By Tris Wykes

NEWPORT, Vt. – Hartford High claimed the opening tip during Tuesday’s Vermont Division II girls basketball semifinal against host North Country Union. Not much else went the Hurricanes’ way early, however, en route to a 55-47 loss. 

Sixth-seeded Hartford surrendered the game’s first seven points, committed the contest’s first three fouls and turned the ball over six times during the opening 4 minutes and 14 seconds. The Hurricanes finished with 23 turnovers, 13 before halftime.

Hartford High’s Maddie Withington (2) pursues North Country’s Julia Baker (4). Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Heidi Bushway, Hartford’s third-year coach, said she felt her players were “comfortable and prepared” heading into the game. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they didn’t play that way and Bushway called a time out during the third minute with her troops trailing, 10-2.

“We just told them to relax,” the coach said. “We told them to run our defense… the right way. We just had to calm them down a little bit.”

The hole, however, was too deep. Hartford (7-5) shot poorly while allowing the second-seeded Falcons (9-2) more than enough time and space to set their feet and release in relaxed fashion. At times, the hosts appeared to be playing keep-away from the Hurricanes.

Sarah Roy, North Country’s first-year coach, said her team’s strength is rapid passing, so she was delighted to see Hartford begin the game in a 2-3 defensive zone. NCU starts four seniors and played in the semifinals for the third time in the last four years. 

Hartford High’s Maddie Withington, right, pressures North Country’s McKenna Marsh. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“These big games are amped up and we knew it was a good time to take advantage if somebody else is nervous,” said Roy, whose team has the unenviable task of facing top-seeded Fair Haven, 31-0 the past two seasons, in Saturday’s final at the Barre Auditorium. 

“We hoped and planned to come out strong and jump on them and keep the (score) gap all along.”

North Country sank five shots from beyond the arc before intermission, four of them by Adrianna Chaput, who finished with 11 points. Teammate Riann Fortin had 22 points, scoring 12 of them during the third quarter, and Cora Nadeau added 10 points. 

They hit threes they didn’t hit in any of the games we watched,” Bushway said. “We switched to man-to-man and we played much better defense.”

Hartford’s Beth Dobrich had a team-high 18 points, 10 during the first quarter, after which the Hurricanes trailed, 20-10. 

“She came to play,” Bushway said. “This was her best game; she worked hard.”

Hartford point guard Jasmine Jenkins, a four-year starter, had 8 points, all after halftime, when the Falcons led, 25-16. Post player Bailey Cameron and Davan Murphy each had 5 points, the former doing so despite not playing during the second and third quarters after being in the starting lineup.

Hartford’s best chance at a comeback came midway through the third quarter, when it pulled within 29-23 on a Johnson 3-point bucket. The Hurricanes got a defensive stop on the subsequent possession but then turned the ball over, surrendered a layup and were down by 15 points to start the fourth quarter.

Hartford High’s Beth Dobrich, right, battles North Country’s McKenna Shaw (2). Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“It was nerve-wracking and my girls were getting frustrated,” said Bushway, whose team scored 19 of the final stanza’s 31 points. “We wanted to play our game, not to play 1-on-1 with them.”

Notes: North Country had never before reached a state title game in girls basketball since its 1974 postseason debut… Dobrich scored her team’s first 10 points… Hartford is 26-35 overall and 16-20 in semifinal contests since first competing in the Vermont playoffs in 1972. The Hurricanes went one-and-done in the postseason during the 2014-17 and 2019-20 seasons after winning the 2012 state title… Bushway is 23-31 in her varsity coaching career at Hartford… The Hurricanes are 3-8 in playoff games since 2013. They won the 2012 Division II title… Newport’s famous residents included Charles Francis Adams, the first owner of the NHL’s Boston Bruins. Steve Clifford, former coach of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and current bench boss of the league’s Orlando Magic, moved to Newport in third grade and played high school basketball at NCU for his father, Gerald. Steve Clifford graduated in 1979… The towns served by North Country Union are Newport City, Newport Town, Derby, Charleston, Jay, Troy, North Troy, Coventry, Brighton, Holland, Morgan, Westfield and Lowell… 

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The Hartford High bench during the season’s final minute. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.