A look back at the top stories of 2014. One year later, Hurlbert and Golden Bears stand on top of Class S
UNCASVILLE – The scene plays itself out all over the world on a daily basis.
Basketball players in gymnasiums, arenas, driveways and the park count down the time and pretend their shot will make or break a championship.
It’s no different at Thomaston High School.
“In practice, even early in the season, we joke around saying our shots are going to win the state championship,” Thomaston’s Abby Hurlbert said.
Hurlbert actually found herself facing this situation in real life Saturday afternoon in the Class S title game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Trailing St. Paul by three with five seconds left in overtime, Hurlbert desperately raced up the floor in hopes of attempting one last three-pointer.
As she rose into her shooting motion, Hurlbert was fouled with two-tenths of a second left and was given three fouls shots to save the Golden Bears’ championship hopes. She calmly made the first two, then had some time to think about the third after the Falcons called a time out.
Thomaston head coach Bob McMahon wasn’t worried. He had already shifted his focus to a potential second overtime.
“I was thinking (more) overtime,” McMahon said. “No way she was missing.”
“I was ready. I wanted to get it,” said Hurlbert.
The senior, who notched 28 points and 10 rebounds in the Class S finals last season in a loss to Capital Prep, confidently sank the third free throw, unquestionably the biggest shot in the history of the program.
Technically, those free throws did not win the state championship. But in reality, they did. The Golden Bears celebrated as if they won the game after Hurlbert converted the third shot and St. Paul was unable to recover in the second overtime.
Final score: Thomaston 61, St. Paul 57. A classic championship for the team from a classic small town.
Following the final buzzer, the Thomaston bench exploded onto the floor in celebration. The Golden Bears then received the Class S trophy and ran over to party with the school’s screaming sections of fans – consisting of most of the town’s 7,500 citizens.
“We were relieved, but very happy at the same time when it was over. It was a flood of emotions,” Hurlbert said. “To have our whole town out there supporting us was incredible. All week, our game was the only thing anyone was talking about.”
The victory, though, did not come without some severe adversity.
St. Paul (20-4), paced by 15 points from Mekaela Giantonio and Elisabeth Cretella’s 14, went on a 12-0 run to open a 10-point lead late in the third quarter. Hurlbert quickly got the Golden Bears back in it with a three and a one-handed runner at the buzzer, cutting the Falcons’ lead to five.
Late in the fourth, Thomaston (20-4) trailed by two when Morgan Sanson (13 points, 13 rebounds) rebounded a miss and connected on a lay-up with 17 seconds remaining to tie it.
The Golden Bears overcame 19 turnovers and 36.7 percent shooting, while taking advantage of 10 St. Paul misses at the foul line.
McMahon has seen his team in a bind before, most notably in the semifinals where Thomaston trailed Sacred Heart by 11 before rallying to win. Their mental toughness received its toughest test on Saturday.
“It comes from will and fortitude and the way we practice,” McMahon said. “We’re down a few buckets? We’re fine. We’ve been dead and buried before, but we just rise. We never go easy.”
“This happened against Sacred Heart and we’ve been good at coming back the whole season,” added Hurlbert. “We’ve had our backs against the wall a lot and that helped us prepare for today.”
Another huge reason for Thomaston’s recovery was freshman Casey Carangelo, who was sensational in recording 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting to go along with nine rebounds.
“Casey was huge for us,” Hurlbert said. “She wasn’t here with us last year, seeing Mohegan Sun and all the lights and all the fans, but it didn’t matter. She was great.”
St. Paul had one last shot in the second overtime. It was clear this was Thomaston’s day, however, when Cretella stole the ball, but saw it ricochet off the referee and back into the hands of Hurlbert.
Hurlbert was fouled and made both free throws. Sanson, with 5.2 seconds left, then sealed the championship with two foul shots of her own, sending Thomaston’s fans into a wild frenzy.
Hurlbert finished her storied career with 23 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
“Her extreme confidence is contagious with the others,” McMahon said. “The kid is a total winner in every sense of the word. One of 15 on our roster.”
Her calmness, confidence and competitiveness came full circle when she stood at the foul line holding the hopes of a small town on her shoulders.
Just like when she made championship shots with nobody in the stands during practice, Hurlbert came through on Saturday. Only this time the championship was for real.