Saturday, February 26, 2011

Developing talent for Twins is Rock Cats’ first concern

By most standards, the 2010 New Britain Rock Cats season would elicit the kind of reaction that no manager or organization would want to endure.

The team finished with a franchise-worst 44-98 record, which ranked it on the bottom rung in all of affiliated baseball let alone the Eastern League.

But before history passes judgment on the team, that history must be allowed to play out, and that’s why manager Jeff Smith gets high grades from the parent Minnesota Twins and has high expectations for 2011.

One of his players – outfielder Ben Revere – even made the jump from the Double-A EL right past Triple-A and directly into the American League Central pennant race. Smith delivered the good news to Revere in what he called his high point of last season.

Others like right-handed hurler Kyle Gibson had successful Triple-A forays and are knocking on the door of their big league indoctrinations. Gibson was the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

And leave us not forget that the Rock Cats attracted a franchise-best 368,523, or 5,500 per opening. No matter what the Cats do on the field, the attraction of high-level baseball at an affordable price with trimmings for the entire family has struck a chord with Connecticut and Western Massachusetts.

Attendance and the continued flow of the Twins’ exceptional player development machine made a .310 winning percentage less of a factor, based on the smiles sported by Smith and the Rock Cats’ staff led by president and CEO Bill Dowling at the Wood-n-Tap in Hartford Feb. 16.

“We’ve now sold 115,000 tickets (for 2011), which is a 15,000 increase from last year and we’re shooting to get in the neighborhood of 170 to 175,000 by opening day and I think we’ll be able to do it,” Dowling said. “It’s been a great offseason for us. …

“It seems to keep on going and going and going. We seem to be like the Energizer bunny. At the end of every season, we say to ourselves, ‘God, can this happen again?’ and for the last five years we’ve drawn over 300,000 and over 350,000 for the last three. The indications are that this will be another banner year.”

Smith said that he blocked last year’s record out on Jan. 1.

“I’m a person who does not look back,” said Smith, summing up 2010 as an adversity-builds-character experience for his young team. “I like to look forward and that’s why I’m so excited about 2011 and the players are the same way.”

Smith expects Twins Minor League Player of the Year, outfielder Joe Benson, to be a leader on the 2011 squad. Benson and Gibson will be in major league camp for spring training. So will Revere, Rock Cats outfielder/first baseman Chris Parmelee and right-hander Carlos Gutierrez.

“We’ll be well-represented by last year’s New Britain team and other guys who have played here in the past,” said Smith, giving the only forecast he could with spring training holding all the answers.

The minor leaguers report to Fort Myers, Fla., March 11.

Smith said the Twins went against their grain in signing minor league free agents, which should strengthen the organization’s base.

“It keeps the guys who you saw develop and become better ballplayers will be right here in New Britain,” he said. “I always think the second year in Double-A, the league starts to slow down a little bit, the pitching looks a little easier, you’re a little more mature, you’ve gained from adversity. We’ll see a lot of repeat guys here.”

The team comes to New Britain April 4 for its annual Elks Club benefit dinner and media day workout before embarking on a road trip to Richmond and Harrisburg. The home opener is slated for April 14 at 6:05 p.m.

Pitching coach Stu Cliburn returns for his 10th season in New Britain. Former Angels and Red Sox slugger Tom Brunansky will serve his first season as hitting coach.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I have some more personal stuff to share that I hope will interest you.


I thought I would have some deep regrets about leaving the New Britain Herald, where I wrote sports for 14 years before joining the West Hartford Press on Nov. 19.  Three months later, I don't have a one.

I miss the coaches, athletic directors and the kids. 

I would have liked to seen Max DeLorenzo, the Berlin running back headed for UConn, when he made that decision.  DeLorenzo is a respectful, appreciative, mature kid who you can't help but like.  Yet for a DeLorenzo in Berlin, there is a Jonathan Esposito at Conard.  Take that backfield and you not only have a pair of punishing ground-gainers but also a couple of future leaders.  When I interviewed Esposito, he reminded me so much of DeLorenzo.  I hope they both find great success.

I miss covering New Britain High basketball.  I haven't been able to bring myself to the NBHS gym nor have I looked in on the boys team and new coach Todd Stigliano.  Stigs is a great guy, a great choice and I miss him, but I've been told there's no crying in basketball so I haven't visited yet.  I did see Tasha Manzie and the Hurricane ladies on the road at Northwest and I had to go into the corner of the gym to compose myself.  How I miss and respect Tasha and her assistant Mike Jones.  Boy did their team pick up steam as the season moved on.  So did Stigs' boys.  Great days are ahead for hoop in Hardware City.

But the daily grind was no longer that alluring to me.  The deadlines at the Herald shrank from midnight to 11 and finally to 10.  My stories could no longer be as thorough and box scores are now only occasional.  Box scores are the essence of local sports and their omission leaves a huge gap.  They provide a brief but complete view of the game and ostensibly include the names of all who played, which is what the people want to see in their daily paper.  Typing in the cold after a football or soccer game in late fall is no fun.  Searching for someplace warm to write with that deadline clock beating down is hard on the writer and provides no justice for the reader.

Now, I at least know that my stories will be read and re-read before they are made available to the public.  No more glaring typos that nobody had the time to pick up.  No more trying to get feeling back in these aging digits. 

I also enjoy the idea that I get to pick what stories run and what the headlines and photo captions say.  I found that to be a source of angst at the Herald.  No longer.

'Tis a far, far better place I'm at, my friends, and I'm having fun.


No, I'm not leaving the Rock Cats.  I'll be around for my 15th year of coverage, but you'll have to get the West Hartford Press or check out this blog to get the kind of in-depth, experienced view that you're used to.

The Rock Cats attract more than 350,000 fans a year and pump their energy back into the communities they serve by engaging their players and supporting worthy causes.  The most successful sports franchise in the history of a state with a New York-Boston complex is both stunning and should be embraced.

Did it ever occur to anybody that Hartford simply is not a major league city?  Nearly 370,000 fans comprehended that last year as they gained entrance to New Britain Stadium.  Most were probably glad they didn't have to pay hundreds for tickets, a hundred more to park and face a long ride home.

Yes, the Rock Cats have carved out a niche that Connecticut fans and I appreciate and I'd like to keep that going.


Will I watch MLB games on television this year?  Of course.  Will I go to a game?  Heck no.

Baseball at its highest level remains a travesty where greed runs even more rampant than it does in other aspects of American society.

The Red Sox will win the World Series, I hear people trumpet.  Well they should, shouldn't they?  They've gone out and bought nearly every able-bodied player they can, and a 162-game season allows the cream to rise to the top. 

The Orioles may pull an upset now and again but they'll never be able to compete for a division title with the Yankees and the Red Sox stockpiling their rosters with millionaires and passing their burgeoning expenses along to the fan.  If it's worth thousands of dollars to puff your chest out because a bunch of superstarts did what they were supposed to do, be my guest.  Anybody can buy a Red Sox hat but only a couple can buy pennants.

By the time the Red Sox and Yankees are battling for the AL pennant, I'll be happily engaged in bringing the people of West Hartford local football and soccer news.  Buying pennants isn't my idea of sports excitement.  The action costs a lot less and is no less exciting right down the street, and those are our kids providing it.  They're more important to me than greedy unions and misguided millionaires and they should be to you, too.


(From November, 2010)

We’ve been through an awful lot together since my byline first appeared on these pages but my time is drawing near. I will be leaving the New Britain Herald for another journalistic endeavor by the time Thursday’s paper hits the street.

The decision to leave the Herald was a very difficult one. The coaches, athletic directors, student-athletes and parents representing our six schools are good friends and have been steadfast partners in my quest to bring our readers breaking news and poignant features.

My intent has been primarily to inform you and at the same time entertain, although sometimes I feel more informative and other times more like fishing for a chuckle. Of course, there are times when I get very serious, and I want to offer one interesting paradox before I go on to some nostalgia.

What bothers me most about sports journalism these days, particularly in the electronic media and uncontrollably on the internet, is that so many writers/talk show yappers are putting themselves ahead of the events.

There is no ‘i’ in team but you don’t have to do much scrambling to see there is ‘me.’ Egotism covers up low self-esteem very nicely, so those who jam themselves to the forefront are sending us that kind of message about themselves. If you’ve ever done any research using newspapers from long ago, you had trouble even finding bylines.

Yet where would local sports be without the people who do belong in the headlines? The people who have made sports work in the greater New Britain area are some of the finest I have ever known.

My time with the Herald began in 1995 alongside legendary sports editor Bart Fisher. Now there’s the perfect example of a man who worked overtime to keep himself in the background while he expounded about what separates New Britain sports from the rest of the world.

Before I could pinch myself that I had the chance to work side by side with the man who must go down as New Britain’s greatest sports journalist, it was over. Bart moved on to take a position at Central Connecticut State University.

He was replaced by Gerry deSimas Jr., whose dedication to high school athletics and their legacy was second to none. But Gerry’s time at Herald Square was also far too short for the good of us all. Neill Ostrout, Billy Bernardi, Marcus Rosano, Brian Straight and current staffers Matt Straub and Brad Carroll followed and I enjoyed working shoulder to shoulder with each and every one of them.

The highlights have been many and I’d like to share my thoughts about a few of them with you.

For the first few years, covering New Britain High sports was about the same as covering the others. My wife Lisa is an NBHS grad and even before I began with the Herald, I recall going to Chick Shea Gym for a tournament basketball game between her Hurricanes and my Hamden High Green Dragons.

I saw Stan Glowiak for the first time, slamming his shoes to the hardwood to get the attention of a team led by Tebucky Jones and Malcolm Yelling. The Dragons won the game to my extreme satisfaction. Little did I know that a time would soon come when I’d feel differently. Stan is now a treasured friend and my dresser is packed with NBHS t-shirts.

I remember exactly when the transformation occurred. I was at Manchester High in 1998 for a football game. Coach Lenny Corto’s club had its eye on a Class LL berth. Its only defeat came at Southington when a two-point conversion fell short. Just around kickoff time, I heard the big sound of the Golden Hurricane Marching Band piercing the chilly air with their trademark fight song, “Bingo.”

Don’t ask me why but it moved me. Tailback Chris Bellamy, who would later excel at UConn, ran wild that night and the Hurricanes crushed the Indians. Unfortunately, one of the better New Britain teams did not qualify for the tournament despite losing just one game. I began to understand the New Britain High mystique, and shortly thereafter, it was engraved on the walls of my heart.

Later that winter, I fell in love with Beryl Piper’s fabulous basketball team that won a Class LL title by avenging its only defeat of the year versus Fairfield. What a team! Center Kenitra Johnson, Lindsay Ryba, Lindsey O’Neil, Missy Czeremcha had that special chemistry.

The following fall, O’Neil and Czeremcha led the NBHS volleyball team back from an 0-2 deficit in the Class L final to humble Cheshire and hush its rooting section that began to celebrate just a little too early. It was the crowning moment for coach Michelle Abraham, who still brings that same unbridled passion to every match.

The tenure of controversial football coach Jack Cochran will always elicit heated debate. Some say he helped a lot of kids find their way. Others say he helped only those with Division I talent. Some were glad to see him go. Many wish he never did.

I know Cochran did some things that he shouldn’t have but speaking from my perspective, I had a ball covering his teams that won three Class LL championships in a four-year span.

Soccer. It was a dirty word to me before I arrived at these papers (I worked at the Bristol Press from 1991-95) but venerable Farmington High boys coach Steve Waters took me to school. So did Wethersfield boys coach Rob Jachym. I began to comprehend the difference in covering their sport as opposed to baseball, football and basketball. Soccer gave me the chance to be more descriptive, even a little poetic.

During my winters at the Herald, I would circle all the Wednesdays and Saturdays for wrestling. I had always been a hockey guy in the winter – Hamden never even had wrestling – but I relished the great match-ups and superb wrestlers at our schools.

Former Berlin High coach Jim Day was and continues to be one of the state’s premier ambassadors for the sport he loves. His coaching staff, the parade of supportive alumni and the supreme dedication emanating from every corner of the program made it special.

As I sort through the memories, I realize that it probably wasn’t a good idea to mention names because there are so many more, enough to fill this section for a week.

Fifteen years is a substantial portion of a lifetime. Performing the duties of a sportswriter has been a labor of love. When you love what you do and you care deeply about how your paper is perceived, you don’t walk away when your 40 hours elapse. For that reason, 15 years seem more like 25 but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s because of the supreme reward you receive when you write local sports for so long.

When I first joined the Herald, I promptly fell in love with girls basketball due to the amazing battles between Newington and Southington. Southington’s premier player was Jen Gombotz, tough as nails and as determined to win as any athlete I’ve ever met. She’s now Jen Micowski and she’s coaching Newington volleyball in the fall, Plainville basketball in the winter and Blue Devils softball in the spring.

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again – if I ever have to go to war, I want Jen in the foxhole with me.

Todd Stigliano was a scrappy guard for Newington basketball and an amazing enough soccer star that he played in college. He is now giving back as a soccer official and Glowiak’s replacement as the NBHS boys hoop coach.

Jeff Brunetti and Dave Francalangia were awesome soccer players. They’re now coaching soccer at their respective alma maters, Newington and Berlin. Russ Crist was a standout for Farmington High basketball. He now stands out as the FHS girls coach. The common theme is that these people have dedicated their lives to giving back. I am thrilled that I may have been a part of their development in a small way.

And then there’s Erin Pac. How ironic that the former FHS three-sport star and Olympic bronze medal winner would tender her retirement as a world-class bobsled driver the same week that I’m leaving the Herald.

Last but certainly not least, there are the New Britain Rock Cats.

Spending hours and hours with people like CEO Bill Dowling, his brother/media relations man Bob, radio voice Jeff Dooley, venerable scoreboard operator Larry Michaels, official scorer and former NBHS wrestling coach Ed Smith constitute one of my life’s greatest pleasures.

Getting to know and gaining the respect of incredible baseball people like former Twins GM Terry Ryan, the Cliburn brothers Stu and Stan, Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, redoubtable ex-skipper Tom Kelly and players like Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Doug Mientkiewicz was wonderful beyond my wildest dreams.

I promise you that if you’re looking for me, I will still be a constant visitor to the New Britain Stadium press box, my second home. I made sure of that during negotiations for the new job.

Leave it to my favorite president Theodore Roosevelt for coming up with the thought that sums up my feelings about my Herald tenure.

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” My work here was well worth doing and I’ll relish that prize until my dying day.


Record-breaking Conard High running back Jonathan Esposito took one look at Princeton University and immediately got the feeling that he belongs within the hallowed Ivy walls of the southern New Jersey campus.

But a phone call one Sunday last fall got him to thinking. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was calling on behalf of his alma mater, Wesleyan.

Esposito gave some serious thought but his first impression turned out to be a lasting one. Esposito made it official Feb. 11 at a ceremony at Conard that he would soon be Princeton-bound.

“It worked out the way me and my family wanted it to all along,” he said. “Going to Princeton for the first time over the summer, right when I stepped on the campus, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

Esposito leaves Conard with school records in career yardage (4,570), points (360) and touchdowns (64). As a senior, he ran for 1,800 yards and crossed the goal line 29 times. Considering that Princeton and Wesleyan were interested in him, his academic standing at Conard is impeccable. So is his character.

As much as communicating with Belichick enthralled him, he was captivated by Princeton’s history-rich campus.

“It’s such a prestige school and there’s so much history behind it,” Esposito said. “Everything there was just flawless. Princeton just had something that no other school had.”

He visited Yale and Trinity as well as Wesleyan.

“It’s not too far away because I’m very close with my family,” he said. “That was important. It’s perfect.”

The call from Belichick spawned second thoughts, although at first he didn’t think it was legitimate.

“I thought it was a joke,” Esposito said. “I just woke up from a nap, it’s Sunday afternoon. That Saturday I had SATs and a game so I was drained. Right when I woke up, the phone rings.”

Belichick introduced himself.

“Not in my wildest dreams would I think he would call me so I hung up. I thought it was a prank call,” Esposito said. “He ended up calling right back and we lost service so we got disconnected.

“I really thought nothing of it. All along I thought it was kid, a joke.”

The next night, he was watching Monday Night Football with his mother when he received an e-mail from Wesleyan coach Mike Whalen telling him that Belichick was going to call.

“My jaw drops and my mother asks me what’s wrong. … He was great,” Esposito said.

The decision to stick with his initial instinct settled in during the first of the successive snow days on Feb. 1.

“[Princeton] called me and said they got everything cleared through admissions and they wanted to offer me a spot,” Esposito said. “Of course I accepted right away. If that didn’t work out, I probably would be going to Wesleyan.”

Esposito said he could reap the ultimate in academic rewards from either school.

“In terms of academics, they’re both phenomenal institutions,” he said. “Everything was comparable. I loved all the coaches, all the players, but Princeton is Division I football and Wesleyan is Division III. Big difference.”

Esposito plans to study business – economics, accounting or finance – but wishes to keep his options open.

“What was also appealing to me is you go in and take your requirement classes so you can get a better feel of what you like,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working hard and finding out what I want to do.”

West Hartford: A great sports town

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My affiliation with the sports people of West Hartford is in its third month and the most satisfying aspect is the new friendships I’ve made as the old ones have been reinforced.

Three months is a short time yet I have had so many intriguing conversations with you both face to face and via email that I consider my footing strong and the future filled with promise.

In West Hartford, everybody has been wonderful beyond my highest expectations.

The coaches and administrators at the public high schools have responded quickly and productively to my requests to bring me up to date on a sports history that is richer than I could have possibly imagined. I still have so much to learn and my hunger to do so is avid so I welcome emails and/or personal discussions about sports here.

Betty Remigino-Knapp, the athletic director for Hall and Conard, has been such a great help, and in a time of great duress for her and her colleagues. Betty looks at the weekly weather forecasts like outnumbered pioneers ducking behind wagons during an Indian raid. If there are any more postponements, West Hartford may be the scene of the very first basketball/baseball doubleheader in April.

Yet Betty and her administrators at Conard (Kerry Roller) and Hall (Maryanne Seguro) still have found the time to fill my email inbox with a treasure trove of information that only nostalgia nuts and sports historians could love.

For example, Betty allowed me to borrow a rare copy of the program from the Conard-Hall Millenium Football Game held on Nov. 18, 2000 at Hall’s Robert S. Chalmers Stadium. The contest honored two of the most dedicated football coaches in state history – Bob McKee of Conard (1957-83) and Frank Robinson Jr. of Hall (1957-87).

I knew of the gentlemen through the unparalleled story-telling of my dearly departed friend and colleague Bo Kolinsky as part of the ritual we enjoyed in promoting the annual Gold Key Dinner run by our beloved Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance.

Among the many things I didn’t know, McKee, for whom Conard’s beautiful stadium is named, actually began his coaching career at Hall. Indeed, he was the city’s first male physical education teacher and guided Hall to the championship of the Central Connecticut Interscholastic League in 1951.

McKee was 168-61-15 at Conard and held a 13-11-3 advantage over Hall in the big series.

I also didn’t know that current Conard coach Rob Cersosimo, a legendary teacher/mentor in his own right, married McKee’s oldest daughter Debbie. Now there’s ascendancy to the throne that even Queen Victoria could have appreciated.

Coach Robinson, not to be confused with current coach Frank Robinson Jr. (his son) or the Baseball Hall of Famer who was my idol as a child (no relation), was 201-92-9. I never knew Cersosimo played for Robinson at Hall in the late 1960s. Can you imagine that somewhere there lies royal blue beneath all that crimson?

I glanced at the Conard roster in 2000 and was overcome by the names of quality assistants listed beneath Cersosimo’s name.

The list starts with former Avon coach Jeff Redman. Peter Pfeffer recently resigned as the ultra- successful coach at Glastonbury. Paul Philipon guided Bristol Eastern to some great seasons and Marco Pizzoferrato has guided the Manchester program on its steady rise. There you have Connecticut high school’s premier cradle of coaches.

I’ve learned why West Hartford’s high schools were named for two gentlemen named Hall and Conard.

William H. Hall, a man known for his love of children and kindness, was instrumental in planning the high school that opened in 1924 in the building that later housed Town Hall. Frederick U. Conard was chairman of the school board who died suddenly in 1947 as the plans for a second high school were being formulated. The school bearing his name opened 10 years later.

Before I close, I think I’ve come up with another nomination for nicest man in the universe. That would be Steve Blanchfield, whose love for West Hartford high school sports runs deep.

Steve can be found on the Hall sidelines at every football game as an assistant to Coach Robinson III and manning the scorer’s table during the winter. I didn’t realize until I read his stirring essay in that 2000 football book that he coaches tennis at Conard, too. Steve’s essay is in the “must read” category on local sports’ best-seller list.

What people like the Robinsons, Cersosimos, Remigino-Knapp and Blanchfield have bestowed upon the sports legacy of the city cannot be commuted in tangible terms.

Within the hearts, souls and minds of thousands of Hall/Conard athletes past and present are traces of their love, dedication and understanding that carry the message that scholastic sports help provide a foundation for a fruitful future.

Ken Lipshez is the sports editor of the West Hartford Press. You can reach him via email at or by telephone at 860-651-4700 with your comments, criticism or ideas.


The scene is surreal.

The sky is robin’s-egg blue with a purple haze stretching along the entire horizon, curling behind Connecticut’s fabled rolling hills, encircling the flat riverside landscape that was once an East Hartford airfield.

I stand alone in the press box on the fifth floor at Rentschler Field, home of the UConn football team. But there are no yard lines or hash marks, no Husky logos and no discernible end zones.

The luminous yellow goal posts poking through the snow are the only gridiron reminders, for this is no football field at the present. Today – February 10, 2011 – it’s a hockey place.

The only verdant vestige was the big “C” in the logo of the American Hockey League’s Connecticut Whale at center ice. Every square inch of the dense, green sod that generally grabs fans as they walk through Rentschler’s portals was covered with over three feet of snow.

The Hall/Conard co-op girls hockey team led by the Whale mascot Pucky streams from the service entrance at the south side of the stadium to the booming strains of Ozzie Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” They are soon joined by Simsbury for a pre-game skate.

Maybe 200 hardy souls equipped with every imaginable cold-weather accessory look on from the home side of the stadium. Photographers, rink attendants and game officials gather around the outskirts of the new structure, constructed about 30 feet from the first row of spectators.

Is this madness or is it some alluring adventure?

It falls precariously between the two depending on your perspective, and it seems to me to be a very thin line.

Hockey the way it’s supposed to be, I’ve heard some say.

You won’t get me to pay $20 to $85 to see outdoor hockey in February, but I’m an older guy who has covered his share of late autumn football games. I’m not fond of being cold and I’m not a fan of professional hockey. If I was 23, could find a way to bring in a hip flask of blackberry brandy and had a bunch of friends as crazy as me, I’d go along with the crowd.

But given the warmth of the press box and the pure exhilaration of the girls on the teams, it was a worthwhile trip.

“It was so fun. It was great,” said Brianne O’Connor, who scored the third-period goal that tied the game. “It was kind of like playing pond hockey. The ice is really different.”

Bruce Berlet, who once covered the Whalers for the Hartford Courant in the NHL team’s heyday and now works for event organizer Howard Baldwin, said that the girls’ game and subsequent youth games served to “break in” the ice for the main event scheduled for Feb. 19.

The frigid north wind that blew through the stadium’s open end calmed down after the sun set.

“It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be” O’Connor said.

Hall/Conard had beaten Simsbury the night before, 3-2, at Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford. The teams skated to a tie earlier in the season, so they expended their two-game regular-season allotment. Thus, the game at Rentschler was a “friendly.”

Nevertheless, the West Hartford girls exulted in their locker room after the game. It surely was a moment they’ll never forget.

“Our team and Simsbury are really big rivals so it was pretty competitive,” O’Connor said. “It was pretty competitive but it was a lot of fun.”

Alyson Alissi, who scored the game-winner, echoed O’Connor’s sentiments.

“It was fun to skate on the ice but it was also good competition,” Alissi said. “They came in wanting to win really bad.”

Simsbury coach Kris Arnold, a former trainer for the Whalers, pulled his goalie in an attempt to force overtime, and the Trojans nearly did.

Said O’Connor: “It was difficult. It’s hard when they have a man up like that and you want to get it down into that open net. You’ve just got to keep the puck out of the net, and we did.”

Farmington wins CCC West wrestling tourney

FARMINGTON, Feb. 12, 2011 -- Details that led to gut-wrenching setbacks during the regular season dogged the young Farmington High wrestling team as it set sail on its postseason course.

The Indians, ranked 11th in the regular season in the Norwich Bulletin wrestling poll, allowed the CCC West title to slip through their hands.

A pending major decision evolved into a pin that eventually cost them the match with Southington. A chance to share the title eluded them Wednesday when they lost to Simsbury by criteria (tiebreaker) in the campaign’s final dual meet Feb. 9.

Redemption was the byword Saturday when nine made the finals and four claimed championships as the Indians swept to a decisive victory in the CCC West tournament at their home gym.

“That was a hard loss we had on Wednesday and we were able to come right back today,” Farmington coach Eric Misko said. “In wrestling, you’re going to lose to someone at some point. It’s how you can find a way to pick yourself up, get back out there and win another match. If you’re able to do that, you’re going to have a lot of success, on the mat and in life.”

Farmington had a representative in the top four in each of the 14 weight classes except 145 and 285. Simsbury, which had one champion in Nate Beerman (130) and five runners-up, finished second at 153.

“We put six in the finals, five in the consolation finals,” Simsbury coach Ernie Goodwin said. “We had two first-year wrestlers take third – [Bradley] Helmkamp and [Ed] Novak – which is outstanding. All my senior captains were all in the finals – [Connor] Ciment, [Josh] Gowdy and Ben Todd – so ultimately I’ve got to be pretty pleased. Would we have liked to win it? Yes.”

Conard took third, Newington fourth and Southington was fifth despite clinching the division’s regular-season crown with a win over New Britain last Wednesday.
Farmington was represented on the top rung of the podium by Eric Suhre (103 pounds), Garrett Hastings (119), Ryan Rigney (135) and Shaun Rios (189). Zach Daugherty (130), James Paigo (140), Tyler Strauss (152) and Harry Pacheco (160) were turned back in the finals. Matt Natale (125) wrestled back to third place after losing by fall in the championship semifinals.

Beerman went to double overtime to eke out a 1-0 verdict over Daugherty. John DePasquale (125), Ciment (135), Gowdy (145), Stephon King (189) and Todd (285) finished second. Ben Durst (112), Alex Kozieradski (119), Novak (152) and Helmkamp (215) placed.

Hastings, one of seven Farmington underclassmen (sophomores and freshmen) to place in the top four, reprised a regular-season victory over Nate Solomon of Southington. He pinned him in the dual meet but faced a stiffer test Saturday.

After a scoreless first period, Solomon chose the down slot and escaped within six seconds for a 1-0 lead. Hastings took him down 27 seconds later, paving the way for a 5-3 win.

“He leaned back and as I was trying to get back points using my chin and holding his arms, I didn’t get good position on him and he was able to escape,” Hastings said. “I knew at that point that they only way I’d get the lead was a takedown. I didn’t want to wait.”

He heard Misko urging him to take action and he used the double-leg maneuver he practiced all week.

Perhaps the tournament’s feature match came in the final at 145 where Gowdy squared off with Conard’s Lucas Muntz, a runner-up at 140 in Class L last year as a freshman.

Muntz recorded a takedown in the first period. He selected the down position for the second and executed a reversal. Gowdy got in the scoring column with a reversal but Muntz took him down again with just four seconds left in the period.

With Gowdy down to start the third, Muntz turned him for two back points before Gowdy battled back with a reversal to cut the final margin to 8-3.

“I think Josh ultimately was a little too worried about what [Muntz] was going to do instead of what he does,” Goodwin said. “Right there at the end of the match he got a little mad … and that’s when he scored points.”

Rigney, a freshman, outpointed Ciment in the closely fought final at 135. Rigney scored a takedown 14 seconds into the bout and rode Ciment nearly the whole period before surrendering an escape with 28 seconds left.

Down for the second, Rigney promptly escaped and notched another takedown 20 seconds later for a 5-1 lead. Ciment was down for the start of the third and Rigney rode him for nearly the entire period to secure the win.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I truly cannot believe the tremendous outpouring of requests I've had to post the work I've done since I left the New Britain Herald for the Valley Press/West Hartford Press newspapers on Nov. 19.  Thank you for your incredible loyalty.

The Valley Press/West Hartford Press website does not serve as a vehicle for online stories.  My stories generally are available only in the newspapers.

Most of my work is being done in West Hartford, where the general populace and the administrators at its three great high schools -- Conard, Hall and Northwest Catholic -- have been outstanding beyond words.  While I miss my friends in New Britain, Southington, Plainville, Newington and Berlin dearly, I am very happy in my new surroundings and feel very secure that the move I made was in my best interests.

The West Hartford Press is distributed free to residents. Any resident who presently does not receive it should pick up the paper at locations in the city, fill out the request-for-delivery coupon and send it along. Non-residents who wish to receive the paper are encouraged to contact the office at 860-651-4700 and purchase a subscription.  I promise you won't be disappointed.  I write a column -- Straight from the Lip -- in each weekly issue, which also features great columns from veteran WTIC radio sports commentator Scott Gray.

In the days ahead, I will go back and post some of the columns I've written for my new papers.  I intend to write up detailed accounts of the 2011 New Britain Rock Cats when I am able.  I really had no idea how much so many of you already miss my Cats coverage and I'm hoping that my change of venues does not affect my presence at New Britain Stadium.  The current plan is to be there when I can through the end of the high school season and regularly during the summer.