After a year to think about it, No. 1 Thomaston and No. 3 Canton are back on the Mohegan Sun court this morning playing for the same stakes they fought for a year ago — the CIAC Class S girls basketball championship.
Thomaston put it away last year for its second straight state championship, sealing it 52-50 with a Gabrielle Hurlbert steal in the final minute.
The game was defined by two stubborn defenses causing turnovers and fouls.
The inside was almost impenetrable; outside shooting was crucial.
Nicole Shaefer, Hurlbert and Julia Quinn won that battle 6-3 in 3-pointers against Canton’s Emily Briggs and Maggie Treacy.
Expect the same kind of game this year because the same key players are on the court with the same coaches — Thomaston’s Bob McMahon and Canton’s Brian Medeiros — directing traffic.
The Golden Bears had time to think about the fierce Warrior defense.
“They kept changing things; we did a terrible job of protecting the ball,” said McMahon a year ago.
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The Warriors had to live with how close they came in the first Canton championship game appearance since 1999.
“Our offense keys off our defense,” says 5-foot-9 Thomaston senior forward Morgan Sanson, a key component since her freshman year.
Both teams have iron wills to match their defenses.
“We never give up,” said Hurlbert, another of the six Thomaston seniors whose introduction to the finals came against the state’s best team, Capital Prep, four years ago.
Prep moved up where they belong, in the Class L finals this afternoon, facing the only team to beat the Golden Bears this season, New London.
Four years ago, Thomaston tucked its experience away to roll through the next two Class finals – an overtime win against St. Paul Catholic, in which Gabrielle’s older sister Abby made three straight last-second foul shots for the OT tie, and last year’s battle against the Warriors.
Canton’s iron was cast more recently.
“The kids battle; we play to the final whistle,” said Coach Medeiros last year after Thomaston built a 52-44 lead with 2:36 to go, then stood proudly as Gabby Rose and Treacy roared the Warriors back within a Hurlbert steal of a tie.
This year, with the marked exception of the New London loss, the Bears’ iron has stood the test.
Canton has had more forging. No. 2 Bolton beat the Warriors in the regular season and again in the NCCC Tournament semifinals.
The Warrior defense crushed the Bulldogs 43-34 in Monday’s semifinals.
A year ago, Briggs, a 5-foot-11 forward, had a game-high 18 points as a sophomore; Treacy, a 5-10 senior guard, followed with 15. Rose, now graduated, was the only other significant Warrior scorer, with 11.
Thomaston spread its major point-scoring between Sanson (13), Quinn (12) and Schaefer (11).
All of them are back.
“The seniors kinda think they’re supposed to go to the finals,” said McMahon after Monday’s semifinal win over Kolbe Cathedral.
After two straight championships, they also think they’re supposed to win.