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Thomaston toughs out BL Tournament title by outlasting Wamogo....Story by John Nestor
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LITCHFIELD - One title wasn't enough for the Thomaston Bears so they went out and fought their way to a second.
After capturing the Berkshire League regular season title with a near perfect run the top-seeded Bears went out and won the BL Tournament title Friday night with a 49-41 victory over No. 3 Wamogo in Litchfield.
Maggie Eberhardt scored 17 points and Laura Miller added nine for Thomaston (19-3), which lost just one game to a BL team this season and has now won 16 straight overall. A hot start and some gutty play down the stretch allowed the Bears to back up their regular season title with a long awaited victory.
"This is special, it's a special night for us," Thomaston coach Bob McMahon said. "We've lost this game more than once and one year we thought we had a good shot at it and the final got canceled, so we've been chomping at the bit to get back here, both the coaches and players."
That fire was evident from the get-go as the Bears came out all-business while the Warriors took a while to get their legs under them. Thomaston did everything right in the first quarter, playing suffocating defense and hitting shot after shot to open up a 21-5 lead.
"We came out flat and they came out on fire," Wamogo coach Kevin Crowley said. "Every mental breakdown we had in the first quarter they took advantage of."
They sure did.
Wamogo actually scored the first hoop of the game but then Thomaston seized control. Eberhardt and Abby Hurlburt both hit 3-pointers in a 12-1 run that made it 12-3. Kerri Stolle scored on a layup to temporarily stop the bleeding and make it 12-5 but then Thomaston scored the final nine points of the quarter.
It was about as good a start as Thomaston could have hoped for.
"It's supposed to be that way all the time," McMahon said of the Bears D in the first quarter. "It's easy to say but you have to go out there and do it and that's the best we did it all year for eight minutes."
But the game is 32 minutes and the next 16 went the Warriors' way. Wamogo started to chip away pulling within 27-16 at the half and then rallying to cut the deficit to 33-29 heading into the fourth. the Bears managed only 12 points in the middle two quarters but the Warriors had to be kicking themselves that they weren't even closer.
Wamogo missed eight free throws in the first half and another three in the third quarter. They got themselves back in it but could never quite get over the hump to take the lead and really put the pressure on
"Rough start, we turned the ball over and I don't think we were ready for their pressure defense. They did a little more off ball pressure," Stolle said. "We missed some bunnies, missed some foul shots, but we fought back and played pretty well after the first quarter."
When they weren't playing well they were at least playing hard and that helped the Warriors make a game out of it after early on it looked like the Bears could have picked a score en route to the title. Instead Stolle scored six points in the third quarter to help close the gap and then made it 38-36 with two free throws with 3:48 to go in the fourth.
After a turnover by the Bears the Warriors had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead with a three, instead the Bears dug down and started a quick run that put the game away.
Wamogo's Megan Layman missed a three and Thomaston turned the long rebound into a layup by Eberhardt. Hannah LaBonne then made one of two from the line for the Warriors only to have Hurlburt answer with a 3-pointer and then force a Wamogo turnover at the other end.
Sydney Keith grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the putback to put the Bears up 45-37 and cap the 7-1 run.
"This was a team win," McMahon said. "We had a lot of kids chip in and it has been like that all year."
"It's an awesome feeling," Miller said. "We have come together as a team and we fight to get through the close games and have been able to pull them out and to win this one is really hard to describe, it's great."
And what a year it has been for the Bears.
A lot was expected from Thomaston this season and sometimes living up to expectations is a hard thing to do. Last season Lewis Mills was the juggernaut and Thomaston flew under the radar and surprised a number of people with the big year it had. This season there was no sneaking up on anyone, the Bears were going to be good, they knew it as well as anyone and early on this season it may have worked against them.
After six games Thomaston was a slightly disappointing 3-3 and had lost three straight. In that losing streak was a loss at Nonnewaug, their only BL loss of the season and a rough one down at Coginchaug where the Bears were handed a 56-35 setback. But instead of feel sorry for themselves, the Bears grew from the experience and will enter the state tournament on a 16-game win streak.
"We got a kick in the pants," McMahon said. "We stole some games last year and came into this season and thought it might be easy. So we saw, there are a lot of good teams out there. It really was the turning point of the season, that ride home from Coginchaug was the turning point of the season."
That turning point has now resulted in two titles and the Bears will go for the big prize, the Class S title, as the No. 3 seed and start with a home game on March 1. McMahon likes the roll his team is on but is cautious just the same.
"I'm happy with how we keep fighting and finding a way to win," he said. "In the tournament the next mistake could be your last, so we have to hunker down and make some plays."
While coming up short was disappointing, Wamogo will get a chance to get the sour taste of losing to Thomaston three times this season out of its mouth in the Class S tournament as well. The Warriors are the No. 5 seed and open with No. 28 Goodwin Tech on Tuesday at home.
"It's never fun to lose to Thomaston, especially three times, but they work hard and play together well as a team and they deserve it," Stolle said. "I think we'll be hungry."