TERRYVILLE – Big-time players recognize big-time moments. Crunch time becomes their time. Hello Nicole Decker.
With Thomaston (19-3) nearing life support condition and on the verge of being ousted from the Berkshire League Tournament Tuesday night by Gilbert (13-9) for the second year in a row, Decker went off allowing the Thomaston High girls to live another day.
Decker scored 18 of her game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as the top-seeded Bears rallied from a 12–point deficit for a 50-44 victory over the No. 4 Yellowjackets in front of a standing-room only crowd. Northwestern Regional cruised past Nonnewaug, 52-39, in the opener to set up a meeting between the Berkshire League co-champions Friday night.
“We needed to score and somebody had to put the ball in the basket,” Decker said. “In the second half I said I need to score.”
After taking a 12-7 first quarter lead, the Bears scored just five second quarter points, falling behind, 21-17, at the half and went more than six minutes without scoring into the third quarter. With Gilbert’s explosive sophomore star Emily Arel (22 points) in rhythm and scoring eight points in the third quarter including a couple of three pointers the Gilbert lead ballooned to 32-20.
Arel hit the 1000th point mark in the quarter with a hellacious turnaround three-pointer further pushing the momentum to Gilbert. After a timeout to recognize the highlight film Arel., it was Decker’s time. The junior guard tallied 11 fourth-quarter points to key a 15-2 run and give Thomaston a 35-34 lead with three minutes to go.
Her driving bucket with 1:38 left put the Bears up, 42-40, but Arel responded with two free throws to knot the game, 42-42, with 1:15 to go. Thomaston ran the clock down and got a final shot but Ava Harkness’ 10-footer was off the mark and Arel missed a desperation half-courter at the buzzer.
Decker began the overtime with a three-pointer for a 45-42 lead and Gilbert was never able to draw even. The Yellowjackets were hampered when Arel fouled out with 1:09 left. A Decker drive and two foul shots and a Harkness foul sealed the deal.
“I told our team at halftime that (Decker) was going to take charge,” Gilbert coach Gerry Hicks said. “She and Ava were really good in the second half. Decker was the key. She showed her leadership. She took charge.”
“In the fourth quarter I challenged the team and told them defense is what would decide it for us,” Thomaston coach Brian Mozelak said. “We might have slept walked through three quarters but in the fourth quarter we did what championship teams do. We took a hit and came back.”
Northwestern 52, Nonnewaug 39
Northwestern (21-1) avoided the drama Thomaston endured. One week after defeating the Chiefs in close battle in Woodbury, the Highlanders used an impressive performance to take care of business.
The Highlanders got their offense going in the second quarter and turned a 9-9 first quarter tie into a 30-19 halftime lead and were never threatened. Maddie Topa had eight of her 24 points in the quarter while Morgan Plitt (11 points) drained a pair of three-pointers. as a 14-4 run made it 23-13 and the defense took care of the rest.
Points came hard for the Chiefs (13-9) and they were never able to make a run at Northwestern. After three quarters Northwestern was well in command, 44-27.
“I’m pleased with how we played,” Northwestern coach Fred Williams said. “Our defense created enough problems for them and we made some shots. We got some open looks and knocked the shots down.”