UNCASVILLE – A Hurlbert on the free throw line, a Thomaston championship on the line.
Where have we seen this before?
Amazingly, one year after her sister made three late free throws to save the Golden Bears in the Class S championship game, Gabby Hurlbert was in the same position on Saturday against Canton.
Leading by two with eight seconds left, Hurlbert stood on the foul line, the same one on the right side of the Mohegan Sun Arena court where her sister made herself a local legend.
Two makes and a second consecutive championship for Thomaston.
She missed both.
She didn’t care.
Hurlbert immediately retreated to defense and intercepted Emily Briggs’ pass, falling to the court in the process.
The final buzzer sounded and Thomaston, the small school of 260 students, stood on top of Class S once again.
The Golden Bears outlasted Canton in a slugfest, 52-50, and stormed the court in celebration. Head coach Bob McMahon, after an exhausting fourth quarter filled with fouls, missed free throws and nervous tension, took a deep breath, looked into the stands, and pumped his fist.
It was a tough win for a tough team. Look no further than Hurlbert.
“After those foul shots, I was disappointed, but I had to get back on defense,” Hurlbert said. “I saw in her eyes where she was passing it. Right when I saw that, I jumped in front of it. We’ve been practicing that on defense a lot, and it just worked out.”
McMahon spent a second reminiscing, then went right back to coaching.
“That was poetic,” McMahon said. “I was thinking and she had to be thinking, ‘I’m going to do what my sister did and nail this one down.’ But she hustled back, read her eyes, and picked it off. She won the game with that play.”
Thomaston (21-3) never trailed and can thank its defense for the win. It held the Warriors to 26 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers.
That was crucial, because the Golden Bears themselves struggled offensively and almost handed Canton the title, committing 29 turnovers and missing 12 free throws.
They led by 13 in the first half, and by eight with 2:42 left in the fourth. It was a struggle to hold on as the final quarter went on like a crawl, with fouls and turnovers the norm.
“We shot ourselves in the foot. We did a terrible job of protecting the ball and just getting shots,” McMahon said. “In the end, though, you just got to keep fighting. That’s one thing Thomaston kids have always done. They just fight.”
Morgan Sanson led the Golden Bears with 13 points and Nicole Schaefer finished with 11.
Julia Quinn, who came off the bench and scored 12 points, including a big three-pointer in the fourth, remembers at one point looking at the clock. It had barely moved.
“I looked at the clock and saw 4:45 and I thought there would only be like a minute left,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Maggie Treacy’s three with 49 seconds remaining closed the Thomaston lead to two. The Golden Bears then turned it over, and Canton executed one of its better offensive sets of the day, setting Briggs up for a good look from 12 feet. She missed and Casey Carangelo grabbed one of her 15 rebounds.
That set the stage for Hurlbert. The ending may not have gone according to script, but it still went Thomaston’s way. Three straight state championship game appearances, two straight titles.
“Special,” said McMahon, using the perfect word to describe this run. “It really makes me think of the players that started this a few years back and didn’t get a chance to come here. I hear from them every big game and many of them are here today.
“We knew these kids would carry the torch. And they’ve done more than that. I’m very proud of them.”
His players struggled to find the right word.
“When I heard the buzzer, it was just an amazing feeling. I can’t describe it,” Hurlbert said.
“It’s amazing. There’s not even a word to describe how awesome this is,” added Schaefer.
McMahon had the word: “Special.” State champions, once again.