GM boys trounce Thetford, head to Division III Championship

By Christian Avard
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Green Mountain’s Branden Rose (30) launches a 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of Thetford defender Kobe Pierson (2) during the first half of the Chieftains’ 75-51 win over the Panthers in a VPA Division III boys’ basketball semifinal in Chester, Vt., on March 24, 2021. Photos by Greg Fennell of The Valley News

The Green Mountain Boys’ Varsity Basketball Team is headed to its first-ever state championship on Sunday.

The Chieftains played like the Division III first-seed contenders they are at Wednesday’s semifinals at home, routing 12th seed and two-time, back-to-back, Division III state champions Thetford Academy, 75-51.

While there will be no three-peat for the Panthers in 2021, they got over on Green Mountain’s man-to-man defense early on, with top scorer Eli Dunnet posting six points of his 19 points, while Jackson Ransom scored five of his 15.

Reacting to Thetford’s strong offense, Chieftains Head Coach Brian Rappanotti switched his team to a 2-3 zone defense (two players in the front, three in the back) and it worked.

Green Mountain’s Jack Boyle splits the defense of Thetford’s Jackson Ransom (14) and Ryen Wolf (11) to set up a shot for teammate Skyler Klezos (10) during the first half.

“(Thetford) carved us up,” said Rappanotti. “(They) struggled against that zone during that stretch and we hit good shots. We were also really unselfish on the offensive end.”

The Panthers led the GM boys 18-14 until the Chieftains went on a 14-0 run; by the end of the first quarter, Green Mountain was ahead by 10 points, 28-18. Everett Mosher and Ty Merrill hit two three-pointers each, and Mosher finished the game with eight points. Merrill led the team’s scoring with 22 points.

“(Merrill) really killed us going to the rim every single time,” Thetford Head Coach Jason Gray said. “He’d come off the right, go to the left, and we couldn’t stop him. So then you’re worried about him and it opens up the three-pointers. It just roller-coastered downhill from there.”

Green Mountain’s Sawyer Pippin, center, grabs a loose ball in front of Thetford’s Jackson Ransom, rear, and Eli Dunnet (12) during the second half

The Chieftains broke out to a 37-20 lead early in the second quarter and they never let up. Green Mountain out-rebounded Thetford 15-2, outscored them 17-9 in the quarter, and led 45-27 at halftime.

Green Mountain dominated on both sides of the game, offensively and defensively. They led 60-37 going into the fourth quarter, and the Chieftains’ bench players got some quality minutes. Eben Mosher and Kagan Hance scored three points apiece and Austin Kubisek scored two.

The win was in stark contrast to last weekend’s nail-biting quarterfinal against Vergennes, which GM won in overtime 58-57. This time, according to Merrill, the Chieftains played the game as if it were their last.

Green Mountain boys’ basketball coach Brian Rappanotti, left, monitors the first-half action from the bench

“When we got the lead, we kept telling each other to keep playing like we were down by two points the whole game,” Merrill said. “That kept the intensity up and ultimately set us up for a much less stressful game.”

Others scorers for Green Mountain Branden Rose, 12 points; Jack Boyle, nine points; and Skyler Klezos and Sawyer Pippin posted eight points apiece.

The Chieftains will face perennial Division III powerhouse sixth-seed Williamstown, who beat seventh-seed Enosburg on Wednesday, 51-44. They will play in the state championship, at 5 p.m., Sunday, at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt.

The Telegraph will be covering that game.

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About the Author: Christian Avard has been a journalist for more than 15 years, having written for Vermont publications such as The Deerfield Valley News, The Rutland Herald, The Commons and The Chester Telegraph. He also edited The Message for the Week and The Vermont Standard. Avard, who currently lives in Lebanon, N.H., is also a sports correspondent with The Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus.

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