Hazen outscores Thetford basketball in boys D-III semifinal


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-10-2023 11:26 PM

BARRE, Vt. — Nearly a month after Hazen star Tyler Rivard torched the Thetford Academy boys basketball team for 40 points, the Panthers limited him to six in Thursday night’s VPA Division III semifinal.

By giving the 6-foot-4 post player an inordinate amount of attention, however, No. 3 seed Thetford left itself exposed to the rest of the second-seeded Wildcats’ offense, which proved it could be just as potent in a 66-43 victory at Barre Auditorium.

“We focused almost too much on him, and we didn’t focus on the shooters,” said Jacob Gilman, the Panthers’ lone senior. “If he got down low, we would just crash him, and it seemed to work, but our rotation wasn’t quick enough to get out on those shooters.”

Rivard scored the game’s first points on a layup just seven seconds after the opening tip — and was held scoreless from there until the fourth quarter. Thetford (16-6) jumped out to an early 10-4 lead before Hazen (20-3) ripped off a 12-0 run to end the first quarter up by six.

The Wildcats continued their defensive clinic in the second, clogging every passing lane, contesting every shot and holding the Panthers to seven points in the period to go up 31-17 at the half. Brendan Moodie, Hazen’s shortest player at 5-foot-7, led the Wildcats with 19 points, including three of their six 3-pointers. Gabriel Michaud added 16 off the bench, and Xavier Hill chipped in with 13.

“They’re a team that’s mature, and they’re up in your shorts,” Thetford coach Jason Gray said. “We have to figure out a way to get our shooters open and take care of the ball and figure out how to get the ball where it needs to be and be confident with our shots.”

Hazen extended the lead to 20 points early in the third quarter before the Panthers pulled back a bit with an 11-3 run. Junior Mitchell Parkman, whose 19 points led Thetford, keyed that spurt, but no other Panther finished with more than five points.

A somewhat undersized Thetford team was also outrebounded, 38-24, with Rivard pulling down 13 boards.

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“I told (Parkman) his job is to give Rivard a run for his money, keep him off the boards, make sure the ball doesn’t get in his hands,” Gray said. “And offensively, it will come to him, and it did. He was good, he worked hard, he scored the ball when he needed to. Other than that, we ran out of gas and we couldn’t really put the ball in the hoop.”

The Panthers, who made four straight semifinals appearances prior to last year — including back-to-back championships in 2019 and 2020 — tumbled to a 4-16 season in 2021-22 but bounced back immediately with just one senior and two juniors on the roster.

The sophomore class, led by Boone Fahey, Dempsey McGovern, Hunter Clay and Dillon Vance, took a huge step forward this winter to help lead Thetford back to what has become its second home.

With four starters back next year, the Panthers will be among the preseason favorites in Division III as they look to win a third title under Gray, a 2009 Thetford graduate who reached the finals twice as a player but never hoisted the trophy.

“This team is young and athletic,” Gray said. “We’re not the most talented team in the state, but we worked our butts off every day. I can’t thank the guys enough; they make my job easy. We’ll get in the gym this summer and get some shots up, and we’ll be be better and come back firing.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.