Thetford Academy rallies past Windsor in D-3 title game
BARRE, Vt. — Thetford Academy brought championship game experience and a physical style of play into Saturday's VPA Division 3 girls basketball title game. In the end, the Panthers had the momentum on their side as well as they clawed their way to a stunning 53-52 come-from-behind victory over Windsor at Barre Municipal Auditorium.
The Yellow Jackets nearly had their third state title in the past eight years sewn up when the momentum changed hands. Windsor marched into the fourth quarter with a 43-32 advantage and baskets by freshmen Angelina Bigwood and Olivia Rockwood pushed that lead to 47-32 with 5:44 remaining to play.
Unfortunately for the Jacks, the field goal well went dry over the next five minutes and they managed to make just one of four free throws. By that time, Regan Covey had taken control of the fourth quarter and sparked a 17-1 run to give Thetford a 49-48 edge.
One of the most costly misses was a Rockwood 3-point attempt with 1:21 left in the game that looked like a sure thing as it dropped into the hoop, only to somehow find its way back out. It clearly left Rockwood, and maybe the almost fully-packed Barre Municipal Auditorium, stunned.
“I think the big one was when she took that three and it went in and out, and I thought that was a big basket that didn't go in, didn't drop for us,” said Windsor coach Bruce Mackay. “If that dropped I think we would have been OK.
“I just like how hard my kids competed and how they acted on the court, and they've got to hold their heads high because they played like a champion.”
“I think Windsor played really well most of the game and we kind of hurt ourselves a lot during the first part of the game,” Thetford coach Eric Ward said. “We changed our defense with six minutes left in the game.
“They had the lead and we were just going to go out and do what we can and we isolated Regan as much as possible … and didn't think anybody could stop her inside. She had most of her points in the fourth quarter. It was a great team effort. Everyone worked hard.”
Covey would account for 14 of her team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter and the Yellow Jackets couldn't find an answer to the question about how to stop her.
“She would either go drive the base and we took the base away she turned back inside and we had nobody there on the weak side,” said Mackay. “We talked about it but sometimes talking about and getting the job done is a little hard.
“She's quick and she finishes well, and she gets bumped a little bit, but she finishes well. She's a good player and we didn't have an answer for her down low.”
Mackay also felt Thetford's playoff experience — four consecutive finals — and other factors played into the Panthers' hands.
“We got caught up a little bit with the emotion and they made a couple great transition hoops,” he said, “and we tried to rush it a little bit and that 2-2-1 kind of bothered us some. We tried to beat it sometimes with the dribble instead of passing the ball.”
Even though Covey and company had stolen away the momentum in the fourth quarter, the game's outcome was not yet decided as the final minute was a frenzy of action.
An Ashleay Wilcox steal led to a Bigwood layup for a 50-49 Windsor lead with 42.7 seconds on the clock. Bigwood was also fouled on the play but couldn't convert her free throw.
Less than 20 seconds later, Covey put TA back on top, but when the Panthers' Emily Emerson fouled out with 19 seconds to go it put Rockwood at the stripe. She canned both foul shots for a 52-51 lead.
Thetford would take the possession across mid-court and call a timeout with 12.5 seconds to go and set up a play for Covey. The senior standout took the ball into the paint from the right side, crossed past the front of the basket, spun and put up a left-handed layup to make it 53-52.
Covey was the key to the comeback, scoring 12 of her team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, including the last eight.
Windsor did a nice job rallying out of a 6-point hole in the first period. With her team down 10-4, Rockwood would pop a 3-pointer at 3:47, then knock down a traditional two at 2:30. Seventeen seconds later, Wilcox toed the line and canned both free throws, giving the Jacks their first lead at 11-10. Rockwood, who scored 15 of her game-high 30 points in the period, added treys at 1:36 and :03 to give the No. 1 seed a 17-12 advantage heading into the second quarter.
Wilcox snapped two more free throws in the first minute of the second, pushing the lead to 19-13, Windsor's largest margin of the first half, but the pesky Panthers refused to give in.
Danielle Robinson, Izzy Wilmott and Covey closed the gap to 19-18, but Rockwood fed Anika Abrahamsen for a short jumper and Wilcox hit Rockwood on a fast break for a 23-18 lead.
Again, the Panthers bounced back, this time with Emerson hitting a bucket, then two free throws to make it 23-22.
A Rockwood steal would eventually lead to a Bigwood free throw. Rockwood followed up with a basket on the next possession, then added a pair of free throws for a 28-22 lead as the first half dwindled into its final minute.
Robinson made it a 4-point game moments later, but with 2.4 seconds left in the half, Herschel came up with a steal and drew a foul. She made the second shot for a 29-24 Windsor lead at intermission.
The second half looked like it would go Windsor's way as Wilcox found Abrahamsen open for a short jumper and Covey would draw her third foul of the night shortly afterward.
Bigwood sandwiched a free throw and baseline layup around a Covey free throw, Rockwood followed with a basket, and the Jacks had their first double-digit lead of the game at 36-25.
Following a Thetford timeout and a pair of free throws, Brooke McKeen found Abrahamsen open for two, Covey scored from the baseline, then Rockwood converted a conventional 3-point play for a 41-29 lead at 1:50.
That forced another TA timeout and Covey responded with a free throw and a bucket, but Wilcox hit a shot with 1.5 seconds on the clock, giving Windsor a 43-32 lead heading into the final period.
Despite the heartbreaking finish, the Yellow Jackets had a season to be proud of, finishing with a 20-4 overall record.
“That's a solid team” Mackay said. “I thought my kids played with the heart of a champion tonight. I thought they did everything they possibly could to get the job done and sometimes it doesn't come out your way.”
Windsor will miss its seniors — Wilcox, Abrahamsen, Herschel, Erica and Yvette Gray, and Kylee Williams — but has an impressive nucleus to build around with Rockwood and Bigwood, and a few other sophomores and freshmen.
In addition to Rockwood's 30-point effort, Bigwood, Abrahamsen and Wilcox scored eight, seven and six, respectively.
“We had a great season from where we have been the last couple years,” Mackay said. “We've always been able to compete, but I just think the young freshmen came in and we changed things around. I think it was tough for the upperclassmen to buy into it and when they did I thought they did some great stuff.
“Ashleay Wilcox is a player. Anika and Kaycee worked their butt off down low. Anika was playing with an extremely bad back. I was surprised she lasted as long as she did. She played hard,” Mackay said. “A good group of kids. Did a lot of good things. Program's where it should be and it's going to get better I think. I'm just happy how they played.”