CANTON, March 14 – A year ago, the season ended for the Canton High girls basketball team with a stunning shot that sucked the air out of the gymnasium and left a mark on the Warriors.
The Warriors were ranked No. 2 in the tournament and visiting Trinity Catholic of Stamford, who had won just eight games, was the No. 31 seed. The Crusaders had led the whole game until Canton hit a three-point shot with 8.4 seconds left to take their first lead.
But Trinity Catholic’s Caitlyn Scott dribbled the length of the floor, faked out a defender with a behind-the-back move to get open, and hit a shot at the buzzer for a 44-43 victory. The two-time defending state champions were eliminated in the first game of the tournament.
Twelve months later, the Warriors are back in the Class S championship game for the fourth time in five seasons. But they haven’t forgotten what happened that evening a year ago at the hands of the Crusaders.
“It was something that just really hurt our team. Hurt our community,” Canton’s junior All-State guard Abby Charron said after the Warriors beat Northwest Catholic in the semifinals last week. “It wasn’t supposed to happen.”
But it did. Trinity Catholic survived and the Warriors packed up their gear for the season.
Canton (26-1) gets a shot at revenge and an opportunity to win a state championship in the process. The Warriors will face No. 7 Trinity Catholic (21-5) in Saturday’s Class S championship game at 12:30 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
That defeat and the pain from that last-second defeat have helped fuel Canton all season. “(Head coach) Brian (Medeiros) reminds about it at every single practice,” Charron said. “He doesn’t let us forget. (The loss) is something we really took to heart. We’re calling this our bounce back year.”
The Warriors won a school-record 26 games. They won their second straight NCCC championship and brought home the NCCC Tournament title for the first time since 1999.
Medeiros didn’t deny using the Trinity Catholic loss as motivation throughout the year. “I tell them nothing is guaranteed,” he said. “You have to earn it each and every game. Sometimes, we take it for granted because we have had so much success in the league.”
Charron leads the team with an average of 13.0 points a game followed by Allison Celmer and Lauren Eschenbrenner with 7.1 points per game. Charron and Eschenbrenner are the top two three-point threats with 32 and 30 three-point shots, respectively.
Defense and rebounding have propelled the Warriors throughout the season – especially in their 47-32 win over Northwest Catholic in the semifinals last week.
“We challenged them to rebound in all five positions,” Medeiros said. “I thought Sarah Bowman did a great job. She was a killer on the boards but the other kids – Celmer, Eschenbrenner, (Grace) Treacy were rebounding. That makes us better when we rebound because we can turn and run it up the court.”
Trinity Catholic stands in Canton’s way of a championship.
“I would love another whack at them,” Charron said. “Absolutely. I think we will be ready for the challenge.”
Medeiros said, “I know it is the team I want to play. I know sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for but I think we will be up for the challenge.”
Norwalk has been the No. 1 ranked team in the state for most of the season. They haven’t lost a game yet and will be playing for the Class LL championship this weekend. Trinity Catholic held Norwalk to a season-low 32 points in a 32-29 loss in the FCIAC Tournament championship game.
The Crusaders rolled through the Berkshire League to get to the finals with victories over Thomaston, Gilbert and Housatonic before beating NVL champion St. Paul, 56-45 in the semifinals.
The best player on the Crusaders is 6-foot-1 senior Iyanna Lops, who has the ability to take over a game. She had a game-high 33 points with 16 rebounds and five blocks in a 56-33 win over Gilbert in the second round. She had 21 points in the win over Housatonic.
In a 56-45 win over St. Paul in the semifinals, the Crusaders gave up just two field goals in the first quarter and scored 14 consecutive points to take command. Lops, who will be attending Cal State-Bakersfield next winter, had a 22 points, five blocks and 15 rebounds while Scott had a game-high 23 points.
Trinity Catholic is coached by legendary coach Mike Walsh, who took over the team in late December after six games when Mike Martino stepped down due to family reasons.
Walsh coached the Trinity Catholic boys basketball team for 39 years and led his teams to 637 victories, the fourth most in state history. His teams won seven state championships and six FCIAC titles. Under Walsh, Trinity played in the state finals 13 times. The Trinity Catholic boys won the Class S title in 2017. He retired last August.
2019 Class S championship game
Who: Canton (26-1) vs. Trinity Catholic (21-5)
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Coaches: Canton – Brian Medeiros; Trinity Catholic – Mike Walsh
Last meeting: Trinity Catholic, 44-43, first round 2018 Class S tournament
Finals history: Canton 2-3, Trinity Catholic 3-1
Of note: Trinity Catholic last played in the state championship game in 2006 when they beat Kolbe Cathedral for the Class S title in 2006, 59-50. … Canton beat Thomaston in 2017 (60-51) and in 2016 (64-51) for the Class S title. The Warriors fell to Thomaston in the 2015 title game, 52-50. … This is Canton’s sixth appearance in the state title game.
Previous Canton championship appearances
2017: With team effort, Canton tops Thomaston for 2nd straight Class S title