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Dennis Fowler: Five Memorable Mills Moments.

POSTED April 10, 2011
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Lewis Mills girls basketball coach, Dennis Fowler, holds his daughter, Juliet, earlier this season in Burlington. Fowler is stepping down from his basketball duties but will remain on the sidelines coaching girls soccer this fall.

Top 5 Memorable Mills Moments

By Dennis Fowler

Guest Columnist, LCS

How did I get to write a column like this?

I’m 34 years old, still considered “young” for the coaching profession. I just stepped down after “only” seven years as the varsity coach of the Lewis Mills girls basketball program. It’s not like I am Fred Williams, the Wizard of Winsted, who has been coaching girls’ hoops at Northwest Regional as long as I have been alive!

How did I get to write a column recalling the five most memorable games I’ve been involved in over my seven-year tenure? Only seven years? Thanks Tim G … enjoy your vacation away from LCS in the warm Florida sunshine.

Here goes, the top 5 games of a really rewarding Mills coaching career.

5. Bacon Academy 55, Lewis Mills 48 – Class M Second Round, March 2009

How does a loss get on the list? If you watched the game, you remember how fantastic we played and how close we were as the No. 16 seed to shocking the No. 1 team in the state on its home-court. My team was on a tremendous roll to end the 2009 season. We had won four-straight entering the game, including a sweep through the Berkshire League Tournament (see No. 2 below). We were playing great basketball on both ends of the court. I was confident going in. I knew we could compete based off our scouting report. It was all about getting my players to believe they could knock off highly favored, undefeated, top-seeded Bacon Academy. We came out strong and unafraid. We trailed by five at the end of the first and actually outscored them in the second and the third quarters and trailed by just one entering the final eight minutes. Sophomore Amanda Adamski’s three-point play with :01 left in the third had the Bacon players walking off the court shocked and stunned. But, playing like the State Champions they would become, the home team used its size, strength and experience in the fourth quarter to finish second chance opportunities and limit quality chances for us on our offensive end. Adamski would make her first mark at the state level, scoring 23 points with 15 boards. Senior Kaitlin Niedmann ended her terrific senior season with a gutsy 18-point effort, including four three-pointers. But the comments we received from the Bacon coaches and fans afterward showed how hard we had competed and well we had played. “Toughest game we played all season,” Bacon coach Dave Shea said. “It was a pleasure to play against your team. Wow, they played us better than anybody all year,” another fan proclaimed. We were the second best team in Class M, in many eyes.

4. Lewis Mills 43, Nonnewaug 38 – BL Game 19, February 2006

One of my favorite times at Mills was the end of the 2006 year, my second season. We had a young team – six sophomores in our eight-player rotation. The team had real chemistry. And I had two of the best senior leaders I ever had, Cristina Bayne and Alyssa Wesoly. We started the season a surprising 6-1 before we had out butts kicked at Nonnewaug. We had played soft and scared. I remember almost breaking my clipboard at halftime I was so upset. But our response to the loss was amazing. We rattled off 12-straight wins to end the regular season at 18-2, including a great come-from-behind win against Nonnewaug, our arch nemesis at the time, before a packed LSM house on a Friday night. (The 12-game winning streak also included a double-OT thriller to knock off undefeated Shepaug on the road). Wesoly, a bright, smooth shooting guard, was solid against the vaunted 2-2-1 Nonny press and hit 5 of 6 free throws in the 4th quarter. Bayne was a monster on the boards, grabbing 13 and helping limit Nonnewaug’s All-Stater, Anna Baldwin. This fun, hard-working team would give me my first 20-win season, ending 20 and 4 after a loss to East Catholic in the Class M second round.

3. Lewis Mills 30, Shepaug 26 – BL Tournament Championship, February 2008

We had tied Shepaug for the regular season title with identical 19-1 records. They had won early in the season at our place. We returned the favor in January with a win on their court. The rubber match happened to be in the BL Final at Lewis Mills, the first time in close to a decade the tournament was in Burlington because of the rotating schedule. We were without our four-year starting point guard, Alexis Veith, who was on school-sponsored trip to Spain. But fellow senior Stef Schur, our sixth man all year, had stepped in and shined in a semifinal win over Housatonic. It was a rugged defensive game from the start. We had the only player in the BL, Rachel Considine, who was strong enough to guard Shepaug’s All-State center, Sam Steinmetz, holding her to just 10 points. But it was Schur and All-BL forward Sami Pelletier who would pull us through to a clutch victory. First, Schur made a steal early in the fourth and finished with a jaw-dropping, boys-like, up-and-under layup that most girls did not have the athletic ability to even attempt. Then, with the score tied again late, Pelletier scored on consecutive drives to give us a lead we would not relinquish. Schur iced the game with a made FT with just 5 seconds left. The celebration was epic. The win was the first of three of four BL Tournament titles for Mills, along with proving we were the best of a very-good BL in 2008. My Lady Spartans were outmanned by Nikki Smith and Montville in the Class M quarters, but finished with a program-best record (at the time) of 23-2. They were a super group!

2. Lewis Mills 62, Thomaston 38 – BL Tournament Championship, February 2009

The 2008-09 regular season was a disappointment. We finished 12-8 and had a tough three-game losing streak in the middle. We finished fifth in the BL and lost to all four teams above us twice. We thought we were much better than our record indicated, even though we had lost two upperclassmen (senior captain Lauren Bisson and junior forward Megan Reynolds) to injury in the first half of the year. But during the week of the BL Tournament, everything finally clicked and came together. First, we beat No. 4 Northwest on the road pretty easily, 43-26. In the semifinals, we defeated 20-0 No. 1 seeded Wamogo 46-38. We were all excited for the opportunity to defend our BL Tournament Title against the team we thought was the toughest in the league, the Bears of Thomaston. Bob McMahon’s veteran team had thumped us in our first meeting, using their overwhelming size and share strength. In our second meeting, I decided to play an active zone to try and neutralize the huge advantage Thomaston had. Although it kept us close for three quarters, we ended up losing again, this time by nine. In the final, however, we were a much tougher team than we had been all year. Therefore, I decided to play our regular aggressive man-to-man defense, and it turned out to be the difference. Also, our offensive execution against their complex match-up zone was superb. We had four girls in double figures. Senior Kaitlin Niedmann was awesome on this championship night, slashing her way to 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Fellow senior Katie Van Gilst had 11, including three treys (11 total for the three-game tournament). Sophomore posts Amanda Adamski (17 points) and Tara Plocharczyk (10 points) were huge. We led much of the game, including 25-15 at the half. Thomaston made a run in the third, but a 14-2 run to start the fourth hushed the heavy home crowd in Thomaston. We would cut down the nets as the No. 5 seed in one of the most improbable runs in BL Tournament history. It was one of my proudest moments as the head coach of this program.

1. Lewis Mills 61, Kolbe Cathedral 58 – Class M Quarterfinals, March 2011

The record-breaking 2010-2011 year that we just completed will be remembered for many things. A 25-1 record where we won the BL regular season title, the BL tournament title and set a program record for wins are just some of the many incredible highlights. The quarterfinal win against the defending Class M State Champions from Bridgeport is what I will remember most. It has to be one of the greatest wins in school history. The Berkshire League over the mighty Southwest Conference? The smart, slick-shooting country girls beating the lightening-fast, crazy-athletic city girls? Tiny Burlington and Harwinton victorious over the mighty urban studs from Bridgeport? Yes, it did happen! In front of a raucous packed house at the LSM gym, my girls were absolutely excellent, following the game plan to perfection. They never backed down for a loose ball or a rebound. Senior All-BL point guard Nicole Bisson attacked Kolbe’s manic full-court press and suffocating half-court man defense with confidence and aggression. My girls played intelligent defense with a physical toughness that was symbolic of their historic season. After showing Kolbe we were the real deal with a 14-14 first quarter draw, we exploded for a 21-point second quarter to take a double-digit lead we would not relinquish until four minutes to go in the game. It looked like Kolbe would take over after grabbing a 50-49 lead. But we answered immediately. Senior All-State center Amanda Adamski (25 points and 12 rebounds) calmly hit two free throws to give us a one-point edge. After a critical defensive stop, Bisson did not hesitate when left wide open from the left corner, hitting a huge three to give us a two-possession lead, 54-50, with 3:27 left. Game over! Senior Alicia Forella played her best 32 minutes of the year, scoring 10 of her 11 points in the first half. Senior Katherine Bayne, who led the BL her final two years with 84 combined three-pointers, showed she was more than just a shooter. Bayne had 7 points, but a game-high 9 defensive rebounds with just 2 turnovers. But the MVP might have been junior Kristen Van Gilst. She scored 10 points, but more importantly, held All-State, University of Hartford-bound senior forward Cherelle Moore to just 16 points, 8 below her average. When the final horn sounded, my girls celebrated for the last time on their homecourt, jumping up and down in the center of the court with the pride and excitement that only a win of this magnitude could bring. I gave a man-hug to my trusted assistant, Joe Capitani, and looked off into the crowd to find my family. I found my brother Mark, and as our faces met, we gave each other that “unbelievable” look. Wow … We didn’t beat Gilbert … we just beat Kolbe-freakin’-Cathedral! What a way to go out.


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