While the Thomaston softball team was practicing in the rain Thursday, cars drove by honking their horns and even a police officer stopped honked and turned on his lights, all in support the softball team who is playing in the Class S title game on Saturday.
“It’s awesome, everyone knows,” said Gene Torrence, Thomaston softball co-head coach. “I’d like to say that it should be like this everywhere. This town gets behind everyone.”
The same can be said for the baseball team who also clinched a spot in the Class S finals when they defeated Cromwell Tuesday, in front of family and friends. The softball team traveled 44 minutes from DeLuca Field in Stratford to Sage Park in Berlin, after their win against Coventry to root the baseball team on, before running out on the field to celebrate with them.
“I have chills about it right now,” said Thomaston Athletic Director Jen Ewart. “It was definitely a moment in history for Thomaston.”
Having both teams playing with a chance to win baseball and softball titles, is rare, but the deep runs through the state tournament are not.
In the winter, the girls basketball team capped off their season, with a second straight trip to the state title game and this season, came home with the hardware.
Not to be forgotten, the girls tennis team reached the semifinals in Class S, the deepest run the girls tennis team has ever made in school history.
It’s that kind of year for the Golden Bears and they do it their way. Whether it is getting fan buses at the last minute, getting kids out of school early to cheer on the baseball team when they played a matinee in the second round, or when the girls basketball team got a police escort out of town and a hero’s welcome when they came home.
“I think it speaks volumes for the community and its togetherness,” said Bob McMahon, the baseball and girls basketball head coach. “Sports are a common thread that gets this town together and behind one another.”
The Golden Bears, the smallest team in the Berkshire League and one of the smallest in the state, 175th out of 182 schools in the CIAC, have a certain swagger about them.
“For what we lack in size, we gain in strength,” baseball player Blaise Russo said.
It has been shown time and time again this season, Abby Hurlbert’s ice in the veins moment, when she hit three free-throws with 0.2 seconds left in the first overtime of the girls basketball state championship to send to game to the second overtime.
Morgan Sanson’s solo home run to tie the game, with an 0-2 count on her with two outs, trailing by one, and then she knocked in Hurlbert with a base hit in the bottom of the ninth.
“They want to win, these girls don’t play just to play, they want to win. They are working hard every day, they don’t want to lose,” said Kelly Finlay, softball co-head coach and assistant basketball coach.
Even when Russo took himself out of the baseball semifinals in favor of Brian Butkevicius in the final inning with one out, he knew he would get the team to the finals.
“They all have an unteachable, uncontrollable desire to win,” Ewart said.
The athletes all have the same response when it comes to a moment like that — “that’s Thomaston basketball, that’s Thomaston softball and that’s Thomaston baseball.”
“We’re not trying to be flashy, we’re not trying to boast or brag about how many college players we have, we’re not trying to wear Oakleys, we are just trying to get three outs with as minimal damage as possible. When we hit, we’re trying to have 28 other guys pull for the guy up to get on base and do his job and we’re trying to get him over and in that’s the approach every inning,” said McMahon of the common phrase. “In basketball, we want to stop them from scoring and we want to score. It sounds simple but that’s exactly what that is.”
It’s the whole school that has bought in, even administrators and teachers, who were the ones whose idea it was to allow the students out of school to watch the baseball team take on St. Paul for a 1 p.m. game.
It was ‘step up’ day at Thomaston High School, where the students go through their schedule for next year and there were 20 minutes left at the end of the day, when the students were supposed to go to their normally-scheduled classes.
“The teachers suggested it, they said ‘Why don’t we go watch the game,’” Ewart said. “The administration was all about it, we had the entire school watching the game.”
The word got around the school that they were going to “fill to hill,” and everyone was in and the baseball team was excited.
“Every student out on the hill, they were right behind their dugout, looming there, I thought it was one of the neater things I’ve seen in high school sports,” McMahon said. “That was our whole student body, we didn’t fill the hill, we sprinkled the hill, and on the other hand, that was our entire student body so that was awesome.”
Not that the Golden Bears always need the school to let the students out early to get a big crowd at sporting events. No matter what the sport is, ‘The Cave’ always manages to go to make an appearance, whether it was traveling to Guilford and stood in freezing conditions this fall to watch their Golden Bears in the field hockey semifinals game or when they packed the stands at Mohegan Sun.
“The Cave has been a work in progress for years. A few years back Pat O’Neill, All-State baseball player here, and his crew took it to the next level and then when he left, Connor Berg and Anthony Guastella took it to yet another level,” McMahon said. “Just when you think you could do it now, the Core Four (Russo, Butkevicius, Jake Tehan, Dan LeVasseur) steps in and they raise to yet another level, kids wearing costumes, One Direction posters, painting their bodies. I just hope we raise it to another level next year.”
It doesn’t hurt either that a handful of coaches are former Thomaston athletes, McMahon, Finlay, Torrence and field hockey head coach Brooke Gomes Holway, just to name a few.
“I think it is extremely important, I played for a great coach, Gregg Hunt and he set core values, you don’t need to be the best player, but everyone can hustle and that’s the way we set it up,” Torrence said.
Even the coaches that aren’t, have adopted the Thomaston way.
“Tennis and track, (Jeff) Dauphinais (girls tennis coach) didn’t go here but he taught here and picked it up. Mark Olsen (cross country and track coach) didn’t graduate here but he teaches here and those guys fit right into the puzzle perfectly,” Torrence added.
In the end, through every game, every team, every student athlete, every fan bus, when the baseball and softball teams take the field Saturday; they will do it the Thomaston way.
“Small school, big heart,” Hurlbert said.