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McMahon's Bears have that winning way

POSTED April 28, 2014
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson


            Green grass has taken the place of a long winter’s carpet of snow. Christmas is but a distant memory and games have moved from the gym to the field. Bob McMahon’s pink shirt and tie have been replaced by a brown and gold baseball uniform top with white pants.

            Seasons, sports and attire are testament to inevitable and dramatic change since Jan. 14.  Oh well, nothing stays the same, right? Careful if you agreed. Because In McMahon’s world there has been one constant, one rather amazing piece of unaltered excellence.

            He hasn’t lost.

            Two seasons, two sports, two different sets of coaches, two genders, two teams. All different but it hasn’t mattered. The Thomaston High girls basketball and baseball coach keeps rolling along in mighty rarified air.

            Who knew that Jan. 14 would be a watershed date. Go back to the gym with the bigger ball. Back to the McMahon with his pink shirt dedicated to cancer awareness and tie. Back to this Bears team dominated by names like Abby Hurlbert, Morgan Sanson, Gabrielle Hurlbert, Nicole Schafer and Casey Carangelo and a cold winter night.

            It was a great Thomaston night for 28 or so minutes that would end as a night with a big-time sour taste to it. A 12-point lead disappeared in that final four minutes as Lewis Mills would put together a great rally that ended with a one-point Spartan win.

            Who knew that a night with a bitter twist to it for the Bears would be the last time an opponent would score more points or runs than a McMahon team. In a well-documented run that electrified the small town and small school (270 or so students), McMahon’s basketball Bears would battle their way to wins in the next 15 games.

            Along the way, the trophies piled up – a fourth BL title in five seasons, a third BL Tournament title, and a coveted Class S tournament run that included wins over Old Lyme, Immaculate, Sacred Heart and a double-overtime doozie over St. Paul for the Class S state title at Mohegan Sun in one of the best games you’ll see anywhere anytime.

            There is a permanent glow in the Clocktown that will always be there. Sunday (April 27) the Bears will be honored at a banquet at Fairview Farms Golf Course.

            But the seasons did change. McMahon moved on to baseball and his Golden Bear champions moved on to the softball and track arenas, a lifetime memory safely ensconced in the scrapbook and the memory.

            But somehow the seasons have run into each other. McMahon and his teams just keep winning. The names are different, exploits now being attached to players like Brian Butkevicius, Jake and Matt Tehan, Mike Milius, Tyler Donofrio, Blaise Russo and Dan LeVasseur. The days and months pass the results are the same.

            The Bears raised their record to 8-0 Friday with a 10-4 win over Wamogo. If you are counting, that’s 23 up and 23 down for McMahon teams since that memorable Jan. 14 night.  The number is impressive but the continuing excellence over the change of seasons and two different sports just kind of grabs you.

            Ask McMahon if there are similar characteristics in his two teams and he calls them completely different. But it is hard not to notice to an essential sameness.

            His basketball team found a way, darn if they didn’t find a way. Whether it was Abby Hurlbert making one of the now most famous plays in area basketball history by sinking three foul shots with 0.2 seconds left in overtime to save the Bears’ bacon, or Morgan Sanson coming up with a rebound basket in the same game to send the game into overtime or Nicole Schafer lighting up Nonnewaug for 15 points in the BL Tournament or freshman Casey Carangelo pouring in 21 points in the championship game, there was always an answer even when it looked like the question was too tough.

            You couldn’t kill the basketball Bear.

            Check out the baseball Bears. Down 3-0 to Northwestern Regional they come up with a pair of runs in the final inning for a 4-3 win. Down to Wamogo in the fifth inning, the bats come to life and the Bears come out on top. A close win over Housatonic. No mountain too high to climb.

            Listen to Abby Hurlbert after the championship basketball game -  “It’s just a wild desire to win.” Listen to Butkevicius after the Bears victory over Wamogo – “It’s about will. We don’t want to lose. Losing is not an option.”

            Bears of a feather for sure. Has McMahon had talent on both teams? No question. But something else has happened in Bearland and it all points back to McMahon. You can’t miss it.  An immense pride is running full force here.

            Wamogo coach Gregg Hunt smiles when he talks about McMahon. Why not? Hunt coached McMahon in high school as the Thomaston High baseball coach and with the Bethlehem Plowboys of the Tri-State Baseball League.

            “Bobby always thought baseball before playing,” said Hunt. “When playing for me he always knew when we were going to squeeze and bunt. He would say I know we were going to do that.”

            McMahon lauded the effort of his basketball team. He loves his baseball team.

            “They have the right approach for baseball, they like to be here,” he said. “They like to take extra groundballs and long days. They are refreshing kids. You don’t see that any more. “

            Obviously they like baseball and McMahon. Numbers are up to 29 in school with about 140 boys.

            McMahon has no illusions about what is and what will be. The Bears are overpowering teams, they are getting by teams. There is no talk about undefeated or championships at least that can be heard publicly. Northwestern is aching for a rematch and close games could go the other way the second time around.

            If you are looking ahead to the state tournament, there are powerhouses in Class S like Seymour. It is a long, long road. McMahon knows this.

            But if you look at the past to get a hint of the future you can’t escape this. Bob McMahon’s Bears haven’t lost since Jan. 14. The higher score has been bathed in brown and gold. They will be a tough out. It is who his teams are now.

            They have changed the ball, the season, the team, the coaches, the players, the game.  What nobody has been able to change is this.

           Bob McMahon’s teams haven’t lost since Jan. 14.  You can’t kill the Bear or for right now his Bears anyway. Love it or don’t love it. But respect it. Pretty impressive. 

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