By Tris Wykes

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – A major postseason misstep was brewing for the Hartford High girls basketball team Tuesday during its opening-round Vermont Division II playoff game against Montpelier. 

After leading by 12 points at halftime, the sixth-seeded Hurricanes found themselves tied with the 11th-seeded Solons early in the fourth quarter. The visitors had outscored them, 31-21, during a wild third stanza and it was suddenly anyone’s game.

Hartford High’s Jasmine Jenkins, left, fouls Montpelier’s Grace Murphy. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“They hit (five) threes and we just had to play better defense,” said third-year Hartford coach Heidi Bushway, whose team won, 64-59. “We have to play with energy and in the third quarter, we kind of slipped on that. But our seasoned players… they helped us get the energy back up.”

Senior point guard Jasmine Jenkins took charge, driving for back-to-back baskets and four of her 23 points. Junior guard Maddie Withington followed with a bucket of her own for a 62-56 lead with 1 minute, 40 seconds to play and the Hurricanes (6-4) used strong defense to close Montpelier out. 

“We had the lead but we were trying to drive the lane when it wasn’t open,” Bushway said. “So we were trying to get (the players) to relax and pull it out and make (Montpelier) play defense on us.”

Third-seeded Enosburg Falls (6-2) awaits after beating Springfield on Tuesday. The Hornets eliminated Hartford in the first round of last season’s playoffs, leaving the Hurricanes 11-10. Fair Haven (9-0) is the bracket’s top team.

Hartford High assistant coach Lacey Stever speaks with Sarah Howe. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Montpelier (2-6) had several early leads Tuesday but Hartford led, 18-11, after a quarter and appeared en route to a fairly easy victory over an opponent with only four substitutes. Instead, the Solons crept back during a third quarter when eight of its players scored. Without fans in the stands, the visitors’ rally seemed muted.

“It basically feels like a scrimmage,” said Jenkins, noting that Montpelier made only one 3-point shot during the first half. “But you have to keep in mind that there are fans at home and this is still playoffs.”

Hartford received 12 points from junior forward Beth Dobrich, 6 points from junior guard Sophie Howe and 5 points from senior forward Emily Wright. Senior forwards Davan Murphy and Bailey Cameron and junior guard Elsie Davis each added 4 points.

Absent during the stretch run was Sophie Howe and her twin sister, Sarah, who had 2 points. The pair have often played substantial minutes and at critical times this winter, but neither was among the seven Hurricanes who competed during the fourth quarter. Bushway said the first-year transfers from White River Valley High are healthy and that she simply went with the hot hand.

“The five who were on the floor were playing well and if you have that, you have to keep them in there,” the coach said. 

Hartford High’s Jasmine Jenkins lets fly. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Notes: Hurricanes’ girls lacrosse coach Heather Hartford attended the game to watch her players on the roster. The Howe sisters, who previously played softball at White River Valley, have indicated they intend to play lacrosse at their new school. Practice starts April 5… The hosts attempted and missed seven consecutive shots during one chaotic series lasting roughly 20 seconds under the Montpelier hoop. The ball kept shooting into the air like it was in a popcorn machine… Jenkins led Hartford last season with an average of nearly 13 points per game… Hurricanes athletic director Jeff Moreno noted that, with Wednesday’s boys basketball home playoff game against Spaulding, this is only the fourth time in recent decades that both Hartford hoops squads have hosted first-round postseason contests… Mapquest lists Enosburg Falls High as a 119-mile drive from White River Junction. The town of about 1,300 people is home to the annual Vermont Dairy Festival.

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Montpelier High’s Grace Nostrandt, right, and Hartford’s Sophie Howe watch a loose ball near mid-court. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.