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Wildcats Reach the Century Mark, Punch their Ticket to Barre

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photo by Vanessa Fournier
Hazen Union players (from left): Gavin Stratton, Damien Morrison, Liam Jurkiewicz and water boys Jeter Demers and Kobe Smith show their excitement after their Division III quarter-final win against White River Valley March 3. Hazen will play at the Barre Aud. March 9 against Thetford at 8:15 p.m.

by Ken Brown

HARDWICK – The defending Division III state champion Hazen Union boys’ basketball team took care of business in a big way last week, racing past Stowe and White River Valley in the Cat Den to advance to the Final Four at the Barre Auditorium for the fifth time in six seasons.

Senior Tyler Rivard scored 21 points, hauled in 11 rebounds, and added five steals to his stat sheet last Tuesday to lead the Wildcats to a 91-27 first-round victory over fifteenth-seeded Stowe. Fellow senior Jadon Baker connected on five three-pointers on his way to a 17-point night to help the Wildcats take a 47-16 advantage into the break. Brendan Moodie also connected on five 3s and scored 17 for the Wildcats, Lincoln Michaud added eight points and nine boards, and Sully Laflam chipped in with 10 in the win. Dylan Saulter led the Raiders with five points before fouling out as their season ended at 3-18. The 91 points was a season high for the Wildcat offense, but it wouldn’t stand long.

Sophomore Brendan Moodie poured in a career-high 33 points, connecting on nine 3-pointers to lead Hazen Union to an emphatic 101-62 win over White River Valley (WRV) in the quarterfinal round last Friday night. Junior point guard Xavier Hill’s career-high 24 points (19 in the first half) kept the Wildcats afloat in what looked to be a dogfight early on as WRV matched the favored hosts 20-20 after the first quarter and went into the break only down seven. Hill, a 2022 VT Dream Dozen selection, connected from long range five times in the first half and added 8 assists to his impressive night. Moodie took it to another level in the final 16 minutes, draining 7 more three-pointers to help fuel a 27-9 run to start the second half and blow the game wide open. Rivard was a force inside once again, adding 17 points and securing a game-high 28 rebounds, including his third thunderous dunk of the season. Tatlin Griffin led WRV with 24 in the loss as their season ended at 13-9. Hazen is getting hot at the right time, connecting on 28 three-pointers in their two wins on the week. Their 101 points is a school record and Moodie also tied the all-time single-game school record for a sophomore set by Brad Ferland with his 33-point performance. His nine 3-pointers in a game is surprisingly not a school record as Dan Judkins drilled 11 threes for Hazen against Richford in 2005. Rivard continued to put his school rebounding record out of reach. His 39 boards on the week put him at an eye-popping 996 for his already legendary career.

“White River Valley had just beaten BFA-Fairfax by 30 in the first round and were peaking as a team. They were a very dangerous match-up and that was a huge win for us,” said head coach Aaron Hill. “Brendan is a Wolcott kid and has been in our camps and grew up with a lot of our players and he got a lot of work in with us this past summer. We were excited to have him come over from Peoples Academy to start the year, he’s very smooth, and he has added another real offensive threat for us from the outside. Tyler’s career rebound total is just . . . insane,” added Hill.

Next up for the Wildcat’s title defense is a familiar foe in Thetford Academy. The Panthers handed Hazen Union their only Division III loss of the season in January 47-42. The Wildcats returned the favor in the Cat Den last month 74-55 in what was a historic game that saw Rivard reach the 1,000-point career mark with a monster 40-point effort. The Panthers have 16 wins on the season and Hill expects a battle in their third go-around.

“I don’t feel like we made too many adjustments in our second match-up with them, we just executed better. They are a very strong defensive team, so it will be a big challenge,” said Hill.

Hazen Union and Thetford Academy will play the rubber match on Thursday night at the Barre Auditorium, with the winner advancing to the Division III state title game.

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