Anything can happen in rivalry games, especially when you’re playing an outdoor game in windy conditions.
Newington softball was looking to extend a three game winning streak against conference rival New Britain. On paper it would indicate that the red-hot Newington girls would again roll against a struggling New Britain team-- a team they had shutout 9-0 just a few weeks ago. But, paper only tells part of the story. The windy conditions and unique home field advantage at Martha Park in New Britain gave the hometown Golden Hurricanes an early advantage that nearly derailed Newington’s victory train.
New Britain used timely hitting and great fielding to go toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Indians for the first four innings, trailing by only one run entering the fifth inning. That’s when the wind began to die down, allowing Newington to open up the floodgates and explode for a seven-run inning. They added three more insurance runs in the seventh, enroot to a lopsided 18-7 victory.
Newington’s Haley Blais got the action started with a leadoff single to start the game. After stealing second and third base, she eventually scored, giving the Indians a 1-0 lead. It looked like it would be the same story as the first meeting between the two schools, but New Britain registered three quick outs and scored in the bottom half of the first inning to tie the game after one frame.
New Britain’s lineup and the gusty conditions gave junior pitcher Olivia Burgos troubles throughout the first half of the contest. The Golden Hurricanes used bunts, singles, and smart base running to frustrate the Indians’ ace. Burgos faced 37 batters, which tied her season-high, and New Britain had the bases loaded a handful of times over the first four innings.
Heading into the fifth inning and clinging to a one-run lead, the Indians knew they would have to stay aggressive offensively in order to beat New Britain and counteract the unpredictable gusts of wind. Blais again got the Newington bats rolling, with an RBI triple to extend Newington’s lead. The sophomore had her best performance of the season, finishing with four runs scored. Briana Woods helped her score one of those runs on the next at-bat when she belted a triple of her own, driving in Blais. Several hits, a few stolen bases, and two wild pitches later the Indians’ lead ballooned to 15-7. After the seven run explosion, the winds calmed down as the sun began to set, allowing Newington to cruise the rest of the night.
Burgos regained her dominance from the mound in the bottom of the fifth, shutting out New Britain over the final three innings. She finished with eight strikeouts and helped her own cause from the plate, driving in five runs and scoring two others.
Newington will now turn their attention to preparing for the Class LL tournament, which starts on June 13th at West Haven High School.
Will DelMastro and Jack Murphy at the 2014 CT 2-Man Invitational Champions
Brendan Hallisey has been leading boys’ golf at Wethersfield High School for six seasons. He’s seen some good teams over the years, but this season’s squad may be his best yet.
The veteran coach has five seniors and a talented group of juniors on his roster. The strong nucleus of golfers has the Eagles on the cusp of a division crown, with aspirations of a strong conference and state performances.
“We have a very good team, with good kids,” Hallisey said, “The scores the kids are posting are the best that we’ve had in my six years at Wethersfield.”
The Eagles have a few matches left before the CCC (Central Connecticut Conference) Championship tee-off on June 5th. To tune up for the event, Hallisey sent four of his seniors to participate in the inaugural Connecticut 2-Man Invitational. Will DelMastro and Jack Murphy won the event, shooting a best ball 68 to edge out a duo from Coventry by one stroke. Ben Goldman and Sam Baldwin shot a combined 72, finishing fifth among the 40 pairings that competed in the event at Blackledge Country Club in Hebron.
“The kids played really well at the invitational,” said the proud coach, “It was great, I was so happy for them.”
The invitational scores do not count towards the team’s overall scoring, but Wethersfield has performed well in all of their matches this season and rank second in scoring amongst Division II teams. They trail only Pomperaug, who won the Division I championship last season, before dropping down a level this season.
The next goal for Hallisey and his boys is to wrap up the division crown before turning their attention towards competing in the highly competitive CCC Championships.
“To me, if you win the CCC, that’s as big a winning state because there are some great teams in the conference,” Hallisey said, “All the teams are really solid and always do extremely well at the state tournament.”
This current group of seniors fared well in the conference and state finals last season, including DelMastro and Murphy, who finished 9th and 12th individually at the state tournament. The team finished 7th overall at states in 2013.
Hallisey has seen his five seniors develop over the past four years and he’s done his best to prepare them for their events. Golf is a little different than other high school sports, because coaches are not allowed on the course while the players are competing (a rule that may change in the next year or two). This makes practice time even more important.
“In golf, there are no substitutions like in other sports. Also, you don’t want to be out there making the kids nervous,” Hallisey said about the coaches restrictions on the course, “That’s why I emphasize certain things in practice, such as course management. I’ll ask a kid how he is going to play a certain shot to have him go through his thought process, because I cannot do that when he’s in a match.”
The Eagles practice or have a match five days a week. Even a little inclement weather doesn’t stop the team from getting in valuable practice time.
“I don’t care if it’s raining out, we’re going out to practice,” the coach said with a chuckle, “We don’t go on the course everyday. I’ll do different things in practice. We’ll do some drills, hit the range, we’ll do some putting and chipping drills. Sometimes we’ll have competitions and contest just to break it up and have some fun.”
The coach is hoping that the years of practice will pay dividends and that the team can finish as well as they have started this season. Following the conclusion of the championships he’ll lose the handful of seniors whose golf-games he’s helped groom, but he will have seven juniors returning next season. Pat Murphy and Vincent Barone are two of those juniors. Both have played very well this season and Murphy competed in last season’s championships as a sophomore. Hallisey was very complimentary of Barone and said that he has shown great improvement from last season.
The Wethersfield boys will have a chance to conclude their season on June 11th at Fairview Farms in Hawington, where the best of the best in Division II will complete for state supremacy.
Newington senior Briana Woods
The Newington Indians softball team reached a low point of the season following a 15-0 loss at the hands of the Southington Knights on May 5th. The loss could have devastated the team’s morale, but not the strong willed Newington girls. The Indians used the loss as motivation and have since won four of their last five games, including all three contests last week. All three victories came against conference opponents and helped separate Newington from a crowded conference group. The late season push has improved the team’s record record to 9-6 and positions them nicely for the Class LL tournament, which starts in early June.
The week started with a 3-0 shutout of Simbury on Monday. Junior pitcher Olivia Burgos threw a complete game, six hit gem to register her fourth shutout of the season. She also drove in one of the team’s three runs on one her two hits from the plate.
Burgos followed up her shutout on Monday with another efficient home outing on Wednesday night. The team captain struck out 10 of the 26 batters she faced, completing her eleventh game of the season in a 6-2 win over Farmington. She didn’t allow her first run until the fourth inning, with Newington already holding a comfortable 3-0 lead.
The home lineup added three more runs in the fifth inning to take a commanding lead. Briana Woods energized the Newington bats, finishing with a hit on all three of her at-bats. She scored two runs and one of her hits was a double, which drove in another run. The senior third basewoman has been the model of consistency this season, registering a hit or run in 12 of the team’s 15 games this season, with four of those multi-hit games.
Freshman Melanie Pantano had her best performance of the season, going three for four, with a double and run scored. It was only her sixth game of the season, but the late-season experience may come in handy for the athletic outfielder once the tournament starts.
Katrina Peck also came up big from the plate in the win over Farmington. The junior drove in two runs on two hits (one a double) and scored a run. Peck, who is the team’s catcher, and Burgos have started every game this season and have solidified the team from behind the plate and on the mound.
Newington closed out their spectacular week by pasting Hall on Thursday night, 7-2. The Indians exploded for a five-run fifth inning and cruised the rest of the way. Senior second basewoman Dana Gionfriddo led the offensive explosion, blasting two hits, driving in two runs, and adding another run scored.
The three-game winning streak puts Newington in sole possession of second place in the Central Connecticut West conference, behind undefeated Southington. The Indians have one more shot to blemish the conference leading Knights this Friday in Southington. They close out the regular season with a home date against Northwest Catholic on Tuesday, May 27th. First pitch for the regular season finale is 4 p.m.
Newington and Wethersfield High Schools competed in the 83rd Greater Hartford Track & Field Invitational at Simsbury High School. It was both schools last chance to compete in a multi-school event before the class and open competitions start in June. Several local athletes posted top-ten finishes and two athletes took home first place at the 36-school invitational.
Newington’s Wilmarie Rodriguez captured first place in the girls’ triple jump. The junior easily won the competition, finishing with a distance of 33 feet 11.50 inches, a full foot clear of the second-place finisher. She ranked tenth at last season’s Class L triple jump finals and is primed to improve on that finish this season.
Wethersfield’s Whitton Devaux also took home first place in boys’ javelin. The senior tossed the long, light spear 170 feet 2 inches, two feet further than second-place. He’ll be looking to duplicate that feat at the Class MM finals, where he placed 3rd in the competition last June.
John Tapia, another one of Wethersfield’s strong group of throwers, finished 3rd in the shot put. The junior heaved the 12-pound spherical ball 47 feet 5 inches. He also spun the discus 125 feet 3 inches, finishing 7th at the invitational. Senior classmate Giancarlo Serrao also cracked the top-ten in the shot put, finishing 9th with a toss of 44 feet 3 inches.
Wethersfield’s Faith Burnett led all the local girls throwers, finishing 3rd in the shot put, a mere two inches shy of a second-place finish. She followed it up her impressive shot put by placing 9th in the discus.
Several runners also made names for themselves at the competition, including underclassman Elijah Young. The Wethersfield sophomore finished 4th in the 100-meter dash and then placed 8th at the triple jump. The versatile athlete then joined Brennan Rhodes, Connor Jones, and Lorenzo Burgos to anchor the 4x100 meter relay team. The relay team finished 9th overall.
Wethersfield’s girls’ 4x100 meter squad placed 6th at the invitational. Sophomore Agnes Ning paced the lady-Eagle sprinters, who do not have a senior on the relay team. The school’s 4x800 relay team placed 9th at the invitational.
Local hurdlers impressed on the track as well. Wethersfield junior Armin Begovic finished 7th in the boys’ 110-meter hurdles and then posted a respectable 15th in the 300-meter finals. Begovic’s classmate, Samantha Martin, finished 12th in the girls’ 300-meter hurdles and Newington’s Laura Buonocore finished 14th in the same competition.
Newington’s standout distant runner, Gregory Zydanowicz, finished 12th in the boys’ 800-meters, less than a second away from a top-ten ranking.
Newington’s Kurt Swenor rounded out the invitational, finishing tied for 10th to lead all the local pole vaulters.
You can witness these and other local tracksters at Middletown High School on Monday, June 2nd and Tuesday the 3rd for the class championships. The best performances from the class championships will have a chance to compete in the open championships at Middletown High on Monday, June 9th.
The Cromwell baseball team is looking awfully similar to the team that captured the 2012 state championship. This season’s squad rebounded from their second loss of the season, a 3-2 road loss in Portland, and easily defeated Old Saybrook 8-1, improving their record to 11-2. The Panthers now sit alone atop the Shoreline conference, where they have won all seven of their conference contests this season.
Senior Logan Lessard pitched six scoreless innings and drove in four runs on three hits to help Cromwell complete the season sweep of Old Saybrook. Cromwell jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after the first inning and never looked back.
Kevin Radziewicz scored three runs in the road victory. The senior captain has led the charge at the plate this season, driving in 13 runs on 21 hits. He has a robust .525 batting average and has hit the team’s lone homerun in 2014. He is also team’s catcher, where he has not committed an error all season and specializes in throwing people out while they attempt to steal bases. The strong-armed righty has mowed-down 9 of 11 players attempting to steal this season.
Multi-sport senior Mike McNally has been just as consistent from the plate, driving in 10 runs on 16 hits. He also leads the Panthers with nine stolen bases and has only been thrown-out once in his ten steal attempts.
McNally has also been a gem in the infield, which is a welcome sign to the team’s pitching staff. Lessard is undefeated in his five starts and Jake Regula leads the team with 34 strikeouts in five appearances. Junior Tucker Lord completes the Panther’s three-man pitching rotation, striking out 21 batters in his four appearances on the mound. The three pitchers have also helped their own cause, driving in a combined 37 hits from the plate.
The 2012 team finished the season winning their final 12 games, before dusting Derby in the championship game. These Panthers have four games left in the regular season before the Class S tournament starts. They host rival Cogincaugh this Friday at Cromwell High School. The Panthers are undefeated at home this season and edged the Blue Devils in Durham in late-April. First pitch for the rematch is 3:45.
Newington's Jordan Aprea
The Newington boys’ volleyball team suffered their first loss of the season, dropping a heartbreaker to the visiting Cheshire Rams. The two heavyweights battled to an epic five set match in which Newington took the first and third sets (25-17, 25-17) and lost the second and fourth sets (25-17, 25-23). Cheshire preserved the victory by winning the fifth and final set, 15-11. The loss was the first blemish for the well-rounded Indians, who had won their first eleven games this season, including a victory over Cheshire on April 23rd.
Cheshire, now 9-2, was led by the senior tandem of Trent Hager and Greg Zane. Hager doled out 42 assists and had six blocks. Zane added 10 blocks and eight kills in the victory.
Despite the loss, Newington’s captain Jordan Aprea had another dominant performance. The junior outside hitter had 18 kills, 15 digs, and five aces. His five aces equaled the total amount of aces that he had registered through the first eleven games this season.
Aprea followed up his stellar game versus Cheshire with an equally impressive outing the following night as the Indians easily disposed of the Hand Tigers in straight sets (25-9, 25-19, 25-12). Seniors Long Du and Riley McManus filled up the stat sheet to helped Newington shake off their first loss. Du tallied 12 assists and had a season-high 8 digs. McManus added 14 assist and a season-high 4 aces.
Newington has five more tune-up matches left before the tournament starts in early June. One of those contests will be a home date against rival Glastonbury on Wednesday, May 21st. Newington beat their conference foes in five sets earlier in May and another victory would almost assure a division crown for the Indians. Action starts at 5 p.m. at Richard Rogalski Gymnasium inside Newington High School.
Sometimes it takes a bigot like Donald Sterling to remind us that the highest level of competitive sports doesn’t equal the highest level of professionalism. The now-loathed Los Angeles Clippers owner’s insensitive comments and actions regarding race was a not-so-subtle reminder that high school athletics are the only genuine article left in American sports.
Over the years professional sports have slowly transformed from a business featuring elite athletes competing on the field, court, or rink into a high stakes game of athletes, agents, and owners competing for their next business venture. What once was an enjoyable afternoon at the stadium to catch a game has turned into a 365/24 sports circus featuring very little actual athletic competition.
For his part, Sterling is just an old, shriveled cherry on the top of a quickly melting sundae.
Thankfully high school athletics are still played for the pure joy of the sport. High school sports offer less politics and the players, coaches, and administration involved are participating for the love of the game-- not for the next contract or television deal. Don’t get me wrong, professional athletes, coaches, and owners deserve to be financially compensated, but when money becomes the overriding factor the fundamental nature of the game suffers. It is more than just the money that has tainted sports; it is the meaningless minutiae that surround the sports. What once was a discussion of what happened on the field has become a discussion of what is happening off of it. The on-field discussion is now secondary.
It used to be that college athletics was an alternative from the corruption of professional sports. College was the perfect blending of ability and affection for the game. The best local high school athletes would leave their hometowns and would continue to hone their craft against equal competition at the next level. However over the last decade college athletic programs have become increasingly profitable entities that will jump conferences at the drop of a hat for the windfall of money that awaits the school. From multi-millionaire coaches to players attempting to unionize for pay, the landscape of college athletics has drastically changed. What was once was an extension of high school athletics is now a farm system for big business athletics. In some cases, college athletics even trump the university itself with coaches and players having more power than their university president. Yes I’m talking to you Alabama and Kentucky.
This leaves high school as our last hope. It’s too late to change what has happened to college and professional athletics, but we can preserve the purity at the high school level. I’ve been fortunate to cover games at the high school level and there is nothing like the smell of freshly mowed grass on a Friday night for a football game or the frenzy of a student’s section at a rivalry basketball game. The passion of a great high school athletic event is nearly tangible. As a spectator you feel as if you become part of the action.
This passion can still be found at the next levels, but it is dwindling year by year due to those who are corrupting the sports at the highest levels. Owners like Sterling are spoiling sports. Coaches like Bill Belicheck have made a mockery of a great game. Athletes like Ryan Braun have cheated themselves and the paying public. The owners, coaches, and athletes will all make money and continue to reap the benefits from the game. The real losers are the fans. Those that pay for the product are getting a watered-down version of what once was.
This is why it is important to support your local high school athletic programs. They not only represent our towns and communities, but they are playing the love of the games and not lusting for the next dollar. High school athletics remind us that for every Donald Sterling there is his polar opposite.
Enter John McKissick.
McKissick is entering his 63rd season as the head football coach at Summerville High School in South Carolina. The legendary coach has amassed over 600 wins, had five undefeated seasons, and won ten state championships during his tenure. Some coaches would have jumped to the collegiate or professional ranks with his type of resume, but not McKissick. Following his monumental 600th coach victory he said that high school sports can “teach young people so much about life”.
It sounds like Sterling and other professionals could use a lesson from McKissick.
The Wethersfield Eagles golf team has big plans for this season. They took the first step toward their ultimate goal by knocking off crosstown rival Newington at Indian Hill Country Club, in what will be the schools only meeting this season.
Wethersfield finished seventh during the 2013 Division-II championships and didn’t lose any starters to graduation. Four of the five golfers who competed in the in 2013 championships are in action this season. Will DelMastro, who finished ninth at last season’s championship, has had a blazing start to his senior season and is the Eagles most consistent performer at the tee. DelMastro has led or tied for atop the Eagles’ leaderboard in each of their contests this season, including an even-par 36 in a win over Manchester. Benjamin Goldman, junior Vincent Barone, and DelMastro each tallied a score of 40 in the win over Newington.
Newington’s Jake Hedberg also posted a 40 in the loss to Wethersfield. The junior, who also quarterbacks the Indian’s football team, finished 26th at last season’s Division-I championships. Ben Weyman, Noah Hedberg, Kyle Lacson, and Tim Welles will join Hedberg in their pursuit for an improvement on the team’s 17th overall finish at last season championships.
To witness the young local golfers visit Wethersfield Country Club on Tuesday, May 15th for the Eagles tilt with Windsor or Wednesday, May 16th when they have a tri-school battle with Berlin and Simsbury. Both matches tee off at 3 p.m. Newington will host Conard at Indian Hills Country Club on May 16th with the same 3 p.m. tee-time.
Wethersfield's Bill Conner
It was a challenging season for the Wethersfield hockey team, but a few bright spots shined through for the frozen Eagles. Two of their players, Billy Conner and Matthew Carcia, were named to the Division-III all-state team following great individual campaigns.
Conner, a team captain, led the team in both goals and assists. The senior forward wrapped up his fantastic high school career by averaging a point per contest this past season. He was selected to play in the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) all-star game, where he played with and against the other standout seniors in the state.
Carcia was a stout defender for the Eagles and still managed to score in double-digits from his defenseman position. The junior flourished this season and will be one of the five returning seniors next year. All five players received significant playing time this season.
Junior Noah Thulen was also asked to partake in the CHSCA junior all-star game. The selfless forward was second on the team in assists, finishing with three multi-assist contests over the final ten games of the season.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin