Despite closing loss, Hartford hitting stride at tournament time

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-24-2023 8:27 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Seats were hard to come by Thursday night at Hartford High’s Hanley Gymnasium, the aging structure featuring only a few open spaces during the Hurricanes’ Vermont Division II regular-season finale against Fair Haven.

Seniors Joey Beggs and Ian Murphy were honored before a contest conducted with playoff intensity. Hartford, down nine points after three quarters, roared back to lead by a point with 1 minute, 18 seconds remaining, but ultimately fell, 40-38, as the Slaters improved to 20-0.

“The atmosphere was great tonight, and I haven’t seen a crowd like that in Hartford in quite a while,” said Hurricanes coach Mike Gaudette, who expects his 17-3 team to be seeded fifth in the upcoming D-II playoffs. Fair Haven “is a veteran team, and we showed our youth at inopportune times at the end tonight.”

Two of Hartford’s losses this winter came against the Slaters, the first in overtime on Vermont’s western border. Fair Haven features seven seniors and often operates with machine-like precision, unlikely to beat itself. Thursday, the visitors hounded Hartford’s outside shooters, allowing them to sink only two shots from beyond the three-point arc.

“We shoot a lot of threes normally,” Gaudette said. “Fair Haven did a good job of running us off the three-point line tonight. They made us put the ball on the floor.”

That meant the Slaters saw a lot of Brody Tyburski, Hartford’s roughneck forward. The junior scored a game-high 16 points, many of them on twisting, reaching drives to the hoop on which his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame absorbed plenty of hits.

“I’m a football guy, so physical contact isn’t anything I’ve ever shied away from,” Tyburski said. “Hopefully, we’ll see them again in Barre for the finals.”

Tyburski suffered a broken collarbone during football season and didn’t hit the hardcourt until the new year. Gaudette contends his standout is still shaking off the last of that rust and tired during Thursday’s late going.

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“He’s coming into it now, although he needs to get in better shape,” Gaudette said. “He wants to be in there and he can dominate. We’re still working on his defensive rotations, because he got lost on them a few times tonight, but offensively, he can get to the basket.”

Hartford held Slaters senior star Sawyer Ramey, grandson of Fair Haven coach Bob Prenevost, somewhat in check, with post player Phil Bean leading the visitors with 12 points and 10 rebounds. However, the Hurricanes were sluggish upon the second half’s start, scoring only two of the third quarter’s 16 points.

“We stopped executing for a four-minute segment,” said Gaudette, who saw his second-leading scorer, Christian Hathorn, held without a point during the game. “We started playing one-on-one basketball and took bad shots. If we could have gotten a few baskets then, the outcome might have been different.”

Whereas last season’s Hurricanes often relied on full-court rushes from senior point guard Tarin Prior and the inside game of classmate Jacob Seaver, this winter’s edition spreads the work out more equally. Tyburski was the only returnee with significant varsity playing time during last season’s 15-6 effort, but junior classmates Hathorn, Brayden Trombly, Brady Olmstead and Sean Dunton have all answered the bell.

“We’re ahead of schedule,” said Gaudette, a Hartford alum who also coached the Hurricanes from 2006-2011 and more recently lifted White River Valley to prominence. “If you’d have told me at the season’s start that we’d be 17-3, I’m not sure I would have believed you.

“A lot of our kids were either on the JV last season or they were varsity practice players. We’re still learning how to play in situations like tonight, but our kids play hard and they’re playing well at the right time of the year.”

Gaudette said Hartford could have been seeded a couple of slots higher in the playoffs, but because SVL-B opponents Springfield and Woodstock dropped to Division III for this season, victories over them didn’t earn the Hurricanes as many points in the standings.

“That really hurt us, but we have to play them as it stands,” Gaudette said. “Next year, we’re going to beef up our schedule to offset that situation.”

Hartford expects to receive a home playoff game next week against Otter Valley and should it prevail, will likely visit fourth-place Montpelier in the quarterfinals. Undefeated Spaulding should be the division’s top seed, followed by No. 2 Fair Haven. Those two teams have not played this winter.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

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