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Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons

Twin Valley senior guard Izzak Park soars toward the basket during the second half of the Wildcats’ playoff game against Richford on March 17 in Jacksonville.

Sports

Toughest foe in high school playoffs? COVID-19.

Commons correspondent Christian Avard contributed to this report.

Vermont high school sports teams aren’t just battling each other in hockey and basketball. They are also up against COVID-19. Several have had to withdraw from the postseason because of the virus, including one of our local schools.

The Leland & Gray boys’ basketball team, seeded No. 11 in the Division III tournament, had to withdraw and forfeit its first-round game against sixth-seeded Williamstown on March 17 due to what L&G Principal Bob Thibault called “a COVID-related situation.”

Northern schools have been particularly hard hit by the virus. Missisquoi shut down all its winter sports programs on March 12, just before the tournaments began. The Stowe boys’ hockey team upset Spaulding in a playoff game on March 15, but two days later, the school had to shut down its winter sports due to a COVID outbreak.

Top-seeded Essex was supposed to play in the Division I boys’ hockey final, but the team learned on March 20 that it had to enter quarantine and go through testing after the school learned of confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the Colchester team that they played against in a quarterfinal game on March 17.

The Vermont Principals’ Association met on March 23 to discuss the status of the Division I title game. Essex, which advanced to the title game after Woodstock had to forfeit their semifinal game due to a positive COVID test result, is scheduled to play No. 2 BFA-St. Albans for the state championship on March 24 at Leddy Arena in Burlington.

The VPA ruled that Essex will not be allowed to play unless team test results — scheduled for March 24, just a few hours before the scheduled start of the game with BFA — come back negative.

Six other teams — South Burlington and Rice boys’ hockey, North Country/Lyndon girls’ hockey, Champlain Valley and Peoples Academy girls’ basketball, and Mount St. Joseph boys’ basketball— also had to withdraw from their respective tournaments due to COVID-19 concerns.

Testing and contact tracing, which didn’t exist last March when this pandemic began, has allowed the Vermont Department of Health to identify and contain the virus. This has allowed the other schools to keep playing, but also reinforces how important it has been for students to follow the protocols of masking, distancing, and sanitizing if they want to keep playing.

Boys’ hockey

• Brattleboro has been keenly aware of the pandemic, and how high the stakes are. They are determined not to be tripped up by COVID-19, especially since they are now just one game away from a Division II state championship.

The Colonels will face the only team that beat them this season in the title game on March 27, at 7:30 p.m., in Barre. Harwood, the defending Division II champs, defeated Brattleboro, 6-4, at Withington Rink on Feb. 27.

The Colonels hadn’t played in the Division II semifinals since 2013, and hadn’t played in the title game since 1994, when they lost to South Burlington, 4-3. That was the lone finals appearance during a four-season streak of trips to the semifinal round between 1993 and 1996.

So when the No. 2 Colonels skated onto the Withington Rink ice on March 17 to face the 10th-seeded Burlington Seahorses, they took nothing for granted as they rolled to a 10-0 victory.

The Colonels outshot the Seahorses, 46-11, as Burlington had few quality chances against Colonel goaltenders Austin Wood and Darek Harvey.

Brattleboro’s offense took some time to get going. They took a 2-0 lead after one period as Gavin Howard scored five minutes into the game with Mason Foard credited with the assist. Will Taggard then scored with 1:26 left in the period, set up by Alex Palomba.

Better passing and winning face-offs were the topics for discussion by Colonels coach Eric Libardoni during the first intermission, and the Colonels responded with four goals in the second period.

Foard scored just 90 seconds into the period, with Ryan Gerard getting the assist. Howard got his second goal of the night with 8:22 left. A shot from Gerard was tipped off the post by Ernie Antonucci, and Howard alertly put the rebound into the net.

Jack Pattison then picked up a pair of goals, the first with 6:33 to play on a niffy fake that caught Seahorse goaltender Steven Labombard off-balance; Howard got the assist. Pattison’s second tally came off a give-and-go play started by Taggard with 3:07 left.

Brattleboro finished up with four more goals in the third period. Derek Parsons scored his first career goal with 12:43 left after Foard won a face-off. Pattison followed with his third goal of the night just 40 seconds later. Sam Hall scored off a Taggard pass with 4:47 remaining and Antonucci closed out the scoring with 2:43 to play with Taggard and Palomba getting the assists.

The win set up a rematch with Burr & Burton in a March 20 semifinal at Withington Rink. The Bulldogs narrowly escaped a first-round loss to Milton and won by forfeit in the quarterfinals due to Missisquoi’s withdrawal from the tournament. They gave the Colonels a tough game in their regular season matchup, and Brattleboro needed everything it had to pull out a 6-5 victory in the semifinal.

The Colonels continued the trend from the Burlington game and generated offense from winning faceoffs. Taggard won the opening faceoff and got the puck over to Hall, who found Pattison for a quick goal just 21 seconds into the game.

The game degenerated into a penalty-fest after that goal. After Pattison scored on a power play from Foard and Howard to start the second period, the Colonels picked up two quick penalties to give Burr & Burton a 5-on-3 advantage. The Bulldogs quickly cashed in with a power goal to make it a 2-1 game, and later tied the game with 1:38 left.

Taggard seemingly broke the momentum with a goal from Gerard with 20 second to play, but the Bulldogs came out strong to start the third period with a goal in the first two minutes to tie the game a 3-3, then scored two more goals for 5-3 lead midway through the period.

Brattleboro then got it together in the final minutes and scored three unanswered goals. Howard got the first tally from Gabe Heiden, Taggard scored the tying goal from Pattison and Hall with 3:52 to play, and then Howard got the game-winner 20 seconds later from Parsons.

Boys’ basketball

• Long-range shooting was the difference as No. 8 Brattleboro made eight three-pointers and beat No. 9 BFA-St. Albans, 60-44, in a first-round Division I playoff game on March 16 at the BUHS gym.

Greg Fitzgerald, who finished up with a game-high 19 points, got hot in the third quarter and keyed a 20-3 Colonels run with three three-pointers. Trinley Warren finished with 13 points, including a three-pointer during the big run. Gabe Packard chipped in 10 points, mostly in the first half.

Brattleboro advanced to the quarterfinals, and a road date with the top-seeded Rice Green Knights on March 19. Rice scored 31 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Colonels, 75-50.

The game was far closer in the first three quarters. Packard scored four of his team-high 17 points in the first quarter, while Warren hit a three-pointer to give the Colonels a 11-10 lead. But Rice had plenty of firepower to respond. Michel Ndayishimiye scored seven of his high 29 points, including a three-point at the buzzer, for a 15-11 Rice lead at the end of the first.

Rice also had a size and rebounding advantage over the Colonels, who were held scoreless for the first five minutes of the second quarter as the Green Knights built up a 32-21 lead at the half.

Brattleboro got the deficit down to eight (39-31) in the third quarter, but got no closer as Rice had a 48-38 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Ndayishimiye then took over the game in the final quarter, scoring 13 points, or one point more than Brattleboro scored during that span.

Sharif Sharif scored 14 points for Rice, while Judah Land had 12 points, and Mo Awayle added 9 points. Warren finished with 10 points for the Colonels and Fitzgerald chipped in with 9 points as the Colonels ended the season with a 5-6 record.

“We were fairly close throughout the game,” said Colonels coach Jason Coplan. “We let it get out of hand quickly [in the fourth quarter] and it compounded our mistakes and that ultimately was the difference. We gave up too many turnovers and Rice had too many second chances to score.”

Coplan had praise for his seniors (Fitzgerald, Packard, and Spencer Lawrence) and all the families of the players.

“It must have been extremely difficult for parents to drop their kids off and not be able to go into the gym to watch the games,” he said. “It’s a lot different watching them on the screen. It was also rough not being able to hug your child after the game, but they all handled that well.”

• Twin Valley got hot at the right time after opening the season with two losses as the sixth-seeded Wildcats got a monster game from senior guard Isaac Park, who scored 25 points in a 61-28 win over No. 11 Richford in a Division IV first-round game in Jacksonville on March 17.

Aaron Soskin finished with 15 points as he, Park, and Colin McHale accounted for all the Wildcats’ scoring in the first half. Park hit a pair of three-pointers and Soskin added another as Twin Valley took a 9-3 lead after one quarter. Park was held scoreless in the second quarter, but six points from McHale and five more from Soskin helped the Wildcats build up a 20-12 halftime lead.

Twin Valley outscored Richford, 17-5, in the third quarter as Park connected on a pair of threes and scored a pair of inside baskets. Park scored nine more points in the fourth quarter, and center Caleb Dupuis got five of his nine points for the game in the fourth. Will and Carson Steinhour finished with eight and seven points, respectively for 1-9 Richford.

The Wildcats headed north on March 20 for a quarterfinal game against the third-seeded Twinfield Trojans, and lost in a 52-51 heartbreaker.

Forwards Cutler Gladding (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Mason Cushing (11 points, eight rebounds) did most of the damage inside for Twinfield.

Twin Valley got plenty of outside scoring from Soskin (16 points), McHale (12 points) and Park (11 points), as all three each hit a pair of three-pointers. However. Twinfield eighth-grader Kerrick Medose scored 16 points, with four three-pointers.

The Trojans trailed 15-12 after the first quarter, took a 27-25 lead at halftime and closed out the third quarter with a 38-35 advantage. Twinfield led by 12 with 2:30 left in the game when the Wildcats made a handful of late three-pointers to make the final outcome close. Twin Valley ended its season at 6-3.

• Third-seeded Bellows Falls was upset at home by No. 14 BFA-Fairfax, 76-53, in a Division III first-round game on March 17.

BFA had four players in double-figures: Owen Demar (19 points), Carl Bruso (17 points), Isaac Decker (14 points), and Riley Greene (14 points). They opened with a 9-0 run and led the Terriers by 19 at the half.

Senior Logan Lisai scored 10 points to lead the Terriers, including a couple of three-pointers, and Jon Terry and Walker James added nine points each. The Terriers finished with a 5-5 record.

Girls’ basketball

• Sixth-seeded Twin Valley got 19 points from Hannah Sullivan in a 49-41 win over No. 11 Arlington in a first-round Division IV playoff game on March 16 in Jacksonville.

Despite 21 points from Arlington’s Sidney Herrington, the Eagles could not hang on to a double-digit lead in the third quarter. The Wildcats made three consecutive three-pointers to seize momentum, and outscored Arlington 14-7 in the final quarter. Sadie Boyd added 9 points and Jayden Crawford scored 8 points for the Wildcats.

Twin Valley then faced third-seeded Mid-Vermont Christian in a quarterfinal game on March 19 and lost, 48-31. Sisters Hayley and Sydney Goodwin scored 23 and 17 points, respectively, and together made 10 of their 12 free throws in the fourth quarter to clinch the win for MVC.

Crawford led Twin Valley with 12 points, and Heather Sullivan and Boyd chipped in seven points each as the Wildcats finished the season with a 6-4 record.

• Rice opened with a 19-0 run as the No. 11 Green Knights cruised to a 58-21 win over sixth-seeded Brattleboro in a first-round Division I playoff game on March 16 at the BUHS gym.

Elyse MacDonough scored a game-high 20 points to lead Rice, which used good ball movement and spacing to foil Brattleboro’s press to get out to a big lead and to hold on to it.

Chloe Givens led the Colonels with seven points, all scored in the second half. Cadance Gilbert and Brenna Beebe each added 4 points. Brattleboro ended its season at 4-4.

• Alice Keith scored 22 points as No. 8 Otter Valley downed ninth-seeded Bellows Falls, 55-32, in a first-round Division III playoff game in Brandon on March 16.

Bellows Falls turned over the ball 40 times and struggled on offense. Thirteen of their 32 points were scored at the free throw line. Sydney Bazin led the Terriers with 11 points and Julia Nystrom followed with eight points. BF finished its season with a 3-5 record.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #605 (Wednesday, March 24, 2021). This story appeared on page C4.

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