By Tris Wykes
Copyright Octopus Athletics 2022
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Back and forth on the scoreboard, up and down the court the Hartford High and Brattleboro boys basketball teams went during the first half of their Friday contest at Robert J. Hanley Gymnasium.
The Hurricanes held a two-point lead after a quarter and a seven-point advantage at intermission, but by no means a stranglehold on the Vermont Division II contest. That came after the break, when the hosts scored the third quarter’s first 16 points and cruised to an 84-49 triumph.
Jacob Seaver led Hartford with 21 points and Brattleboro’s Sam Mattocks matched him. The Hurricanes senior also had a strong night on the boards, blocked or altered several shots and was part of the hosts’ crisp passing game. It was one of those evenings when the home team can do little wrong and its players feel like world-beaters.
“Everyone got involved and it really felt like a family atmosphere out there, which is what this team is based on,” said senior guard Tarin Prior, who had 18 points and ripped assorted one-handed and no-look assists. “We believe in each other and it showed tonight and showed in the score.”
Hartford’s offense was predicated on Prior last winter, when the standout, three-sport athlete repeatedly worked to go coast-to-coast. Just because you can do so doesn’t mean it’s the best idea, however, and Prior tired at times as teams made him their defensive focus.
Now, with Seaver having gone from promising to powerful, the Hurricanes (6-1) have an inside option but with a senior who can also hit long shots or dribble the ball from rim to rim himself. He and Prior worked a pair of successful alley-oop inbounds plays and were dicing the Colonels’ defense until the tall visitors began collapsing around No. 22.
“He can jump out of the gym and I know if I throw it up there, he’ll get it,” Prior said. “I just throw it to the rim and don’t even look at him. He’s a double-double machine and one of the best players in the state.”
Said third-year Hartford coach Jeff Thomas: “He’s a stoic kid whose attitude never changes but his game’s changed a lot. He started taking basketball seriously last season and he puts in a lot of time in the gym. I think that’s the difference – that he wants success a bit more.”
Hartford led, 21-19, after a quarter and the second stanza was highly entertaining as Prior and Mattocks briefly staged a game inside a game, alternating shots, baskets and a bit of posturing while drawing wild applause and screaming from the stands and benches. The contest took on the feel of the best kind of playground ball, where participants actually play defense and personal pride is on the line.
“He’s a flame-thrower and I told him how much I respected him,” Prior said of Mattocks, whose 1-5 team was held to only 5 of 17 shooting from the floor during the second quarter. “That was a fun, five-minutes and it felt good to be able to match that.”
Thomas said he strives for a free-flow feeling when the Hurricanes have the ball.
“We don’t want to teach plays; we want to teach basketball and we shared the ball well tonight,” he said. “We talk about and work on that constantly and it’s so much fun when you do that.”
The Hurricanes lingered on the gym floor as the stands cleared out, laughing and smiling and accepting congratulations. During a pandemic and on a night when the wind chill made outside temperatures feel like minus-10, they had created a warm sensation to remember years in the future.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who’ve bought in and we share the rock and don’t care who scores what,” Prior said. “All we care about is the win and it’s really fun to play. I think we can go far with what we have this season.”
Notes: Tom Avellino, previously a longtime soccer, basketball and baseball coach at Woodstock High, has joined the Hartford program as its JV boys basketball coach. Avellino, who’s working as a paraeducator in the school, said he also hopes to reprise his 2021 role as Hanover’s JV baseball coach… Hartford’s lone loss was Dec. 27 at Division III Bellows Falls, a game during which the visitors were missing several players… Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno missed the game with a non-Covid illness that’s kept him home for the better part of a week. “He’s still putting in 12-hour days on his computer, though,” joked technology teacher and golf coach Mike Hathorn, who manned the public address system Friday… Hanley Gymnasium is named for the coach of Hartford’s last state championship squad in 1929… Hartford sophomore Sean Dunton and senior Jaiden Keefe scored their first varsity points.
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