Thetford, Windsor to renew VPA D-III girls basketball championship rivalry

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-03-2023 7:36 PM

BARRE, Vt. — The Windsor High girls basketball team absorbed Peoples Academy’s best punch and hit back twice as hard.

After holding the Wolves to two points in the first quarter of Thursday night’s VPA Division III semifinal at Barre Auditorium, the top-seeded Yellowjackets allowed Peoples star Shelby Wells to put up a combined 28 in the second and third as their lead, once as large as 15 points, completely evaporated.

But Windsor found itself again in the fourth, scoring 11 straight points to retake control and secure a 54-42 victory, punching its ticket to Saturday night’s title game.

They’ll face a familiar foe there: No. 3 Thetford, which routed No. 2 Hazen, 60-32, in the night’s other semi.

“I told them they needed to keep their heads, and we should never expect it to be easy,” Yellowjackets coach Kabray Rockwood said. “They went on a run; now it’s a basketball game. We just need to stay the course.”

As it has all season, defending state champion Windsor (20-2) relied on the core of sophomore guards Sophia Rockwood and Audrey Rupp and junior forward Sydney Perry, who combined for 50 of the Yellowjackets’ 54 points. Trailing for the first time all game to start the fourth quarter, Windsor went inside to Perry for a layup plus the foul, turning a one-point deficit into a two-point lead.

Back-to-back 3-pointers and a steal leading to another layup by Rupp soon followed, and all of a sudden the Yellowjackets had stretched the lead back to 10. They outscored the No. 5 seed Wolves 15-2 in the fourth — Peoples’ score by quarter read 2-21-17-2.

“We started playing better help defense, because that’s what we struggled with (earlier),” Perry said. “We just weren’t helping each other out on defense. It’s part of the atmosphere of being in Barre, that loud crowd, and you still have to focus on everything that’s going on on the court. By the end, we started to tune it out and focused in.”

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Windsor got off to a near-perfect start, especially defensively, with Rupp blocking a shot on the game’s first possession. She then hit her first of four 3-pointers to open the scoring, and Rockwood drilled a pair of left-corner threes to open up the lead. When sophomore guard Brianna Barton knocked in a 3-pointer of her own on the first possession of the second quarter, the Yellowjackets were on top 16-2.

But then Wells, who was held to seven points in the Wolves’ quarterfinal win over White River Valley, began heating up. It started innocently enough — a short jumper here, a driving layup there — but her first 3-pointer of the night gave her 15 points at halftime, though Windsor still led by nine.

Wells stayed hot in the third, with her fourth 3-pointer of the night tying the game at 38 in the final minute of the period. An off-balance jumper seconds later gave Peoples (15-8) a stunning 40-39 lead heading into the fourth.

“We haven’t had a scorer go off like that (against us),” Kabray Rockwood said. “She could have thrown that ball up from half court and it was going in. She played lights out. All kudos to her for willing her team deep into that game.”

But Wells and the Wolves’ offense ground to a screeching halt the moment that final period began. Rockwood and Rupp took turns guarding Wells, and freshman forward Kemari Wildgoose came up with a huge steal against the Peoples star during the Yellowjackets’ fourth-quarter surge.

Sophia Rockwood led Windsor with 20 points and five rebounds, Rupp finished with 16 points and two steals, and Perry put up 14 points and 14 rebounds to go along with three assists and three steals. Wildgoose may have only scored one point, but she was a major factor on the offensive boards and on the defensive end.

“We need a little better defensive focus; we need to be a little bit more composed on offense,” Kabray Rockwood said. “We need to get some rest, because that took a lot out of us. The crowd was great, atmosphere was great. Barre always brings out the best in everybody.”

Thetford 60, Hazen 32

The No. 3 seed Panthers scored the game’s first nine points and never looked back, cruising to a romp over the No. 2 seed Wildcats to set up a date with Windsor for the D-III championship.

Hazen, which had won 20 straight games since an opening-night loss, looked more than a step behind offensively, turning the ball over 15 times in the first half, and Thetford (18-5) pounced. Junior Kelsey Bogie banked in a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game, and a putback by senior Madi Mousley made it a 5-0 lead after 40 seconds. Two midrange jumpers by junior Charlize Brown forced a Wildcats timeout just 2½ minutes in.

“Our team is an incredible team. Everybody contributes an amazing amount of effort, so I did expect this outcome for us,” Brown said. “I came into this game knowing that we are such a strong, impactful team when we work together. We were excited for the idea that Hazen is the higher seed and has a better record, and that fueled us.”

Five quick points for Hazen narrowed the Panthers’ lead to 20-16 early in the second quarter, but the Wildcats would never get anywhere near that close again. Junior Addie Cadwell threaded the needle to Brown for a 3-point play to kick-start a 12-0 run, and the lead just kept growing in the second half. Hazen scored just three points in the third, after which Thetford led by 23.

Brown led the Panthers with a season-high 20 points, Cadwell added 16 and Mousley chipped in with 12. Thetford was a regular in Barre under the late Eric Ward — who was honored with a pregame moment of silence — but this was the first time playing at the Aud even for the Panthers’ seniors.

“All of us grew up watching Thetford come here and dominate, and all of us wanted to come up and do that,” Cadwell said.

Thetford and Windsor met twice in the regular season, with the Yellowjackets coming from behind for a 53-41 road win on Dec. 20, 2022 and picking up a 56-42 victory at home on Jan. 24. The teams will be renewing a playoff rivalry in Saturday’s final — they met in back-to-back championship games in 2017 and 2018, with each team winning one, and the Panthers defeated Windsor in the semifinals in 2019.

“This is just a game of basketball. We’ve done it a million times,” Brown said. “Some of us have done it for 10 years. It’s no different just because it’s Windsor. That doesn’t change who we are.”

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

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