WHITINGHAM- The Twin Valley boys’ varsity basketball team faced down the Winooski Spartans in their second game of the state tournament on Saturday. The Spartans kept the game close largely through their success at the free-throw line and a spirited defense, but the Wildcats kept the Spartans at bay and persevered for the win.
Skyler Boyd won the tipoff for the Wildcats and Brett Swanson made a three-pointer 30 seconds into the game. A minute later, Boyd made the score 5-0, and Swanson added two more before the Spartans managed to make a basket.
Later in the quarter Ethan Fox snagged an offensive rebound and made a put-back, giving the Wildcats a 9-5 lead, but this was followed by the first of many successful trips to the free-throw line for the Spartans. As Winooski forward Abdullahi Sadik prepared to shoot from the free-throw line, Wildcat fans feigned disinterest by disappearing behind newspapers they pretended to be reading. It was the first of many such demonstrations of support from the Wildcat fans. If they had raised their eyes from the paper, they probably would not have liked what they saw as Sadik sank both free throws with poise and confidence, bringing the Spartans within two points of the Wildcats.
“The scouting report said that they would do really well at the free-throw line, and they did,” said Brown.
However, the Wildcats responded with an eight-point run, including a three-pointer by Boyd, a steal and quick conversion by Swanson, and a quarter-ending three-pointer by Swanson, that sent the Wildcats into the second quarter with a 17-7 lead and a roar from their fans.
Early in the second quarter, Winooski guard Abdi Mohamed stole the ball and passed it to teammate Elli Nahimana who scored two, cutting the Wildcat lead to six. Boyd quickly sank a three-pointer and Swanson scored two, giving the Wildcats a 22-11 lead. A Wildcat foul sent Nahimana to the free-throw line for an easy two points, and a second Wildcat foul yielded another point for the Spartans, which they quickly followed up with another basket. Nahimana snagged two more points after another quick steal and conversion. Swanson answered with a steal and conversion of his own, and sank a three-pointer, making the score 27-18 at the half.
In the third quarter, the teams again seesawed in their scoring. The Spartans scored the first five points in the first two minutes, and came within four points of Twin Valley. Swanson shot a three-pointer and followed that with another basket, restoring the Wildcats’ nine-point lead. In reply, the Spartans only added points at the free-throw line, with Mowtes Ibrahim and Sadik adding one point each before Jack McHale and Swanson each sank a three-pointer, widening the Wildcat lead to 40-25.
But the Spartans staged a small rally, combining steals, a fast, pressuring defense, and trips to the foul line, bringing the score to 40-31 at the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter was a free-throw contest. At the start of the quarter Nahimana chipped away at the Wildcats’ lead at the free-throw line. Wildcat fans again got out their newspapers, as the Spartan guard sank two baskets, making the score 40-33, at which point Brown called for a time-out. After Boyd sank a free-throw shot, Ibrahim scored two free throws, and Mohamed, who was fouled twice, scored on three of four free throws, bringing the Spartans within three points of a tie. But Mohamed’s points were the last the Spartans would make in the evening. Swanson, who was repeatedly fouled in the last 50 seconds of the game, brought in four more points for the Wildcats, helping them to a seven-point win.
Winooski coach Tom Obbagy said the biggest problem for his team during the game was that they made defensive errors of judgment . “We made too many mental mistakes when we were executing our defense. Still, we were close. We just needed a few more shots, but we didn’t have that kind of game tonight.”
Brown praised McHale and Josh Carpenter-O’Hearn’s contributions in the third quarter. “I was ecstatic over their performance, with Josh’s pass and Jack’s three-point basket. We talked with them about how they might only have a short time in the game, this was their minute, and to make the most of it, and they did.” He said his team had come a long way from where it was at the beginning of the season. “We lost five seniors, and it takes a lot of work to mix together new players and old players successfully. But I am proud of these boys and how they are working under pressure, for the most part really well. Instead of getting that flight-or-fight reaction to the adrenaline, they are using it to focus themselves on making the right plays.”
Swanson scored 29 points, 15 of which were from three-pointers. It was his third consecutive game in which he scored at least 25 points. Boyd scored 11, Fox two, and McHale three. Boyd grabbed 11 rebounds, Fox six, Logan Park and Dylan Howe four each, and Swanson two. Swanson stole the ball twice, and Howe once.
The next tournament game for the Twin Valley varsity boys’ basketball team is against second-seeded Hazen on Thursday at the Barre Auditorium. Tipoff is at 8:15 pm.