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Bears move into Division V semifinals

THOMASTON – One more step. One more game, 32 precious minutes. It is a big step but it is all that separates the Thomaston boys basketball team from Mohegan Sun and a state championship game berth.

Yep, you read it right. Coach A.J. Bunel’s battling Bears moved into the Division V finals Monday night for the first time since 1991 with a palpitating, 58-55 victory over No. 20 Stafford.

Standing in the Bears way will be a formidable No. 8 Coventry team who ousted Berkshire League champion and No. 1 seed Nonnewaug, 63-49.  The two teams will tangle at 6:30 at East Hartford Wednesday night.

“We’ve never been in the semifinals, it’s going to be – well, we all wanted it really bad,” said the Bears Vince Russman who contributed 10 points and a number of hustle plays throughout the second half and down a frenetic final two minutes. “We are all pretty hyped up to play Conventry. We all had a pretty good night tonight. “

The Bears, seeded 12th and currently 15-10, used a solid formula of steady, tight defense and balanced attack to build up a lead and then hold off the gritty Bulldogs. Four Golden Bears hit double figures led by Maddox Lahey with 17 points. Mason Allen chipped in with 15 and Jake Morton 14 to go with Russman’s 10.

“We’re not the prettiest by any means but we got positive contributions from everyone.” Bears coach A.J. Bunel said.

At the top of that contributing list was Lahey. One post-game tweet read, “Madison Lahey for First Selectman. “Well, he probably doesn’t want that job but Player of the Game works for him. Lahey was a potent problem for Stafford with an array of driving hoops and two three-pointers.  Five of those points came at crucial time in the fourth quarter.

But Lahey’s impact was felt at both ends of the court. He was given the task of defending Stafford’s lightning quick guard Colin Tozier. Tozier finish with 18 points but worked for everyone and wore Lahey around like a new suit.

“(Tozier) is one of the shiftiest players I’ve ever guarded,” said Lahey. “He was another good player I get to guard. It wasn’t just me, my teammates were there to help. “

“Maddox chased him the length of the court and never let him breathe,” added Bunel.

The Bears gained the edge early, taking a 17-9 first quarter lead after the first quarter, six points coming from Allen and six points from Jake Morton.  The edge remained nine at the halftime break, 32-23.

The lead hit a high of 52-39 with 5:39 left in the game and then Stafford made the Bears sweat. In a little over a minute and a half the lead was down to 52-47.

However baskets from Russman, freshman Kingston McGrath and Allen put the Bears back on top, 58-51, enough of a margin to hang on despite missing their last six foul shots.

“Coach has been telling us that there is no team better than us if we play our best,” added Lahey. “Our job is not finished. We have one more game to go. Nobody remembers the semifinals. Only finals. “

One thing is for sure, this run will be remembered and the Bears have given themselves a chance to dance on the biggest of stages. And that chance has been 33 years in the making.  

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