By MICHAEL LETENDRE
UNCASVILLE – If history is going to judge the final outcome of the 2013-14 scholastic hoops season by St. Paul’s tournament ending loss in the Class S championship game, it better do so with a little class.
Because that’s exactly what the top rated Falcons showed in its grueling title bout against No. 3 Thomaston as the team’s battled to a heart-stopping, two overtime period war that could have seen either squad win the 2014 championship.
St. Paul left it all on the floor and even as the final seconds ticked off the clock, the squad still had a chance to make a run at it.
But in the end, the Bears overcame a double-figure deficit and somehow found a way to overcome the Falcons as Thomaston eked out a 61-57, double-overtime victory from the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday, March 22.
Thomaston (22-4) frankly survived as St. Paul (22-5) did everything but close the game out and so many things had to go right for the Bears to pull this one off.
And in the end, Thomaston did it.
“I thought it really was a good game, both teams played pretty well,” said St. Paul coach Joe Mone. “(There were) a couple of bad bounces on our end anyways. It looked like we almost have a steal to tie it in double overtime. The referee in the way kind of thing…it’s not a big deal. It happens, it’s part of the game.”
Late in the contest, St. Paul looked to have a possible steal but the ball bounced off one of the officials and back in the hands off a Thomaston player.
A hoop at that point in the game by the Falcons could have tied the score once again and it was on of the bad bounces that Mone was talking about after the game.
It was the first girls championship overtime since 2006 and, according to state records, it was the second title tilt that needed more than one extra period ever.
Thomaston’s Abby Hurlbert missed 16 of 22 field goals but drained four of eleven three-pointers from downtown.
And with 0.2 seconds left in the first overtime, she canned three straight free throws to tie the score at 52-52 and force another four minutes of action.
In total, Abby Hurlbert hit for a game best 23 points.
“She played a really good game,” said Mone of Abby Hurlbert. “I thought we did a really good job of limiting everybody else. The kid’s going to score. She takes a lot of shots to put herself in a lot of situations where she’s able to score.”
“You’re not shutting her down.”
Casey Carangelo hit for 21 points and nine rebounds. Morgan Sanson scooped up 13 points and 13 rebounds in the winning effort.
The Falcons never led in the second and final overtime and trailed by as many five points.
However, a lay-up by Cretella with 1:28 to play made it a one possession game.
The Bears went four of four from the free throw line over the final 15 seconds of the contest to ice the game and nab a four point victory that held up until the final buzzer.
St. Paul’s Mekaela Giantonio scored 12 of her team high 15 points in the first half to go along with four rebounds while Kelly McMahon played the entire game and tallied up 11 points, five rebounds, and two assists.
Cretella wrangled up 14 points, four rebounds, six assists, and three steals while Maddy Sturm played an impressive 35 minutes and added nine points and a team high 10 rebounds off the bench.
Theresa Swanke played in her final game and picked up four points, five rebounds, and blocked two shots while Briana also started the game, her final one in a Falcons’ uniform.
Lizzy Ferraro came off the pine to notch four points, three rebounds, and two assists while Jillian Kilmer and Brigid Johndrow (one assist) all made gains for St. Paul.
“The kids played hard,” said Mone. “I don’t think there was anybody to blame. I thought it was a really good high school girls basketball game. Unfortunately, we were at the bad end of what happened.”
St. Paul did a solid defensive job, swarming the paint and making every shot a difficult one, the Bears jammed the offensive boards and were allowed second, third and in some cases, fourth shooting chances.
But over the first half, it was the St. Paul defense that did the trick as Thomaston shot a miserable percentage from the field.
The Bears were limited to just 5 of 15 shooting in the first quarter while in the second, baskets were at a premium.
Thomaston went 7:24 without a field goal and the Falcons mustered its biggest lead of the first half – a four-point push with 3:04 to go before intermission – before two huge three-point bombs by Abby Hurlbert gave Thomaston a momentary edge.
In that second period, the Bears limped to a 3 of 17 performance from the field. But its work on the glass was a huge factor.
But in the first half of play, Thomaston managed a 2-to-1 offensive rebound advantage that kept the Bears even at the midpoint break.
At the half, the Falcons weren’t so hot shooting the ball either (7 of 23, 30.4-percent) but seemed to have much better luck attacking the hoop.
St. Paul had assists on six of its first seven hoops and probably should have had a few more baskets as the Falcons missed some early looks.
Both teams shot better over the third and fourth period as the Bears sank 10 of 22 shots (45.5-percent) while St. Paul nailed a neat 9 of 18 (50-percent) from the field.
Thomaston cashed in at the free throw line, hitting 8 of 10 in overtime, and 17 of 23 overall while St. Paul missed six of eight shots and was just 50-percent at the line (4 of 8).
The game featured 12 lead changes and six ties while the Bears went a stretch of 18:12 from the third period until early in the second overtime without holding a lead.
“I don’t think we left anything out as far as twists and turns,” said Mone of the game. “We pretty much had about everything you could think of in a basketball game. But I’m proud of them.”
I’m proud of my kids. … I’m proud of the way they played.”
And once Thomaston lost its lead, St. Paul picked up a big edge to put the Bears on the brink.
With 1:15 left in the third, Giantonio drained a huge three-pointer and St. Paul held a 42-32 push.
Thomaston ended regulation with a 17-7 sprint as Sanson came up with a huge offensive rebound and put-back with 17 seconds to play to make it a 49-49 game.
A four minute overtime saw both squads net three points apiece and off a 52-52 stalemate, an additional four minutes were added to the board.
That’s when the Bears took over for good.
It was a back and forth first period of play with the teams taking and giving back the lead six times as Thomaston snuck out a 13-12 push after eight minutes of play.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Giantonio and McMahon made it a 6-3 game to start but the Bears led by one (7-6) midway through the frame.
Down two, Cretella canned a three-pointer to put St. Paul on top but two charity tosses by Gabby Hurlbert propelled the Bears to a one-point edge.
In the second, The Bears couldn’t generate more than three hoops as St. Paul led for most of the stanza.
A three-point play by Giantonio with 3:04 remaining in the first half made it a 21-17 game but the Bears ended the period with an 8-4 blast to tie things up.
Abi Hurlbert zipped in back-to-back three-pointers to post the Bears to a 23-21 lead with 1:50 remaining.
But off another three-pointer from Giantonio, a free throw by Ferraro, and one last lay-up put in by Carangelo, the game was a 25-25 affair at the break.
Thomaston took the lead to start the third period as a three-pointer by Abi Hurlbert and a steal and hoop by Carangelo made it a 30-27 contest with 6:51 left.
But the Falcons pushed the envelope and went on a blazing 12-0 run to capture its 10 point lead.
Cretella hit a fee throw. Giantonio slipped in a three-pointer. McMahon found Swanke for a lay-up. Sturm hit consecutive buckets. Off two free throws from Ferraro, the Falcons were riding high at 39-30 with 2:49 remaining in the third.
McMahon kicked in a three of her own to make it a 10-point game. But in a span of 42 seconds, Abby Hurlbert dropped in a floater and canned a three-pointer to end the tilt and St. Paul’s lead was chopped to 42-37 after three.
Sanson opened up the fourth with two free throws and with 7:44 left in regulation, the Bears’ 7-0 jaunt made it a 42-39 game.
Thomaston made it a one-point affair. But off a Cretella lay in and a Sturm basket, the Falcons regained control of the fray at 48-43 with 3:14 left on the clock in regulation.
But the Falcons didn’t hit another field goal over a span of 9:46 as the Bears made its comeback.
Abi Hurlbert hit a lay-up to cut it to 48-47 with 1:38 left but off Thomaston pressure, Swanke was fouled – making one of two shots – and gave St. Paul a two-point lead with 42.8 left.
“One of the biggest things for us were the free throws,” said Mone. “We had two chances both at regulation I believe and in the overtime…we needed that one more free throw to make a two or three point game a four point game and we just never (got one to fall).”
Thomas made its move to draw even as Abi Hurlbert missed a floater but the Bears got the ball back off the miss.
Again, Hurlbert missed but Sanson nabbed the rebound and put the ball through the hoop as it was a 49-49 game with 17 seconds remaining.
St. Paul went for the game winner late. But off two tries at it, the squad never connected with the hop and overtime number one commenced with both squads stuck on a 49-49 score.
In the first overtime session, the Bears missed on its opening attempt. Cretella hit a free throw to give the Falcons a 50-49 lead with 2:55 left in the overtime.
But the scored remained the same as the squad exchanged turnovers but with time running out, Thomaston couldn’t cleanly net a hoop.
Off a miss by Carangelo, Sturm was fouled off the rebound, made one of two free throws with 17.4 second left, making it a 51-49 game in St. Paul’s favor.
Again, Abby Hurlbert missed a three-pointer and with 5.2 second remaining, Swanke nabbed the rebound and was fouled.
She hit one of two free throws but the Bears were not out of options even trailing at 52-49.
Off a quick drive, Abi Hurlbert beat the Falcons’ defense, attempted a three-point bomb more than a couple feet from the top of the three-point key, but was fouled from behind and awarded three free throws.
If Hurlbert missed just one, the championship would have belonged to the Falcons.
“I thought we would like to foul before the three-point shot to be honest but not in that situation,” said Mone of the Hurlbert three-point attempt. “But kudos to her. She hit three. That’s a big-time player, she’s supposed to do that.”
She calmly canned two of the three and Mone called a timeout to attempt to ice the shooter as St. Paul was holding on to a 52-51 lead.
But off the timeout, Abi Hurlbert drilled her third and final charity shot and 0.2 seconds later, the game remained deadlocked, this time at 52-52.
To open the final overtime period, Carangelo kicked in five straight points to propel the Bears to a 57-52 cushion with 2:15 left to play.
But she fouled out with 1:46 remaining as Cretella hit one of two foul shots to chop the deficit to 57-53 with 1:46 showing on the board.
Cretella followed up with a steal and lay-up as the Falcons were trailing by just 57-55 with just under 90 seconds to go.
Thomaston quickly committed a miscue, Cretella missed a hoop and with 20.1 seconds left, Abby Hurlbert nailed both shots of a 1-and-1 to go back up by four, 59-55.
Cretella hit another lay-in but with 59-57 remaining, St. Paul still trailed by two with 12 seconds left.
The Falcons went for the steal off the Cretella hoop but at the 5.2 second mark of the second overtime, Thomaston advanced the ball down the court off an open Sanson and St. Paul had no choice but to give the foul.
Needing at least one miss for a possible three-pointer to tie up the thing, Sanson hit both the free throws and at 61-57, the Falcons did not get off another field goal attempt as St. Paul fell to Thomaston by four in the end and the Bears won the title.
“Everybody hates to lose, but I’m going home myself, and I’m sure they’re going to go home with their heads held up high,” Mone said of his team. “If they aren’t, shame on them, and I’ll let them know to keep (their heads) high because they played a pretty good basketball game.”
“We were just on the short end of the stick.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE