Boys Basketball: Lewis Mills wins Berkshire League Championship


Jake Ferrari, Reporter

After falling short a season ago, Lewis Mills beat Northwestern 59-55 at Wamogo Regional High School to win the Berkshire League championship.

The Spartans and the Highlanders met two times this season before Friday night’s matchup.  In both games, Lewis Mills held big leads, and in both games Northwestern came back to win.

Northwestern clinched the regular season Berkshire League title, finishing in first place with a 17-2 record.  Lewis Mills finished in second place at 13-6.  Before this game, the Highlanders had won their previous nine games.  Lewis Mills had won 11 of their last 12, with the only blemish coming against Northwestern.

Mills failed to convert their chances in the first quarter, missing some easy shots and free throws.  After one quarter, the score was 15-9 in favor of the Highlanders.  However, this early deficit did not rattle Mills.  They put up one of their best quarters this season, outscoring Northwestern 23-11.  A combined nine 3-pointers were converted between the two teams in the quarter, with six of them coming from the Spartans.  In all, Lewis Mills finished with 10 makes from behind the arch.  Six of those came from one player:  Zach Ventres.

Friday night was Ventres’ night.  He made a three in the first to open up the scoring.  A three fell for him in the second, and he hit big back-to-back three’s in the opening minutes of the third.  Ventres led the team in scoring, with 20 points.  He also pulled down the most rebounds, with 7.

Mills came out firing after half time, but Northwestern kept it close.  Northwestern got into foul trouble in the third.  This would impact the game more in the fourth, where Lewis Mills would be at the line every time they got fouled.  At the end of three, the score was 44-40 in favor of Lewis Mills, and an exciting finish was in store.

For the first half of the last quarter, Lewis Mills looked unstoppable.  They converted on all of their chances, they played tough defense, and they were mentally wearing out the Northwestern players and crowd.   With 1:36 to play in the game, Lewis Mills held a comfortable 54-46 lead.  Or so they thought.  Zach Tuxbury (11 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists) made a layup and got fouled for a three-point play.  The lead was down to five.  Stephen McGrath (21 points, 12 rebounds), hit a corner three.  Just like that the lead was down to two, and the Spartans were choking again.  Three free throws from the Highlanders made it a one point game with just 21 seconds to go.  Then came the controversy.

Mills inbounded the ball by throwing it past the half court line, a Hail Mary play.  But one of the Northwestern players made a leaping catch and snagged the ball in mid air.  However, he couldn’t keep his footing, and he crashed down to the earth, sprawling on the floor.  The referee called travel, and the fans from Winsted were irate.  Nevertheless, Lewis Mills got the ball back, and Nate Cook (14 points, 4 rebound, 5 assists) drained two free throws to give his team a three point lead.  Northwestern missed a layup, and with 7 seconds left, Cook made another free throw, giving them a four point cushion.  The final heave by the Highlanders fell short, and the Lewis Mills Spartans were champions of the Berkshire league!

This was Coach Kozak’s first Berkshire League championship, and the first for the school since the mid-90’s.  Lewis Mills continues their success in sports.  Both soccer teams won their Berkshire League championships, and the Field Hockey team won both Berkshire League and State championships.

Up next for Mills is the Class M CIAC State Tournament.  Last season, Mills made it all the way to the semifinals.  It will be tougher to do the same this year, but this win could give the team confidence and momentum going forward.  Their first game is at Mills against Norwich Tech on Monday at 7:00.