THOMASTON — Northwestern and Nonnewaug will play for the Berkshire League Girls Basketball Tournament Championship Friday at 7 p.m. at Thomaston High School.
The No. 3 Chiefs pulled away from No. 2 Housatonic for a 47-40 win in Tuesday’s first semifinal at Thomaston; then No. 1 Northwestern hung in for a 35-32 win over the No. 5 Spartans in the nightcap.
In a league in which most regular-season games were close, despite the Highlanders’ 21-1 record, Tuesday’s outcomes seemed appropriate.
Nonnewaug pulled off the only win against Northwestern two weeks ago, 43-33. Northwestern’s three wins against Lewis Mills came by a combined total of 13 points, including an overtime win at Mills.
The Spartans started out on a mission Tuesday. Gabby Bagdonas (10 points) scored the game’s first point almost three minutes after the tip-off.
Morgan Daley (8 points) and Gina Weingart took the lead for the Highlanders, but Abby Mills, Sami Chadwick (team-high 12 points) and Bagdonas took off on an 11-0 Spartan run, leaving the Highlanders gasping at 12-4 at the end of the first quarter.
“We were horrible,” Coach Fred Williams said. “We made 17 turnovers in the first half, but I always give the other team credit when we’re that bad.”
“You can’t keep that much adrenaline going for the whole game,” Lewis Mills coach Al Ciarlo said. “We knew they were going to come back.”
Indeed they did.
Chadwick built the Spartan lead to 17-4 on her own early in the second quarter. Then it was Northwestern’s turn for a huge run — 14-0 and an 18-17 lead behind Skylar Dimartino, Addie Hester, Daley and Natalie Lederman (game-high 13 points).
Brooklyn Murdick popped a three from the corner at the half-time buzzer for a 20-18 Spartan lead, but now it was a serious game.
“I told the kids at halftime, ‘No matter who wins, I’m very pleased you didn’t crumble,’ ” Williams said.
The game never got pretty, but nobody crumbled. Chadwick and Murdick pulled the Spartans out to a 24-18 lead early in the third. Jana Sanden, Lederman and Weingart didn’t let it stick.
Mills began the final quarter with a 27-25 lead.
Defense was Northwestern’s final weapon.
Addie Hester made two key steals in the final period. The first, with 3:06 left, brought the Highlanders within one on a coast-to-coast layup, 30-29. The second, with 40 seconds left, pushed them into the lead, 33-32, with a fast break by Lederman.
The Spartans turned it over against a Highlander press. Lederman threw a full-court pass to Hester racing for the basket, 35-32.
Emma Propfe came up with one more Highlander steal with 12 seconds on the clock.
“We started off slow, but we picked up the pace,” Hester said.
For 21 season wins and counting, Northwestern has found that kind of formula for success.