Wildcats girls fall in second round
by Jack Deming
Feb 28, 2014 | 2730 views | 0 0 comments | 595 595 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wildcat Hannah Swanson splits a quartet of Sharon defenders on the way to the rack.
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WILMINGTON-The Twin Valley girls’ basketball team had many mountains to climb this season, and with each that came into view, they outperformed even their own expectations, charging toward the top. At the beginning of the season, they set out a list of goals, each tough but attainable. Led by a group of success-driven seniors, the Twin Valley girls won the Marble Valley League, 16 regular season games including their last 10, and a first round playoff game, their first post-season victory since 2007. The Wildcats came just short of reaching their final goal of reaching the Barre Auditorium with a tough loss to Enosburg Falls on Saturday, but one could hardly doubt that this was a season this tight-knit group of Wildcats will soon forget.

Twin Valley 68 Sharon 28

Twin Valley began their playoff bid with a regular season rematch with Sharon Academy on Thursday. The last time these teams met, the Wildcats handled them easily with a 41-18 win, but anything can happen in the playoffs, and the Wildcats brought their A game to avoid any possibility of an upset, and kept building a lead until they ran out of time.

It was complete dominance by Twin Valley over an athletic but small Sharon team. Sharon held their own in the first quarter, however, as they held the ‘Cats to 14 points while scoring eight. Teya Johnson, Colton Butler, and Savannah Nesbitt all had three pointers for the Wildcats in the first quarter. The Wildcats followed up with their best second quarter of the season, outscoring Sharon 19-4 behind a great inside game, opportunities on the fast break, and five points from the free-throw line.

The Wildcats followed up their big second quarter with 15-third quarter points, including six each from Sammy Cunningham-Darrah and Butler, who scored a career high 15 points. Three Wildcat players put together double-double performances. Butler had her 15 points and added 10 rebounds, while Hannah Swanson had 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Nesbitt had 10 points and 10 assists. The entire Wildcat squad had their way with Sharon on the boards, winning the rebound battle 49-13, while also grabbing a cumulative 16 steals. Suzie Moses led Sharon with 12 points.

For the team’s captains, a playoff win was one of their goals and a huge moment in their nearly seven years of playing basketball together. “It’s a huge milestone for us,” said Cunningham-Darrah. “Our motto has been ‘Why stop now,’ and we had our list of goals and we’ve been checking off those goals, and it’s really built this confidence in everyone.”

For Nesbitt, who spent last year on the bench with a knee injury, coming back to lead the Wildcats to the playoffs was a crowning achievement. “Watching last year was hard for me but it made me more intent on coming back this year,” said Nesbitt. “I wasn’t sure what to expect this season, but I’m happy with the results, and to be out there with these girls, there’s nothing better than that.”

“We have great chemistry,” added Swanson. “We all pulled it together and have the right attitude, and in past years we weren’t always able to do that, even though we had everything we needed.”

Coach Buddy Hayford said that he was happy that his girls were able to set their minds on a goal and achieve it. “To win in the playoffs is not always easy,” said Hayford. “To win by 40 points is a rarity, but I’m happy for them that they were able to get a playoff win at home and achieve another of their goals.”

Enosburg Falls 47 Twin Valley 38

Twin Valley traveled north for their second-round matchup with the Enosburg Falls Hornets on Saturday, and put up a valiant fight. But foul trouble early and late in the game, and an inability to spread their scoring to more players led them to come up just short of a trip to Barre.

The Wildcats got ahead of the Hornets after one, with an optimistic 11-6 lead. Sammy Cunningham-Darrah played a great game for the Wildcats and led her team with six points in the quarter, while Emily Bose scored four for the Hornets. Foul trouble began early for the Wildcats, as shooter Colton Butler accrued two by the halfway point in the quarter. This made the game a bit tougher for the Wildcats as both teams played aggressive, in-your-face, man-to-man defense throughout.

Twin Valley went on a scoring drought for the first five minutes of the second quarter, and the Hornets took control of the game with a 12-0 run, led by eight points from Bose. The ‘Cats refused to go away as Cunningham-Darrah knocked in a free throw with three minutes left until the half, followed by the team’s only field goal of the quarter. Nesbitt added three free throws of her own in the quarter, and the Hornets were ahead by a shaky 20-17 lead at the half, as the Wildcats defense began to hold them in check.

The Wildcats’ defense allowed 13 points in the third quarter, but their offense scored 11, including six from Nesbitt, and continued to keep the game close going into the fourth. With three minutes to go, Butler fouled out, followed a minute later by Swanson at the two-minute mark, but Twin Valley clung to a 37-35 deficit after Nesbitt hit a big three-pointer. The depleted Wildcats tried to be everywhere and anywhere they could in those final minutes, but two turnovers led to two big shots by the Hornets, and they were forced to play the foul game, and watch the final score expand to a nine-point loss. Bose led the Hornets to victory with 19 points.

Nesbitt and Cunningham-Darrah combined for 33 of the Wildcats’ 38, as no other scorers could seem to find their shot. While the win was still attainable, Twin Valley coach Buddy Hayford said this threw off his team’s game plan. “We couldn’t get any other girls on track, and they played tough inside on Colton and Hannah,” said Hayford. “They shut down two of the top scorers on our team and they didn’t enable us to run the offense the way we have been all year. For the most part, we did the same thing at the other end of the court. It was chaotic and a scramble for both teams and it made scoring points difficult.”

While his girls came up just short of their final goal, Hayford said he was proud that his team had such a successful and hard-fought season. “This team truly exceeded my expectations,” said Hayford. “We were 8-0 in our league and I know they’re thrilled with that. I told them that this was a season they can be really proud of. I was thrilled with how they played the game, always with class and grace, and they were terrific kids to be with and coach.”

Hayford also said you couldn’t find a harder working group of seniors to coach. “ They were so positive and optimistic, and provided such great leadership throughout their careers and especially this senior year. They will be tough to replace, I can’t hide that fact. It’s big shoes to fill.”
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