BARRE — A recharged Oxbow side nearly stunned Thetford on Saturday but the Panthers held on for a 42-36 victory in the Division III girls basketball championship.
The No. 8 Olympians were massive underdogs against the No. 2 Panthers and fell behind 16-3 before threatening to pull off an upset. During the regular season, Thetford easily swept Oxbow, prevailing 67-22 and 58-37. It was a totally different scenario at the Barre Aud, with Oxbow’s defense frustrating a Panthers team that was making its sixth straight title appearance. But Thetford claimed its third title in six years by sinking enough foul shots at the end to follow up titles from 2014 and 2017.
“We won the championship by how we played all year,” Thetford coach Eric Ward said. “We put ourselves in position to do this. It’s a special group and they made me smile every day.”
All of Thetford’s players were on the school’s soccer team that won its second straight crown last fall. Emi Vaughan, Ellen Veracka, Lily MacVeagh, Grace Davis, Casey MacVeagh, Lily Brown and Abby Berard won back-to-back soccer titles with the Panthers. Becca Wells, Namya Benjamin and Kelsey Smith joined the soccer squad this year along with Chelsea transfers Kiana Johnson and Emma Colby.
“We’re a basketball team, but we’re more of a family,” Ward said. “And that’s why we’ve had so much consistency the past few years. Sometimes things don’t go well in the game, but we work things out. They played as a team this year. And it’s a team that won the championship.”
Casey MacVeagh scored a team-high 13 points for Thetford (20-2). Davis and Johnson added 10 points apiece. Emma Parkin paced the balanced Olympians (10-14) with seven points.
“Casey had a career night and she kept us in the game,” Ward said. “Namya played great against Windsor but she rolled her ankle, so she didn’t play as many minutes tonight and we had to change our rotations.”
Oxbow wore the Cinderella slippers after securing playoff victories over No. 9 Montpelier, No. 1 Hazen and No. 5 Green Mountain. Thetford ousted No. 7 White River in the quarterfinals before beating No. 3 Windsor in the semifinals.
“We played so well against Windsor and we had a little bit of letdown tonight,” Ward said. “We did some good stuff, but it wasn’t the prettiest game. In the end we did what we needed to do to win a state championship. And credit to Oxbow: They played us hard and made it a great game.”
Vaughan missed a pair of early foul shots, but Johnson crashed the offensive glass and set up Davis for a 3-pointer. The game was still 3-0 with 3:41 left in the first quarter, but two foul shots by Oxbow’s Emma Parkin made it 3-2. Johnson, a Chelsea transfer, responded 10 seconds later with her team’s second 3-pointer.
The former Red Devils standout hit a buzzer-beating shot to end the first quarter, giving Thetford an 8-2 lead.
At the start of the second quarter, Oxbow’s Melanie Neil went 1 of 2 from the foul line, but Davis retaliated by making a jumper with 6:12 left in the first half for a 10-3 lead. MacVeagh pushed the lead to 12-3, the Panthers served up two blocks defensively and MacVeagh scored again for a 14-3 lead. Kelsey Smith made two foul shots for a 16-3 advantage, and the game quickly began to resemble the teams’ first two contests.
But Tiffany Longmoore’s jumper gave the Olympians a spark, slicing the gap to 16-5 in the second. Mariah Shumway followed with a basket, making it 16-7. Thetford’s Lily Brown responded for an 18-7 lead and then Oxbow’s Melanie Neil made two foul shots during a 1-and-1 scenario, leaving the Panthers with an 18-9 halftime lead.
Oxbow’s Arianna Bolles opened the third quarter with a foul shot. After a Thetford timeout, Bolles drained the next foul shot to close the gap to 18-11. Vaughan scored her first point of the game from the foul line for a 19-11 lead. Melanie Neil converted a putback and then MacVeagh scored in the paint for a 21-13 lead. Vaughan’s runner made it 23-13 before Benjamin capped a three-point play from the foul line for a 26-13 lead.
Oxbow’s Rachel Spear closed the gap to 26-15 and then MacVeagh went 2 of 2 from the foul line for a 28-15 lead in the third quarter. Kaysea Neil made a foul shot and missed the second, but Longmoore grabbed the rebound and set up Lauren Wright to slice the deficit to 28-18. Following a putback by MacVeagh, Kaysea Neil’s 3-pointer made it 30-21 with 1:40 left in the third quarter. Davis drained a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in the quarter and Shumway responded with a layup, leading to a 33-23 score entering the final eight minutes.
The Panthers kicked off the fourth quarter with a foul shot. Two free throws by Oxbow’s Emma Parkin made it 34-25 and Melanie Neil closed the gap to 34-27. Parkin stole the ball and cashed in with a layup, putting pressure on Thetford as the Panthers’ lead shrank to 34-29
MacVeagh went to the line for a 1-and-1 situation and made both attempts for a 36-29 lead. The Panthers pushed the lead to 38-29 midway through the final quarter. Kaysea Neil went 1 of 2 from the foul line before Parkin went 0 of 2 from the stripe. After Parkin’s second miss, Oxbow’s Lauren Wright went up for a putback to make it 38-32.
Vaughan went to the line during a 1-and-1 situation at the other end and dropped in both attempts for a 40-32 lead entering the final two minutes. Shumway responded with a basket but her team squandered an offensive chance after forcing a turnover. Thetford’s Lily Brown made a foul shot for a 41-34 lead, and moments later Oxbow went 0 of 2 at foul line again.
Parkin scored with 53 seconds remaining, delighting the Barre Aud fans with the score at 41-36. But Brown went 1 of 2 from the foul line and Thetford ran out the clock, improving to 3-6 in championship appearances.