For the Bears, a difficult day
THOMASTON – They knew and their parents, classmates and fans knew this day was coming. And everyone knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The clock doesn’t care who you are or what you do, it just keeps ticking.
Not that the Thomaston High softball team has the market cornered on bittersweet. Not at the one-and-done time in the high school season when only a few get to go home happy. Not when careers end. That bittersweet belongs to all.
But maybe this one was tougher on the Bears than most. Simply because of who they are and what they have become.
Thomaston lost to Stafford Thursday, 5-3, in the Class S quarterfinals. But the tears and emotion were hardly just about a softball season ending too early and seniors having come to the end of the road.
Sure that was inevitably part of the pall that hung over Thomaston’s Bev Lowden Field and the hollow feeling that permeated so many stomachs. But to think that was the essence of the day is a shallow thought. There was so much more here that went beyond the day.
Seasons are ending for most, this was about the ending of an era. This was about a good-bye to the most dominant, stunning run we’ve seen. This was about four state titles in three different sports (softball, field hockey, basketball). This was about a rather unfathomable seven state title games in three different sports for Morgan Sanson, Gabrielle Hurlbert and Nicole Schaefer.
This was about playing for 28 titles in four years and winning 16 - 2 Class S basketball titles, 4 BL basketball titles, 4 BL Tournament titles, three BL softball titles, one Class S softball title, one Class S field hockey title, one BL field hockey title.
There are schools with great athletic tradition. But his was done with the same core group of athletes in every sport in a 106-girl public high school where everybody lives with four miles of the school.
It is never easy to say good-bye. It is downright painful to say good-bye to the great. Thomaston created so many great moments replete with championships and unfathomable comebacks. There were parades in and out of town, photo shoots, unprecedented media attention. There is an adoring town and a state that has often wondered in amazement about how Thomaston kept showing up at championship time.
And with the great you always want one more moment, one more thrill. In the end the Bears produced one last reminder of who they are when they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat St. Paul, 3-2 on Wednesday. Thomaston did not play well Thursday. They made a couple of errors, they struggled to field the bunt, there were a couple of throws to the wrong base and the bats went on summer vacation early, producing one baserunner after the second inning..
Stafford took a page from the Bears book and rallied from a two-run deficit to continue its own special season. It simply was not who the Bears are and have been. But it was who the Bears were on this day and the state tournament has little tolerance for that kind of execution.
Coach Kelly Finlay struggled with herself before addressing her team. I have known Finlay since her high school days as a Bear. After a few questions I told her that I didn’t want to hold her from talking to her team.
She was biding time. There were a lot of deep breaths and her voice cracked. The eyes were red. Finlay also is an assistant coach with the basketball team and has been part of the bigger picture of excellence.
What do you tell a team that lost to a team that it probably should have beaten and now faces no tomorrows. What do you tell a team that has seized the day so many times for itself and had not missed a state seminfinal in any sport since the 2014 field hockey season.
See for the Bears there has always been the next season and the next challenge. When they lost to Holy Cross in last season’s final, they came back in the fall and won the field hockey title.
After the sting of losing to Canton in the Class S basketball title game in March, the Bears came right back and won the BL softball title. There has always been another mountain and they have climbed all of them to the top.
Now there is no more mountain. And Finlay couldn’t ignore the past. You ceased separating the seasons long ago because so many players play all or two of the same sports. Morgan Sanson is always scoring the field hockey goal, hitting the hoop or throwing two-hitters.
Same with Gabrielle Hurlbert, Schaefer and Alexa Milius. Julia Romaniello and Danielle Genest, Sam Brostek, Sam Laone and Katie Everett play two sports. It is all intertwined.
I gave the Bears their space. This was their time. So much churning inside. Realization that the ending had arrived. What do you tell a team that had a bad day but a run for the ages.
Exactly that. I don’t think what the Bears have accomplished will ever be duplicated which explains why this day was so difficult
The Bears felt so bad because it all has been so good. To understand that is to understand the struggles going on inside and felt all around with those who walked in step with this remarkable run and time.
It is over and it hurt. Time will heal. But Thursday afternoon something pretty awesome came to an end. As Sanson said,”I feel like a piece of me has been ripped out.’
A difficult day for the Bears. More than for most because they’ve done more than virtually all. Down the road, however or even now they have a marvelous story to tell. In the immediacy of the moment, however, that was hard to grasp. Of course, it had to be that way.