BARRE — Jake Colby scored 22 points and Alex Emerson added 20 as No. 3 Thetford withstood an early burst and came from behind to clinch the Vermont Division III boys basketball championship with Saturday’s 73-64 victory over No.1 Williamstown.
It was Williamstown’s eighth-straight appearance in the D-III title game. The familiarity of playing in Barre guided the Blue Devils in the direction of another crown as they built a 16-4 lead.
“We hit some deep shots and were definitely on fire from the 3-point line,” Williamstown coach Jack Carrier said. “We moved the ball pretty well and got some good looks. We knew Thetford wasn’t going to go away though. And that it was going to be a battle for all 32 minutes. We thought they might fight back and unfortunately we made some bad decisions in key situations.”
One of the key situations Carrier mentioned was the technical foul assessed to Williamstown’s Garrett Metcalf midway through the fourth quarter.
With Williamstown down 55-50, Metcalf was hit with his fifth foul of the game and as he made his way from the court and walked into a Thetford player. The Panthers player ended up on the floor and Metcalf was whistled for the foul. At the other end, Colby made both free throws and the Blue Devils never fully recovered.
At the time of the call Williamstown had plenty of time on the clock as they continued to grind forward. But the play emboldened the Panthers as the Blue Devils were unable to regroup.
Williamstown’s Jacob Tassie led the way with a game-high 25 points. Tyler Orton (14 points), Ryan O’Neill (12 points) and Colby Gingras (11 points) also reached-double figures for Williamstown. Eli Dunnet (14 points) and Owen Deffner (10 points) added balance for Thetford.
The Blue Devils used a 13-2 run to start the game as Orton, Tassie and Gingras all dropped 3-pointers in the first four minutes. Tassie found O’Neil for an easy lay-in to make it 13-2. Thetford responded with a mini-run of its own, capped by two Deffner free throws that made it 16-10. Not to be outdone, Orton made another 3-pointer to keep Williamstown up 19-10 after one.
“We knew Williamstown was going to come out hot,” Colby said. “They’re an extremely good shooting team. We managed to be able to overcome their run and hold them off a bit — weather the storm. We had to keep playing our game and let them fire away. We wanted to keep the ball under control and play at our pace.”
Colby opened the second with a 3-pointer, closing the gap to 19-15. Tassie answered with a 3-pointer of his own. A kind bounce off the rim for Deffner managed to keep Thetford close with the deficit at 22-20. On the next possession Dunnet scored for Thetford to tie it at 22. The teams traded 3-pointers to set up a 25-25 score.
Williamstown’s Ethan Robie drove the baseline and dished off a shovel pass for O’Neill who made a basket and added a foul shot. Colby beat the buzzer with a deep 3-pointer to give the Panthers a 28-27 edge at the half.
“We wanted to play our game and not rush it,” Colby said. “All year we’ve been a pretty balanced scoring team, and three of our starters have averaged in double-figures. We knew that if we could keep it close and not let them put a big run on us, we’d have a good chance to finish strong.”
Dunnet opened the second half with a nice spin on the baseline for a 30-27 lead. A determined drive from Tassie opened up space for Gingras, who scored and made a free throw to knot the score at 30. The teams continued trading baskets and the lead through a furious third quarter. Thetford led 46-45 headed to the fourth.
Dunnet opened the final quarter with a basket to make it 48-45 and then the teams traded baskets once more. A 13-footer from Colby gave the Panthers a 55-50 lead. Metcalf fouled out on the next possession, with the technical foul call giving Colby a pair of free throw attempts. He made both for a 57-50 lead.
From there on out Williamstown was forced to press and foul.
The Panthers managed to hold them off at the charity stripe to secure the victory.
“We were down by a lot in the first quarter to a tremendous team,” Thetford coach Jason Gray said. “I kept telling the boys that even if we got down, to keep fighting. They told me before the season that they wanted it and came back full-force all season. When we were playing through the year we would have a different guy step up in each game. We got big games all year from everybody. They’re super-great kids who just worked exceptionally hard. It came down to free throws, so to come out and knock them down made it a great win.”
Thetford finishes with a record of 17-5. Williamstown finishes at 18-5.