Nonnewaug, Shepaug create classic in BL Tournament finale

THOMASTON – It was one of those nights that will always keep you coming back. It was one of those nights that reinforced the magic that high school basketball can be and stirred the passions to their highest level. It was the Berkshire League at its best.

Nonnewaug and Shepaug squared off for the BL Tournament title at Thomaston High Friday night.  The BL Tournament  is a one week frenzy designed to raise money and give teams practice to prepare for the state tournament.  There is no title on the line, in this case Nonnewaug having already earned the BL championship based on the regular season. The records do not count for state tournament seedings.

But don’t ever, ever conclude that the BL Tournament means nothing. There is a plaque on the line, there are bragging rights, there are nets to be cut down for the winners. There is ton of pride in the offing. If you witnessed this championship spectacle and it was a spectacle of the first order, the tournament title meant everything.

A standing room only crowd of nearly 1,000 turned the Thomaston gym into a lively bubbling cauldron of energy. The only seat to be found was in the coach’s office at one end of the gym. Fans stood 2-3 deep just inside the doors into the gym behind a radio table. Several corners were loaded with humans.

The four sections of bleachers were bathed in either a sea of red (Nonnewaug) or blue (Shepaug) depending on your rooting interest. The decibel level never let silence invade the gym, tested every ear drum and rocked the scoring table (my seat). We had trouble communicating with one another. The walls were in rattle mode.

The electric atmosphere was a force in the magic of the night. The game was force in the electric atmosphere.  

Simply put, the Chiefs and Spartans put on a show that was stunning drama that had both sides knowing they had produced something special. Ten double-figure scorers, big-time comebacks, awesome athleticism and up-and-down action.

Oh Yeah, and there was the ending that put a memorable capper on the evening. In the final 20 seconds with Nonnewaug clinging to a 71-69 lead and the crowd in a frenzy, Shepaug had three opportunities to tie only to have the basket deny to accept the ball. Three-pointer off the mark, two putbacks agonizingly off.

In the end, Robert Metcalfe rebounded, got the ball to the superbly athletic Ben Roden who found Brady Herman streaking down the court for the decisive layup for a 73-69 win. The frenetic finale capped off several comebacks for the not-to-be-denied Chiefs who trailed, 45-34 in the third quarter and 58-52 early in the fourth quarter.

The delirious Nonnewaug faithful were one in ecstasy and greeted the floor with celebration at the end and during the net-cutting. Tournament victors for the first time since 2016, they weren’t going home early. And not lost in the win was the idea that it had been accomplished in the game of games.

“It was hard to recognize in the moment how amazing a spectacle it was,” Nonnewaug coach Tim Fitzpatrick said. “It was really unique. I’ve been coaching for eight years and never been involved in a game with so much emotion and intensity. It was a heavyweight battle with one punch after another. I told the kids to look around the gym at all the kids and how they dream of playing in a game like this. We got to live the dream.”

On the Shepaug side Spartans coach Matt LaFave had a wistful smile. A brilliant game had come up painfully short. But, the realization of how special the game was did not escape even in the throes of a disappointing ending.

Roden was special with 16 points, a young man with no athletic ceiling while Herman came through time and time again with 16 points. Shepaug offered up the shooting of Reed Woerner who drained five three-pointers and finished with a game-high 19 points. Drew Konik had 12 points and was all over the floor. The list goes on for both sides.

CIAC Director of Officials Dan Scavone was in the house parked against the wall in one section of the stands. What he saw didn’t disappoint.

“I really enjoyed it. Not a better way to spend a Friday night,” he said.

Waterbury Republican writer Steve Barlow hit the nail on the head.

“People ask me how long I’m going to keep doing this,” Barlow said. “(After tonight) why would I give it up.”

I walked into the gym with no rooting interest. I walked out with the adrenalin flowing. This was as good as it gets.  The basketball passion has never needed to be renewed. This night just reinforced it. This was special.

Take a bow Nonnewaug and Shepaug. It was that good.

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