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Triple title games for Bears in the 1990s

POSTED March 14, 2013
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

            THOMASTON – It was magical. It was marvelous. It was memorable. It was a trilogy of terrific that will probably never be matched in Thomaston.

            For three straight seasons, 1992-94, the Thomaston High girls basketball team had a permanent invitation to the Class S championship game at Central Connecticut State University.

One would have been nice. Two was like a bonus. And three? Well, that was off the charts.

            Three straight times in the championship game for a school the size of Thomaston, let alone any school is enough to make you want to check the record book for verification. Go right ahead, the Bears were there.

            The results were a mixed bag. The first time around was a loss to St. Thomas Aquinas, 43-37. The second time the Bears ruled, downing Putnam, 53-41, to earn the first and to date only girls state title in school history.

            Championship game No. 3 belonged to Hale Ray. The Little Noises made a big statement with a 60-43 victory.

            Three straight years the Bears season ended on the last possible day in the last possible game. So special. And the coach of all three teams, Paul Ebbs knows why.

            “I always said we had the three key ingredients,” said Ebbs who still lives in Thomaston. “We had the superstar in Amy Matthews who knew when to give up the ball and when to take over the game. Billy (assistant coach Ryan) and I did our best coaching job and the talent of the rest of the girls.”

            The Thomaston teams of this era were not great teams. They were very good teams that got on a great roll. Northwestern Regional ruled the BL roost at this time. The Highlanders went seven years without losing a Berkshire League game. The streak would hit an unbelievable 141 games before it ended against, you guessed it, Thomaston in the 1993 Berkshire League Tournament.

            The Bears were 20-6 in the 1991-92 season, set a then school-record 21-5 mark in the title-winning following year and were 15-8 in 1993-94.

            Accomplishment demands you start with Matthews here. She scored 1,576 points in here career and went on to duplicate the number at Western Connecticut State University.

 She is already in the Western Connecticut Basketball Hall of Fame and next month will be inducted in to the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame with a couple of people you might know – Geno Aueriemma and Chris Dailey.

            As a sophomore Matthews was an emerging power. As a junior she dominated and as a senior she overcame a debilitating illness to finish with a flourish.

            The Bears lost their first three games of the 1991-92 campaign and then found their groove going, 16-1 the rest of the regular season. The game many remember in the state tournament was a slugfest against Trinity Catholic in a 65-58 quarterfinal victory. But Ebbs points to the first round game Coventry as the catalyst, a 44-41, win.

            “We were down by 12 points with about four minutes to go and came back,” he remembered.

            This championship game of the three was the one Ebbs said, “got away.”

            “The girls were so nervous, they were shell-shocked,” said Ebbs. “We were down by 18 midway through the second quarter.”

            But, the Bears roared back and tied the game in the final quarter. They could not get the lead however.

            Matthews was superb in the championship season (1992-93). The Bears stunned the state when the broke Northwestern’s 141-game win streak to win the BL title.

            “It made us realize that no team was unbeatable,” said Matthews. “There was no feeling in the world like it. It was amazing.”

            It would get better in the state tournament. The No. 6 Bears handled Tourtellotte, 62-50, in the opener and then ended East Hampton’s season, 54-40. The Bears showed they were t more than just one player as Beth Osowieck scored 14 and 16 points respectively in the two games. Osowiecki, a powerful 5-foot-9 forward was also a Bear under the boards as her team rolled.

            In the semifinals against a Somers team many considered the best in Class S including Ebbs, Matthews went off.

            In front of an SRO crowd in sauna-like conditions at Farmington High School, Matthews came up with an iconic 37-point, 17 rebound effort as the Bears held on for a 53-50 win.

            “Amy was phenomenal, it was one of the best games she played against excellent competition,” said Ebbs. “Somers’ guards were quicker, faster and more aggressive than Amy. She got by with strength and she was determined. I told her to take the ball and blow up the floor.”

            The Bears capped their season off by defeating Putnam and again the team aspect came through. Locked in a tight game in the fourth quarter, key baskets from Courtney Blair (her only hoop of the game) and Julie O’Connell the Bears turned a one-point lead in the state championship.

            Freshman Tanya Ramos, who would later go on to score 1,000 points and star at Quinnipiac came up with nine big points. Matthews survived foul trouble and finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds earning the Josephine Dwyer Most Valuable Player Award.

            Matthews was a physical shell of herself in the 1993-94 season. Fighting a condition called gastroesophageal reflux in which the esophagus did not constrict properly and caused regurgitation, her weight dropped from 150 lbs. to a low of 109 lbs.

            But, she was Matthews. The Bears didn’t exactly limp through the season but they were up and down. Until the state tournament and then they were up again.

            The Bears smoked Westbrook, 54-22 in their opener and doused Wilcox Tech, 49-29 in game two. Then Matthews went crazy.

            After modest 16 and 22-point games, she torched Coventry with an all-time performance – 43 points, eight rebounds and six steals.

            “I just knew I could take my girl if I wanted it bad enough and the ball went in,” said Matthews at the time.

            The Bears then dumped East Hampton, 71-54 before meeting Hale Ray.  There would be no repeat.

            “Hale Ray was far superior,” said Ebbs. Amy had stomach problems and threw up the night before. She had no energy and was beat up all over the floor. They triple-teamed her.

            It would be 20 years before the Bears would make another final. But for three years in the early 1990s the Class S championship game and the Bears were one. It was Matthews, the coaching and the team with players like Osowiecki, Allison and Amy Guisti, Blair, Gloria Holway, Ramos and the list goes on. I

It was magical, marvelous and memorable.

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