Somers’ late run stops Bears state title bid

UNCASVILLE – The sounds of Queen’s seminal “We are the Champions” boomed throughout the Mohegan Sun Arena, every state champion’s national anthem. And this time it hurt for the Thomaston High girls basketball team.

They have danced the dance of champions to the tune as recently as 2022 but this time it was for the other team. This time it wasn’t their song. This time the song, the euphoria belonged to someone else.

No. 4 Somers built up a sizeable third quarter lead, withstood a furious Golden Bear comeback, and stole the show in the final four minutes to capture the Class S title, 56-43, on the St. Patrick’s Day Sunday afternoon.

“We played hard,” Thomaston guard Nicole Decker (13 points, 6 rebounds) said. “They got on runs and we didn’t stop the runs. “I’m sad that we lost but more sad that we’re done playing for Thomaston and with Ava (teammate Harkness). I had prepped for both outcomes (won and loss).”

It was the first appearance for the Spartans (22-6) in a state title game in 40 years and the first state title since 1977. The Bears were making their seventh appearance in the finals in the last 10 tournaments over 12 years and finished the season with a 22-5 mark.

The Bears rallied from a 32-21 midway through the third quarter to tie the game, 39-39, with 4:49 remaining. But it proved to be a last gasp as Somers rode the broad shoulders of sophomore Maya Skalski to go on a 17-4 run to finish the game.

“We were just tired and you could see that we didn’t have our legs at this point at that point and some of the shots that may have usually fallen to force Somers into a difficult situation just didn’t fall for us.” Thomaston coach Brian Mozelak said.

Skalski broke the tie with a baseline jumper and after a Thomaston turnover drove to the hoop for two more and a 43-39 lead. She wasn’t done. After Decker cut the lead to a basket with short  runner, Skalski added another hoop for a 45-41 edge.

After a series of Thomaston misses, Eliana Wood (16 points, 10 rebounds) hit a short jumper and Skalski nailed a pair of free throws on separate trips to the line for a 49-41 lead with 2:37 to go. Thomaston managed just one bucket the rest of the way as desperation set in and Decker fouled out with 1:43 to go.

Skalski finished with eight points in the final quarter and registered an MVP 22 point, 13 rebound game. It was not the version of Skalski the Bears wanted to see and they had seen a couple of versions.

“(Skalski) is a very good player, we knew she was tough,” Mozelak said. “She is physical and we really didn’t want her to get in the paint but we really didn’t have an answer for her. I said going into the game that 33 (Skalski) was really the wild card for them. I’ve seen her score four points and I’ve seen her score 24 points).”

“When Thomaston tied the game I just got the adrenalin rush,” Skalski said. “I was not going to let them have this one. I just did what I needed to do.”

Somers won the game late but the Bears may have lost the game early. A 6-for-32 (18.8 percent) shooting performance for the first half (15-for-64 for the game, 23 percent) helped Somers to a 24-17 first half lead. The defense also didn’t seem to have the usual Thomaston spark.

“I don’t think we came out with the same defensive intensity that we typically play with,” Mozelak said. “It kind of surprised me because having been here before I said we’re not going to get caught up in the moment. I don’t think it was the point of getting caught up in the moment as much as it was we just didn’t have it like we did a week ago and it took us to be down 11 points before we could actually get out there and pressure them the way we should have the entire game.”

The Bears did themselves proud and regrouped in the third period after Somers built up a 32-21 lead and it was senior Rejhana Aliu leading the way. The diminutive guard suddenly caught fire and scored six straight points on a drive and two outside shots to cut the deficit to 32-27.

“Rejhana is a senior, we expected that out of her,” Mozelak said. “She kind of put the team on her back there for a couple of possessions and made some big baskets.”

The surge keyed an 18-7 run to tie the game in the fourth quarter.  However the Bears could never get over the top.

“The third quarter was best quarter of the game and if we had done that the first quarters it might have been different,” said senior Ava Harkness who scored a team-high 16 points. “We just missed shots.”

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of how this team fought back to tie the game up,” Mozelak said. “At the end we were just a few bodies short of what we needed. They were tired from the beginning but gave it all they had. Somers did a good job of making Nicole get the ball and her points.”

On this day we played a better team. Somers had a great season and deserved it.”

Addison Patchell chipped in with six points and eight rebounds for the Bears while Sydney Cassidy added 16 points and 12 boards for the Spartans.

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