Hardwick, News

Winooski Denies Wildcat Repeat

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photo by Vanessa Fournier
Hazen Union students and Wildcat mascot cheer during the championship game Saturday.

by Ken Brown

BARRE – The Hazen Union boys’ basketball team’s quest for a second consecutive Division III state championship ended in a foul-ridden first half over the weekend at the Barre Auditorium, as Winooski held off a furious comeback to finish off a 22-0 perfect season.

Hassan Hassan led all scorers with 20 points to power Winooski to a dominant first half and fend off a late Wildcat comeback bid to capture the Division III state title on Saturday 57-52. The Spartans came into the title rematch with a chip on their shoulder after their title run was halted by a stifling Wildcat defense a season ago 37-34. Spartan head coach Sam Jackson deployed a risky strategy in the first eight minutes of the game, pressuring every dribble and every pass, leading to 12 fouls, but forcing six Hazen turnovers.

Winooski came out of the first quarter break with an 11-6 advantage, limiting the Wildcats to six made free throws. Senior point guard Trevon Bradley (15 points) scored five straight, including a three-pointer from the logo to increase their lead to double digits 90 seconds in. Junior Xavier Hill led Hazen with 19 points and would answer with five straight of his own to keep them within striking distance. Senior center Daniel Surma (nine points) had seven blocks on the night and frustrated Hazen Union big man Tyler Rivard with a pair of early rejections. A floater by Bradley, two more blocks by Surma, and a deep three by Hassan to end the half, had the Wildcats shell-shocked down 36-18 heading into the break.

Multiple players from both teams entered the half in foul trouble, but it was mission accomplished for Jackson’s squad as they traded foul trouble for double digit turnovers by Hazen. Hazen head coach Aaron Hill had never seen a first half approached that aggressively by a team defensively and knew his team had to shift gears to cut into their lead in the second half.

“We knew they were coming into this game motivated after last season’s title game, but our guys wanted this game and we were just as motivated. Their length, athleticism, and explosiveness is similar to some of the Division II schools we play in the Capital, but there is nothing close to what they possess physicality-wise in our division. There was literally contact on every basketball play and it was a very challenging game to officiate and I felt for the refs out having to navigate such a physical game. Honestly I just tried to settle the guys down a little bit at halftime and get them to accept the physicality they were going to have to fight through over the next two quarters. We wanted to attack more in the second half and add some zone traps to get them a little less comfortable offensively. The guys did a great job of battling and executing in the second half and Xavier and Brendan Moodie were awesome,” said Hill.

Rivard was still held without a field goal through three quarters of play, but Hill and Moodie led the Wildcats on an 18-7 run to cut the lead to seven with eight minutes to go. The Spartans lead would swell back to double digits before Gabe Michaud (eight points) finished a layup in traffic and Rivard secured an offensive rebound and a put-back to pull Hazen Union within seven with four minutes to play. Michaud would foul out seconds later and senior Lincoln Michaud would commit his fifth foul less than a minute later. Hill continued his hot second half with five straight to pull the Wildcats within two with 90 seconds left. Hassan would answer with two free throws of his own and Rivard missed all four of his free throws in the last minute to give the Spartans the breathing room they were looking for. Moodie finished with 14 points, Rivard added 10 points and 18 boards, and senior Jadon Baker chipped in with six in the loss.

“I am so proud of our team’s character, class, and how much determination and grit they showed in that second half. Our kids not only played with heart, but with composure and sportsmanship. Our seniors are great kids who set a wonderful example for our program through hard work and selflessness to the team. We love them and will miss them greatly, but they will always remain part of our program,” said Hill.

Rivard added to his storied career and season by pulling down his 1,000-career rebound. He set several school records during a senior campaign for the ages that included a 50-point night against Enosburg and a 40-point outburst against Thetford to reach 1,000 points for his career.

“Tyler has given so much and done so much for this team this season, that I just wanted to congratulate him for having such a phenomenal career and everything that he did for this program. I know he didn’t have the kind of games he’s used to the last two match-ups, but the amount of focus other teams have to put on him opened things up for Brendan and Xavier and you can see what they are capable of doing for us next season. We have some good young talent coming up and the future is bright for Wildcat basketball,” said Hill.

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