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Golden Bears going home for Class S title game: AGAIN

HARTFORD – They could have wilted under East Catholic’s powerful comeback. Didn’t happen. They could have been miffed about a so-called neutral site. No big deal. They could have been put off by being underdogs. Yeah, right. They could have been worn down with a five-man rotation. Didn’t happen.

They could have been overpowered by the Eagles imposing sophomore center Urielle Afoakwa- Abrokwa. Didn’t happen. They could have been satisfied with a gritty effort. Never considered. They could have lost. Bite your tongue Not happening. Repeat, not happening.

Instead the Thomaston High girls basketball team gave you one more night to savor, one more breathless performance that left you shaking your head, one more chance to experience the relentless championship DNA that defies school size and opponents and to a degree explanation.

The No. 2 Golden Bears (22-4) gutted their way past the No. 4 Eagles, 53-47, Friday night at SMSA High School in the Class S semifinals in front of what was more like a home crowd despite the 30-mile drive compared to East Catholic’s seven-mile hike,  that provided a proud roar throughout.

And once again the Bears, the 2022 champions, will end their season at Mohegan Sun next weekend against No. 4 Somers, an easy, 62-40, winner over Bolton. It is an incredible seventh appearance in the finals in the last 12 years by calendar but really seven in 10 years with the tournament called off one year due to Covid and suspended one other year due to Covid.

“Every team starts the season with (the hope of going to the championship game) but we don’t start with that hope,” Thomaston’s Nicole Decker said of the team’s uncanny ability to make Mohegan Sun a regular destination. “We come in saying that we are going to make it to Mohegan and if we don’t we are not happy. Last year we weren’t happy with losing before Mohegan. It is just a passion and a desire to be going to Mohegan.”

If the Bears needed anything else to add to the proud smiles it was Ava Harkness. The rugged center scored 19 points and went over the coveted 1,000 point mark, joining her long-time running mate Decker who joined the exclusive club earlier in the season.

The Bears needed to dig down inside to produce what makes this team and program what it is. After building up a 41-31 lead on a pair of Harkness foul shots with 5:49 to go, the edge disappeared in short order.

The Eagles went on run of 11 straight points highlighted by a pair of three-pointers from Dejahlee Dogons and Kailani Galan to erase the edge in just over two minutes to take a 42-41 lead with 3:43 to go.

But collapse was not on the agenda. Harkness immediately responded with a basket down low and the Bears would never trail again. Decker (18 points)  made it a three-point game and then followed up with two free throws for a 47-42 edge with 2:05 to go.

Down the stretch the Bears made just enough free throws to hold off the Eagles. Harkness would hit three foul shots in the final half minute, the clutch ones coming with 18.4 seconds to push the lead to two possessions, 50-45.

The Bears defense also forced the Eagles to several key turnovers with Rehjana Aliu coming up with a steal and Addison Patchell scrambling to create a jump ball with 19 seconds left.

“Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” said Bears coach Brian Mozelak of the response to losing the lead.  “This team is made up of champions. It is a never-say-die thing. Coming into this game we said the thing you have over East Catholic is that you have been in this situation before. Two years ago you played on the biggest stage this state has to offer for high school sports at Mohegan Sun. This was no different. This was not going to phase us.”

“My next thought after they took the lead was power through it by doing everything you can. It’s all about heart,” Harkness said. “Do whatever we can to get the next basket.  All defense too. No fouls just hard-core defense.”

The Bears opened up a 26-15 halftime lead, the damage being done in the second quarter. East Catholic missed its first 10 shots of the period as Thomaston reeled off nine straight points to build a double digit lead. The Eagles shot just 6-for-30 in the first half. “

Lily VanOrmer scored seven of her nine points in the opening half giving the Bears some much need offensive support.

Thomaston’s starting five of Decker, Harkness, VanOrmer, Aliu and Patchell played the entire game except for a 20 second stint by Maddy Decker in the third quarter. An iron-man performance.

There were a lot of pf reasons Thomaston could have lost Friday night. There was one reason they didn’t lose. They are Thomaston. It is not what they do most of the time. Oh, and the Bears don’t lose seminfinals. They are now 10-0 in seminfinals Perfect.

The amazing story just keeps getting better. See you at Mohegan as assistant coach Kelly Finlay says, “One more time.”

2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2022, 2024. Stunning.

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