WOODBURY — Freshman guard Sam Conti led Nonnewaug to a 35-27 win over Thomaston Monday afternoon in a battle of early-season Berkshire League girls basketball leaders that made up with enthusiasm what it lacked in artistry.
Conti, whose backyard pickup play against older brother Ben undoubtedly contributes to her youthful poise on the court, led the scrambling game’s scoring with 15 points.
Just as important to this game, she also led the scramble with nine steals.
“I kind of like defense,” grinned the diminutive point guard, who dribbles out of trouble with either hand, often on the way to the right pass or an open shot.
Coach Adam Brutting gave the credit for his team’s 3-0 start (2-0 BL) to his seniors.
“We have five seniors who come every day to practice and set a good example,” said Brutting, with just seven upperclassmen among 21 players, while starting two freshmen and a sophomore.
It’s tempting to give youthful exuberance the credit for Nonnewaug’s performance over a 2-1 Thomaston team that wiped out its first two opponents, including last year’s undefeated league champion Housatonic, but the Golden Bears start three sophomores.
Thomaston clearly missed the steadying hand of guard Emma Kahn, out with a sprained ankle.
Nonnewaug had Conti and a number of other big contributors, regardless of age.
Conti and Thomaston sophomore center Sydney Eggleton (10 points) were Monday’s only players in double figures amidst a raft of missed shots and turnovers, but the Chiefs’ Mallory Tomkalski, another freshman, added to Thomaston’s problems with nine tips while she and forwards Madeline Roden, Abby Scheurich, Maddie Woodward,, Sofia Pagnamanta and Fiona Gengenbach hauled off most of the afternoon’s rebounds.
“They beat us to every ball,” said Thomaston coach Bob McMahon, whose teams are famous for their intensity. “I hate to say it, but they out-hustled us.”
The game’s early hustle by both teams stamped chaos among two Nonnewaug steals and one by the Bears.
Eggleton came outside for a three-pointer in the game’s first points almost two minutes into the melee.
Scheurich struck from the baseline for Nonnewaug’s ice-breaker two-and-a-half minutes later. Then Conti hit back-to-back threes for an 8-3 Nonnewaug lead into the second quarter.
The Chiefs never trailed again.
Despite a pair of second-quarter threes by Thomaston’s Emily Root, helping the Bears to a respectable 18-12 halftime deficit, the Chiefs stayed busy with scores by Gengenbach, Woodward, Ashley Hennessey and a steal and coast-to-coast trip by Conti.
The third quarter put Thomaston away, despite some Golden Bear rumblings in the fourth.
Eggleton inched Thomaston back to 18-14 on an early pair of foul shots. Then Nonnewaug offered a capsule version of its strengths: a steal and another full-court dash to the hoop by Conti; a put-back off the boards by Scheurich; and a fast-break finish by Hennessey on the way to an 11-4 Nonnewaug quarter capped by a Woodward layup.
Down 32-16 after Gengenbach started the fourth with a corner three for Nonnewaug, the Bears ran off the quarter’s next nine points on a three by Aurelia Barker, two straight hoops by Eggleton and a five-footer by Emma Sanson.
But the spigot shut down and the remaining suspense came from a horrible day at the foul line for the Chiefs (5-for-14).
The temptation again is to look to youth, this time for Nonnewaug’s nerves, but, with just 58 seconds left and the Bears still trailing 33-25, freshman Sam Conti stepped to the line, burying both her chances along with Thomaston’s, back to a comfortable 10-point Nonnewaug lead.
By the time Thomaston sophomore Kaya Johnson nailed the game’s final bucket, the chaos was over.