WINSTED >> No. 1 seed Lewis Mills and No. 2 Thomaston banged against each other for three bruising quarters in the Berkshire League girls basketball championship Friday night at Northwestern High School. Then Thomaston senior captain Abby Hurlbert (team-high 16 points) seized the fourth period, guiding the Golden Bears to a 46-37 win for their third straight Berkshire League Tournament title.
“It was exactly how I wanted to end my career in the Berkshire League,” smiled Hurlbert, whose team has high hopes for another long run in Class S after reaching the state tournament finals last year.
“It was a team effort,” said Thomaston coach Bob McMahon. “Nicole Schaefer did a great job guarding (Natalie Ruel). Charlie (Eberhardt) had some quality minutes. But it’s always a comfort to have Abby in the fourth quarter.”
Ruel (game-high 18 points), the Spartan junior star guard, was out for most of the season with a knee injury. Back now at full strength, she grabbed the spotlight after Hurlbert worked the Bears to a 10-point lead, 37-27, in the first five minutes of the final period.
Before it came down to a final ballet between the stars, sub-plots exploded across the court throughout the game.
Each team assigned one of their best defenders to the other’s stars in game-long tough man-to-man defenses — Schaefer on Ruel, Mills senior Mikayla Penn on Hurlbert and Thomaston freshman Casey Carangelo, with plenty of help, on Mills center Teagan Dunn.
Schaefer and Ruel dueled first on offense, in the first quarter. Ruel had four of the points for an early 6-4 Mills lead. Schaefer had five of Thomaston’s points when the Bears took the lead back, 7-6.
Dunn didn’t get her first points until sinking a put-back with a minute-and-a-half left in the quarter. Hurlbert didn’t score until she went to the line for a pair of foul shots with six seconds left, tying the score 11-11.
“Mills played awesome defense,” said Hurlbert, who saved all but five more points for her fourth-quarter effort.
Dunn, who passed 1,000 career points this year, found Thomaston’s defense at least as stiff. The Bears covered her up inside and stayed in her face when she went outside, allowing her just two more points in the game.
Duels cropped up; major swings belonged to Hurlbert and Ruel.
Mills’ Lesleigh Carter (7 points) and Thomaston’s Morgan Sanson (10 points) traded drives at the top of the second period. Hurlbert had the next five on a trey and an eight-foot hook for the first big lead, 18-13 Thomaston.
When Thomaston’s Eberhardt added another point at the line, Ruel ripped off the next four points, close the gap to 19-17 on her own put-back and a five-foot bank.
Golden Bear Bryttnie Thomas stretched the Thomaston edge to 21-17 before the half, when Berkshire League coaches and the great championship crowd took time out to honor veteran Northwestern coach and Athletic Director Fred Williams for decades of service.
Then it was back to the wars for Thomaston and Mills.
Mills began a hard trapping press in the second quarter.
Now, in the third, it was still effective, but the costs came home.
Thomaston’s Sanson and Carangelo opened the Bear lead to 25-17 with an early drive and a put-back. Mills freshman Corinne Morrow and Dunn had it back to 27-22 with 3:20 left in the third.
Then Dunn went down with her fourth foul. A minute later, Carter picked up her fourth. Ruel, with her fourth, joined them on the bench in the period’s final minute.
The quarter ended 30-26, Thomaston; Mills was crippled.
“All of our offense was gone,” said Coach Joe Capitani. “Our bench stepped up, but the starters couldn’t play as hard.”
Set up for the final test, Capitani ran his big guns in on offense, then took them out on defense, keeping back the final foul.
Still, there was no saving the Spartans from Hurlbert. Beginning with a 30-27 lead, with four minutes left, Hurlbert hit her second three of the game. Carangelo finished a fast break. Then Hurlbert made a steal and finished with a three-foot hook, 37-27.
Ruel was back for eight points in the next two minutes; Hurlbert never left.
In that same time, she had a five-foot bank, a block and two foul shots, stretching the Thomaston lead to 43-22, 1:13 left to play.
“I was able to get open because my teammates set picks for me,” she smiled. “We just really wanted our third championship.”
“They beat us twice in the regular season; we had something to prove,” said Coach McMahon.
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