By Rick Wilson
UNCASVILLE – They had watched their predecessors make magic on the Mohegan Sun court and all they ever wanted was their turn. A chance to be part of a brilliant story with their own special chapter. That time came Saturday and like those who came before they did not disappoint.
Sparked by a diabolically demoralizing and relentless defensive effort and a clutch 17-point, five rebound effort from senior Emma Sanson the Thomaston High girls basketball team did indeed make its own special mark by holding off No. 3 Coventry, 42-38, to capture the Class S state title for the fourth time In school history. It was the Bears first title since 2015.
“These kids haven’t been here before. Maybe it’s just that they’re Thomaston kids and the culture of the program but it means an awful lot to them, “Thomaston coach Bob McMahon said. These kids really wanted to do it, and nobody can ever take it away from them.”
“Wow, it’s crazy,” said Sanson’s Senior running mate Aurelia Barker. “We walked into the arena and it was like walking into a dream. It went by so quick and it’s awesome”
Sanson’s effort was a much-needed pick me up on a day when points we’re at a premium. Not a surprise, however. She professed to feeling calm and relax before the game and there was a little bit of pressure to keep up with the family legacy.
The youngest of the Hurlbert-Sanson contingent which includes older sisters Morgan and Alexa Sanson and cousins Abby and Gabrielle Hurlbert who have more hardware at home than most Main Street stores there was a little heat to get on board.
“I did not want to graduate without a ring on my finger,” said Sanson. “They wouldn’t have let me hear the end of it.”
She can tell them to move over now. She has earned her place at the table.
The Bears ferocious trapping defense took a major league bite out of Coventry’s offense throughout the game, forcing 25 turnovers, 16 coming in the first half. Sophomore Nicole Decker had eight thefts on her own. Passing lanes were full of traffic and shots, good shots or any shots, were difficult to come by.
Slowly the Bears we’re able to build up a lead but never pull away. Leading, 7-6, early Sanson got loose for a layup off a pass from Decker and Ava Harkness (10 points, 5 steals) scored from inside for an 11-6 lead after the first quarter.
But, the Bears bogged down in the second quarter and managed just six points. Still, the lead was, 20-13, at the half thanks to the sticky defense that refused to allow the Patriots to conceive of any momentum.
“We knew exactly what Thomaston was going to do,” said Coventry coach Kevin Clancy. “We practiced against the trap all week and we beat the first trap, it was the second level trap that got us. We talked at halftime and said we’re only down seven with all those turnovers. We felt the game was in our hands.”
Thomaston had different thoughts. While the offense came and went (13-39 from the floor) and the foul line was a challenge (15-32), again there was that defense to pick them up.
Coventry closed to within, 22-19, midway through the third quarter on Charlotte Jordan’s drive down the middle but the Bears responded by creating two turnovers and getting a Decker drive down the lane and a Sanson foul shot for a 25-19 lead.
But the biggest shot of the game came at the end of the period. After Anaka Eaton, who had a monster 21-rebound, 13 point effort, converted a three-point play, Payton Mozelak came off the bench and drilled a three-pointer to steady the Bears with a 28-22 lead.
“That’s what she’s here for’” smiled McMahon.
The Bears had to sweat some at the end after building up an 11-point lead, 38-27, with just 2:11 to go on the game. An 11-3 Coventry run ignited by four Jordan foul shots and a three-pointer from Amy Prior suddenly had the lead down to, 41-38, with six seconds left. However, a foul shot from Harkness sealed the outcome.
“We put them to the line too much late,” said McMahon.
In the end all that mattered for the Bears was that they had more points than the Patriots. They got their state championship, they got their parade, they got their banner on the wall. And they made their own special chapter in one of the really, good stories going. And when you win state titles it is forever.