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Bears hooked on winning

POSTED March 01, 2014
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson




            WINSTED – Winning is that magical potion that reels you in once you have tasted it and doesn’t let go. You cling to it and all the special that goes with it even while there is a constant push to take it all away. Most of the time it is fleeting so you embrace the moment(s) so desperate to make time stand still.

            Those Golden Bears of Thomaston will tell you that. They are hooked to the moment which has morphed into an era that includes four BL titles and three BL Tournament crowns along with a 102-17 record in the last five years.  And they refuse to consider an ending to it all. And it will end someday, the yearly dominance of the Ansonias (football) a mighty rare thing in the small high school world.

            But they will go clawing and scratching into the next stage when that time comes and it hasn’t come yet.

            Friday was a very good night for the Berkshire League on a variety of levels and a great night for a relentless band of Bears.  They played the BL Girls Basketball Tournament Championship game at Northwestern Regional and it was big-time and good-time all in one.

            The league honored Northwestern Regional’s legendary coach Fred Williams for being inducted into the Connecticut High School Coaches Hall of Fame recently. The man won 141 league games and eight titles. In a row. He has a state title and is moving on towards 600 career wins.

            The word went out to his former players and a whole bunch of them showed up to acknowledge the classy man who has won a lot of games and touched even more lives. That alone made it a good night.

            But there was a game involved here that started with electricity and ended with appreciation. Thomaston and Lewis Mills have been going at it for a while now. Thomaston won the BL title in 2010, Mills in 2011, Thomaston in 2012 and 2013 and they shared the crown along with Nonnewaug this season.

            The Spartans defeated Thomaston for the BL Tournament title in 2011 while Thomaston won the title in 2012, 2013 and for a third time last night (Friday), 46-37. The last two have come at the expense of the Spartans.

            There is some rich history punctuated by great players like Amanda Adamski, Maggie Eberhardt, Abby Hurlbert, Teagan Dunn and now Natalie Ruel.  It was all on display here.

            The schools respective student bodies have bought into it. They were out in force with fan busses and school spirit first and foremost. Pink Bunel, father of the famous Gilbert Bunel clan, looked across the floor at the throng of Thomaston students, known as `The Cave’ and just shook his head in admiration – “That’s what a small town is all about.”

            Understand this about Thomaston High. It has a total of 268 kids (132 girls). Not a misprint, not the class size. That’s the entire school. I can’t tell you if the Bears will be here 10 years from now or even five but I can tell you that they are here now. More than half of the school was in attendance.

            The Spartans’ `Thundadome’ also did itself proud and both sections put the juice in the building with incessant chants and responses to one another. Channel 3 was in the house and when Joe Zone went to each student section, the walls rattled. 


            On the floor, Mills is right there, the Bears just refuse to get out of the way. Mills posted four-point and one-point wins against the Bears this season, the second victory coming with an improbable and memorable comeback from 12 points back with about four minutes left.

            And, if not for an upset by Housatonic, the Spartans would be league champions all by their lonesome.

            It all doesn’t faze the Bears. The four games they lost this season were by a total nine points. See, losing doesn’t do much for them and if you are going to beat them and take it all away you better knock them out and nobody has come up with the punch in recent times.

            Mills threw punches at the Bears. They defended well, Mikayla Penn guarded Abby Hurlbert like she was an escaped convict. Natalie Rule, who missed 10 games due to a knee injury, continued to prove why she is the best guard in the league.

            Ruel led all scorers with 18 points, 8 in the final period. By the way, Ruel did not make the All-BL team. There is room for legitimate discussion here as to how many games you should play to earn a spot on the team but you can’t argue she is one of the five best players in the league.

            It all just wasn’t enough. Thomaston probably has the best player in the league in Abby Hurlbert. A 1,000-point scorer with a big shot, big game and big toughness. She is daddy’s little girl on the court and left little a long time ago. Dad, John, starred at the University of Hartford in the 1980s and left Jim Calhoun with a lasting memory when he hit two free throws to beat the Huskies at the Civic Center.

            Hurlbert (16 points) scores nine points down the stretch, comes up with two steals and a blocked shot. Mills coach Joe Capitani knows, he called Hurlbert `a gamer.’

            But you need to get by Hurlbert to figure this winning thing out. You need to note the emergence of sophomore Nicole Schafer who torched Nonnewaug for 15 points in the semifinals and added a key seven points in the championship game.

            You need to see senior Bryttnie Thomas’ six points against Nonnewaug and key minutes in the championship game and the solid floor contributions of senior Sarah Guay. The rugged play of sophomore cousins Gabrielle Hurlbert and All-Star Morgan Sanson are constants.

            McMahon was thrilled Friday night with the play of sophomore Charlotte Eberhardt who came off of the bench to play some solid defense and provide a presence in the middle.

            In a bruising `say uncle’ type of game in which neither team did, the Bears defense was also superb. Mills’ 1,000-point scorer Teagan Dunn was limited by foul trouble and only had four points but part of that was also the attention she drew near the hoop.

            These two teams are floor burn fanatics. It is about going to the hoop and going to the floor. It is not for those searching for smooth skin.  

            Both McMahon and Thomas offered astute observations about what is going on here beyond the talent aspect.

            “This is awesome. The thing is that every time we lose something happens,” said McMahon. “And it comes from the players not the coaches. It (losing) happened four times this year and that is four times too many. We kind of like it and I don’t want to try to define it.”

            It has become part of the Bears’ identity.

            “It proves who we are,” said Thomas. “We always come back to that some way. We’re solid. Bottomless.”

            Thomaston stormed the court after the game. This is a proud program and taken a school and town with it along on a continuing ride.

            There’s no thing like this winning thing. It has these Bears hooked. And ask them, it never, ever gets old.

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