalry between the two teams that includes meetings in the last two VPA Division III finals. Windsor defeated Thetford by 17 points in last year’s D-III championship while the Panthers came out on top, 53-52, in the 2017 title match.

It also was yet another reminder to the nearly 200 in attendance that you’d still probably have better luck splitting hairs than comparing the two squads.

“The last three games, we’ve played teams that aren’t as good as Windsor. The score indicated that,” Thetford coach Eric Ward said. “We need to be playing this type of team a lot to get us better. Windsor’s good; Olivia (Rockwood) is great. ... It’s great for the kids to get a win tonight. It’s a confidence booster.”

“I just think the competition is so fun,” added Benjamin, who played on junior varsity as a TA freshman last year. “Everyone on the Windsor team is so good. It just makes us want to play better. I think that’s the fun part.”

The contest was near even from the jump.

Thetford (4-1) built a 10-5 lead midway through the first quarter before Windsor’s offense found its form. The Yellowjackets (4-1) scored two 3-pointers — the first by Alyssa Slocum, the second by Rockwood — in a 12-second span to give Windsor the lead, 12-10, with 25 seconds remaining in the quarter.

That momentum carried over into the second, with Windsor building a seven-point lead before Thetford answered with a run of its own. Benjamin scored four of the Panthers’ final nine points of the half, and Ellen Veracka sank a field goal with 14 seconds remaining to help the hosts pull even, 24-24, at the intermission.

“We came out in the first few minutes playing really good basketball,” Ward said. “Then we had an eight- or nine-minute stretch where we were out of sorts. ... The last three minutes of the half, we played good basketball. I think the kids settled in.”

Back-to-back threes by Thetford’s Kiana Johnson and Grace Davis helped the Panthers pull away in the third quarter, taking a 41-36 lead into the final stanza. Six straight points by Windsor in the fourth, capped by a Reese Perry bucket, pulled the game even once again, 42-42, with 4:42 remaining. The lead changed hands two more times before the final buzzer, the last on a basket and foul shot by Benjamin minutes later for a 47-44 TA lead.

Windsor twice cut the gap to a point but never tied the game again. The Jacks had the ball with 11.8 seconds to go, but Thetford’s Lily Brown came up with a steal on the inbounds pass and was fouled. She sank both of her free throws to seal the deal.

“We were doing some good things,” said Windsor head coach Bruce Mackay, whose team defeated Thetford, 47-39, in the season opener for both teams on Dec. 12. “We came out after halftime like we’ve been doing all year long. We did not play well in the third quarter. We got down by eight or 10, came back. We did some good things, but we dug ourselves a hole. We got into foul trouble. Our rotation wasn’t good.”

Johnson netted 11 points for Thetford in her fifth game since joining the squad from Chelsea High. Rockwood, who scored her 1,000th career point earlier this month, led all scorers with 19 points.

“I liked how my kids battled,” Mackay said. “(The Panthers are) a good team. They haven’t been to Barre eight years in a row for nothing. Every year, we seem to split in the regular season and face each other in Barre, hopefully. I believe that team will be there and, I’ll be honest, I think we’ll be there.”

The shame, Ward said, is that these two teams don’t meet a little closer to the postseason.

“We’re going to be an entirely different team (in February),” he said. “In the last three years, they’ve beat us the first time, we’ve beat them the second time, then we meet in Barre. Whether it’s going to happen this year or not, we’ll find out.”

Windsor travels to Mill River on Saturday; Thetford travels to Rivendell next Thursday.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at or 603-727-3306.

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