Tuesday, June 19, 2012


The power that nostalgia holds over me was palpable Saturday as I parked my truck in the New Britain Stadium press lot.
For 15 years, I covered the New Britain Rock Cats like they were a major-league team. For the better part of 40 years, I was active as either an administrator or a sports writer in the ballparks of the Eastern League. I watched the Double-A circuit graduate from small, dingy ballparks in smaller towns or in the seedy section of cities to the grand palaces like New Britain Stadium, where a family can enjoy a night of merriment without any concern for safety, without spending a fortune.
Everything looked just as I had left it. Former co-owner/president/general manager Bill Dowling, who will go down in history as the founding father of the state’s most successful professional sports franchise to date, was conspicuous by his absence. Dowling, supremely dedicated to his patrons, was a fixture in the portal from the concourse to the first-base side of home plate. He remains a consultant, but only attends games occasionally. His contribution to the welfare of New Britain must never be overlooked.
Who better to replace Dowling in the GM’s chair than John Willi, his disciple for nearly a decade? Willi left the team for a year, but returns with the Dowlingesque passion for the fan and the community.
The weather is spectacular. The Rock Cats, two years removed from the embarrassment of a 44-98 season in 2010, are playing representative baseball. Manager Jeff Smith, one of the most popular players during his playing days in New Britain, guides the young Minnesota Twins protégés with a firm but friendly hand. His wife Ronna and young sons Cutter and Cooper have become part of the culture. The boys can’t wait to don their gloves. They worked on their double-play turn around the keystone bag after the teams hit the showers.
The grandstands are packed. The Rock Cats announce their ninth sellout of the season and second in two days. Summer weekends that attract over 20,000 people to the city have become the norm. Here’s a comparative statistic to chew on a spell: the 1988 New Britain Red Sox drew under 80,000 to outmoded Beehive Field, which stands next door.
People congregate in front of the stadium dubbed “The Emerald of the Eastern League” because of its distinctive green façade. A band plays familiar tunes. People line up at the ticket windows and gleefully distribute their bounty to families and friends, anticipating a relaxing evening where the kids can safely romp in a well-supervised playground, cold adult beverages flow freely and the enticing aroma of barbecuing meats satiate the air.
Just like I hadn’t missed a day, I greet some familiar people and make my way to my former auxiliary office, the press box. Radio announcer Jeff Dooley flashes by as he prepares for his broadcast. Venerable scoreboard operator Larry Michaels has seen almost as many innings in Willow Brook Park as Vin Scully has in Dodger Stadium.
A new group of youngsters, determined to forge careers in professional baseball, buzz around in every capacity of support. As Willi notes, he has seen groups of dedicated employees come and go. His new management group took the reins at a late date in terms of season preparation and his roster underwent more sweeping change, but newcomers like media assistant Patrick O’Sullivan and box office manager Josh Montinieri blend magnificently with the “old guard” – behind-the-scenes stalwarts like community relations mavens Lori Soltys and Amy Helbling.
The relationship between the Rock Cats and Twins continues to prosper fruitfully.
The Twins have fallen on some hard times in terms of player development and their resultant standing in the American League Central Division. The flow of high-level prospects moving through like Torii Hunter (1996-98), Joe Mauer (2003), Justin Morneau (2001-03), Michael Cuddyer (2000-01), Jason Kubel (2004) and more recently Denard Span (2005-06), has slowed to a trickle.
The Twins rely heavily on player development. They are reluctant to engage in the high-priced free agent derby, and painfully have been unable to lock up their own. Cuddyer and Kubel rejected the team’s advances over last winter and signed with Colorado and Arizona respectively. Consequently, the Twins put a heavy emphasis on what happens in New Britain and management is almost always represented at Rock Cats games.
I am fortunate that my visit coincides with that of long-time friend Bill Smith.  Bill Smith and I go back to the early 1980s when I was general manager of the White Sox’ Double-A team and he was in the same slot at Class A Appleton, Wisc.
Bill was presented the opportunity to become the Twins’ general manager when his decorated predecessor Terry Ryan opted to focus more on the scouting end of the business. Like so many GMs, Bill was relieved of his duties, but his deep loyalty to the Twins, and theirs to him, has him back in a consulting position. He’s a New Hampshire boy by birth, but grew up in Ledyard where he still has family. Talking baseball with Bill Smith is like talking religion with an archbishop.
The most uplifting facet of the evening was reconnecting with former Rock Cats manager Riccardo Ingram (2006-07).
The good-natured, always positive Ingram faced his own mortality when he was confronted with a cancerous brain tumor in the summer of 2008. He sports a significant scar on the top of his head, but his faith through the whole ordeal was unshakeable. He is in good health and commutes between New Britain and Triple-A Rochester as a minor league hitting instructor.
Pitching coach Stu Cliburn is in his 11th season in New Britain, qualifying him as an adopted son. He spent a couple seasons (2006-08) in Triple-A Rochester when his twin brother Stan (Rock Cats manager from 2001-05) was managing the Red Wings, but like the prodigal son, he returned to his familiar post in the New Britain bullpen.
One of my goals in life is to sit through a game on television – a time when Stu isn’t working – to have him evaluate and analyze the art to which he’s dedicated his life. There is so much about pitching that even the most avid baseball enthusiast (and so many baseball writers) don’t comprehend.
The game moves forward. The Rock Cats, leaders in the Eastern Division for a large chunk of April and May, show a disturbing trend of failing to hit in the clutch, the plague of so many slumping ballclubs. They drop a 4-1 decision to the Erie Seawolves and fall closer to the .500 mark.
Jeff Smith can’t offer an explanation. A multitude of Hall-of-Fame managers before him couldn’t either. The nuances of a game played daily are that fortunes rise and fall, just like everything else that contains a human fingerprint. The constants – symmetry, tradition and color – are reasons why I’ll shed the depression of not having it as a daily routine and continue going back for reinvigoration.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Baby boomers remember it as a simple pastime in which they engaged on so many college campuses.

Several generations later, the skill of making an accurate toss with what remains universally known as a Frisbee has become part of an evolving professional sport, and New Britain is a cornerstone.

The sport once called Ultimate Frisbee with rules made up as you went along is formally known as Ultimate Disc. The Connecticut Constitution, members of the professional American Ultimate Disc League, play their home games at CCSU’s Arute Field.

The team is being operated capably and modestly by the players themselves.  General manager/coach/leading scorer John Korber leads by example. Vice president of marketing and sales Rafe Steinhauer, a former cross country and track athlete, plays a position known as “cutter,” but perhaps more importantly answers inquiries into the sport’s burgeoning position.

“The professional league will help the sport as a whole,” Steinhauer said. “It’s always been uphill battle to get the general public to buy into the game as legitimate. We’re battling a short history.

“Lots of people play just for fun recreationally without cleats and with tie-dye shirts. There’s nothing wrong with that. People play softball in beer leagues. It’s the same split. There’s nothing wrong with either form but they’re very different. Our version is a spectacular spectator sport.”

BRIEF HISTORY: The Ultimate game was invented in 1968.

For the first 20 years, play proliferated primarily on college campuses, where it developed what Steinhauer called, “a hippie stigma.”

The first competitive development occurred in the late 1980s when the Ultimate Players Association was born. Four years ago, it was “rebranded” as USA Ultimate. It became the governing body for competitive amateur play and established national championships at the high school, college and club (adult) levels.
Such tournaments have been going on for 25 years, Steinhauer said, yet the stigma remains.

“There’s definitely a generational divide,” he said. “As anybody 40 and up and they’ll say it’s just a bunch of hippies. Ask anybody in their 30s and it’s an intensely competitive and perhaps the most aerobically challenging team sport. It’s a split we deal with on a daily basis.”

THE GAME: Steinhauer has multiple reference points when he evaluates Ultimate’s aerobic challenges.
The teams play 7-on-7 over the wide-open space of a football field. Players cannot run with the disc; it must be advanced via the pass. “It’s a constant series of sprints,” Steinhauer said.
A team earns a “point” or goal when its player catches a pass in the end zone, which is 20 yards deep, twice as big as the area allotted in football.

Substitutions are allowed only after points or between the 12-minute quarters. Points come much more frequently than soccer goals or touchdowns. The Constitution’s last game played on May 27 produced a 28-21 victory over the Columbus Cranes. In other words, the teams successfully crossed the goal lines nearly 50 times in 48 minutes.

Steinhauer said sports fans familiar with similar team sports will pick up the game almost instantly.
“Anybody familiar with basketball and football would totally get it,” he said. “It’s a very intuitive game. Any incompletion is a turnover. The other team picks it up immediately. There’s no stopover with a change of possession. Once you catch it, you have seven seconds to throw it, kind of like a shot clock. It’s a lot of action and constant cutting.”

THE LEAGUE: The AUDL presently consists of two divisions.

The Constitution, 5-1 at press time, competes in the East Division with the Philadelphia Spinners, Rhode Island Rampage and Buffal Hunters. The West Division includes the central Ohio-based Cranes, the Detroit Mechanix, the Indianapolis AlleyCats and the Louisville-based Bluegrass Revolution.

The season runs April through July. Divisional playoffs begin in mid-July. The inaugural league championship is slated for the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., on Aug. 11.

THE TEAM: Steinhauer said the Constitution have an amicable relation with its landlords at CCSU.
The games have attracted an average of 600 people. The first game of the year drew 1,050. Unlike other professional teams, the financial needs of the organization are much less. Steinhauer said the team can function by drawing 700 per game with 500 per a first-year goal.

“Having the players chip in is absolutely vital,” he said. “John Korber selected a team with an eye toward product. It’s an easy decision to take the best 25 athletes who don’t care about the sport or the organization but John chose 25 who are very good on the field and have dedicated themselves to helping the sport and growing the business.”

He said the team’s strategy is based on the phrase, “Our motto is product.”

“We have to represent our product, represent our organization and the players have bought into that,” he said.

The team has access to all the amenities at Arute, providing a comfortable setting for fans.
“Central has been very helpful,” Steinhauer said. “We pay a good amount of rent but it’s a very nice facility. In my mind, it’s the best facility in the league.”

Philadelphia plays at Franklin Field, the former home of the NFL Eagles. Detroit plays at the massive Silverdome, once the Lions’ domain. Neither team is averaging substantially more than the Constitution, which gives those stadiums a rather cavernous look on game day.

“Arute is a great atmosphere,” he said. “You’re right on top of the game. We wouldn’t trade with anyone.”
Ticket prices have a Rock Cat-like affordability at $6 per game. The Constitution’s strategy mirrors that of the highly successful minor league baseball team across town.

 “I head a speech by [NBA Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban,” Steinhauer said. “He said everyone thinks the Mavs are about basketball, but they’re selling a form of entertainment that people can’t get at a movie theater.

“At the end of the day, people don’t go to minor league baseball games because they are interested in detail. It’s just an experience they can’t get anywhere else. The players have conversations with the fans. We have activities between quarters. If we put a lot of effort into the fan experience, familiarity with the game doesn’t matter.”

Saturday, June 9, 2012


(First appeared in Southington, Orange and BethWood Patch)

STRATFORD – Anxiety took its toll.
Both Southington and Amity displayed some jitters as the Class LL softball championship unfolded.
A plethora of walks, defensive mistakes and substandard pitching marred play on both sides, but one team was able to regain its poise.
Leadoff hitter C.J. Semones earned MVP honors by rapping four hits and scoring three runs Friday night as the No. 6 Spartans rumbled to a 10-6 win over top-seeded Southington at DeLuca Field in a title game between the two schools that have been there the most.
Amity (23-5) was crowned champion for the fifth time. Southington (22-3), which has won a state-record 14 championships, is now 3-3 against the Spartans in ‘LL’ title tilts. The two schools combined have appeared in 29 of the 39 championship games.
The Spartans last won a state title in 2003 when they recorded a 3-0 win over the Knights.
Amity, champions of the Southern Connecticut Conference’s Housatonic Division, pounded out 17 hits. The Blue Knights, perennial kingpins in the CCC, punched out seven hits and made four errors.
“I’ve been with these girls for four years, we know each other so well and senior year it just all came together,” Semones said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
Bores was humbled by his team’s poor play.
“You’re not going to beat a Little League team giving up 10 runs,” he said, after an extended postgame meeting with his girls. “And I think the four errors were very generous. I counted about seven or eight.
“We played [badly]. We couldn’t have played worse.”
Semones started the game with a dribbler in front of the plate for a single. Emily Fox’s sacrifice bunt was thrown away by third baseman Alyssa Dumphy and Jacqueline Ferraiolo (3-for-5, double, HR, 4 RBI) made it sting by cracking a three-run homer over the fence in left.
Staked to a three-run lead, Amity hurler Dana Blydenberg promptly walked Nicole Rossitto and Sarah Carangelo. The pair pulled off a double steal and scored when Sydney Ferrante (3-for-4, 3 RBI) drilled a single under the glove of shortstop Heather Watt and into center field.
“We got a little nervous but I knew our team was going to make the plays in the end,” Semones said.
The pitchers and the defenses settled in. Amity padded its lead with a run in the fourth, an inning that saw Bores replace his junior starter Jordyn Moquin with freshman Kendra Freidt after Semones’ leadoff double.
“I knew it wasn’t her night when she gave up [eight] hits over [three-plus] innings,” Bores said.
Emily Fox collected the RBI with a single.
The Knights were still in the game, but unlike Amity, they couldn’t chase away the butterflies.
“I kept trying to keep them loose,” Amity coach Bob Purcell said. “I kept being very light and not coaching too much. The coaching’s all done. Now it’s just keeping the girls’ tempers down and their attitude good. That’s what I tried to do for the whole game.”
The fifth inning proved Southington’s undoing. Amity used well-placed bunts and doubles by Semones, Ferraiolo and Jenna DiLorenzo to pile up five runs.
“The ump was very selective with his zone so we just waited for our pitch,” Semones said, about hitting Moquin like she hadn’t been hit before.
Two Southington errors contributed to the merry-go-round.
‘I don’t know if they were nervous,” Bores said. “We haven’t given up 17 hits in two weeks, in five or six games. …
“It’s embarrassing. I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life as a softball coach. I’m embarrassed for them. That’s not a showing of how they played all season.”
With Amity leading 10-3 in the bottom of the seventh, the Blue Knights showed that they weren’t going down without a fight. Hits by Ferrante and Moquin led to three runs but too much damage had been done.
“It was over,” Bores said. “You could tell by my body language that I just wanted to go home.”
Moquin, who re-entered the game as a pinch-hitter and returned to the mound in relief of Friedt, allowed 11 hits, waqlked one and struck out three in five full innings of work. Blydenburg went the distance, yielding four earned runs on seven hits, walked six and fanned just one.

Class LL Softball Championship
At DeLuca Field, Stratford

Amity 10, Southington 6

Amity                                       Southington
                           ab  r  h  bi                               ab  r  h  bi
Semones 1b        5  3  4  1       Rossitto 2b        1  2  0  0
Fox lf                  4  2  2  0       Carangelo rf       3  2  1  1
Ferraiolo rf          5  2  3  4       Ferrante ss         4  0  3  3
DiLorenzo dp 5  0  2  2            Harvey c            4  1  0  1
Watt ss               0  0  0  0       Moquin p           4  0  1  0
Zdrowski cf         5  0  1  0       Friedt p              0  0  0  0
Luce c                 4  0  0  0       Dumphy 3b        2  0  0  1
Blydenburg p       2  1  0  0       Paterson 1b       3  0  0  0
Baker 2b             4  1  3  0       Zazzaro cf          3  0  0  0
Reynolds 3b        3  1  2  1       Downes lf          3  1  2  0
Shepa ph             1  0  0  0      
Totals               38 10 17  8      Totals                27  6  7  6

Amity                      300 150 1 – 10  17  1
Southington              200 010 3 –   6    7  4

E – Baker, Dumphy, Ferrante, Rossitto, Harvey.
LOB – Amity 11, Southington 7. DP – Amity 1.
2B – Semones 2, Ferraiolo, DiLorenzo. HR – Ferraiolo.
S – Fox.  SF – Dumphy. SB – Carangelo, Rossitto.

                            ip    h  r  er  bb  so
Blydenburg W      7     7   6   4   6   1


Moquin L             5   11   5   4   1   3
Friedt                   2     6   5   5   1   2

Moquin faced 1 batter in 4th.

WP – Blydenburg. T – 1:57. A – 1,000 (est.) . Records – Amity 23-5; Southington 22-3.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Class L Boys Lacrosse

Fairfield Prep 10, Simsbury 7


At Robert J. McKee Stadium, West Hartford
Fairfield Prep     (15-3) 2 1 3 4 – 10
Simsbury           (17-2) 0 2 2 3 –   7

First quarter – 1. FP, Tim Edmonds 3:52; 2. FP, Kevin Brown (David White) 7:37.
Second quarter – 3. S, Trevor Gallagher (Eric Hesketh) 12:08; 4. FP, Matt Brophy 19:28; 5. S, Gallagher 23:54
Third quarter – 6. S, Mason Burr (Evan Ruszala) 25:52; 7. FP, Edmonds (Brown) 27:18; 8. FP, Brophy 27:42; 9. FP, Brown 28:38; 10. S, Hesketh 24:58.
Fourth quarter – 11. FP, Brophy (White) 38:12; 12. FP, Edmonds (White) 38:50; 13. FP, Brown (Edmonds) 39:14; 14. FP, Brophy (Edmonds) 43:03; 15. S, Gallagher 43:09; 16. S, Gallagher (Hesketh) 43:42; 17. S, Gallagher (John Ryan) 45:38.
Saves – FP, Mike Seelye 6; S, Tim Maher 6. Shots – S, 26-19. Ground balls – FP, 26-18.

By Ken Lipshez
WEST HARTFORD – Lacrosse wasn’t invented in Connecticut but if someone wanted to build a state shrine, the campus of Fairfield Prep would be a likely spot.
The Jesuits came into the Class L tournament having been in the final game last six years running. Of their three losses this season, two have been to powerful out-of-state teams. 
So when Simsbury wrested away the momentum after a sluggish first quarter and tied the game shortly after the halftime break, the notion of upset coursed through Trojan hearts.
As it turned out, such notions were very short-lived.
The fifth-seeded Jesuits responded by bunching three goals in just over a minute’s time Wednesday to oust the Trojans, 10-7, in a semifinal skirmish at Conard’s Robert J. McKee Stadium.
Simsbury, the top seed in the tournament, finished at 17-2. Fairfield Prep (15-3) moves into the familiar territory of playing for a state title on Saturday.
“I would never lie and say that we’re not frustrated losing to Prep because it’s frustrating every year,” Simsbury coach Jim Martocchio said. “We’ve had ups and downs with them. We’ve beaten them a couple of times in the regular season but when it counts, we seem to come up short every time. You’re got to play a perfect game of lacrosse to beat a team like that.”
Matt Brophy had four goals for the Jesuits. Tim Edmonds had three goals and two assists, Kevin Brown and three and one and David White contributed three helpers.
For Simsbury, Trevor Gallagher scored five goals. Eric Hesketh had a goal and two assists.
Martocchio and most of his players took the loss in stride, savoring the challenge and anxious for another crack at the downstate powerhouse that draws talent from multiple towns in the region.
“They bring kids from different towns to play and it’s hard to compete with that, working with one [town],” Hesketh said. “We wish we could have beaten them, but I’m not going to hang my head over the loss. They’re a pretty explosive team. When they get on a run they’re hard to stop.”
Prep dominated the first quarter and entered the second quarter with a two-goal lead, but the Trojans answered assertively. Hesketh took the opening draw, stormed down the center of the field and set up Gallagher just eight seconds in.
Brophy responded for Prep, but Gallagher made an aggressive inside roll and eluded a defender to bring Simsbury within a goal just six seconds before intermission.
Mason Burr tied the game when he gathered a pass from Evan Ruszala two minutes into the second half. It lit a blaze under the Jesuits. Edmonds, Brophy and Brown scored in rapid-fire succession within a span of 1 minute, 20 seconds to gain a 6-3 lead.
Hesketh reeled in an errant pass near midfield, rushed up the center of the field and rammed it under the crossbar with just over a minute left in the quarter, but the Jesuits countered in decisive fashion. Whtie assisted on goals by Brophy and Edmonds. Edmonds fed Brown for another and Brophy for a fourth unanswered tally that gave Prep a 10-4 lead with under five minutes remaining.
Gallagher scored three times down the stretch but the Jesuits proved too tough once again.
“The level of competition that we play through the season – beating Chaminade (N.Y.), we should have beaten St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) – and they’re two of the top high school teams in the country. So we’ve been battle-tested,” Prep coach Chris Smalkais said. We’ve played in a lot of great games where we know that if we can elevate our level of play, we can be successful. We played the most difficult schedule in Connecticut and it seems to work for us on an annual basis.”
The Jesuits’s sticky defense made advancing the ball difficult in Simsbury’s offensive zone.
“Their long-stick middie [Conor Barr] and their close defenseman [Andrew Hatton] – we knew all day we didn’t want to go on [Barr],” Martocchio said. “He takes your best player right out of the game.”

Monday, June 4, 2012


WEST HARTFORD – Baseball apocalypse stared Northwest Catholic in the face on two fronts.
Underdog East Catholic was poised to stage an upset after dodging several threats and catching a few breaks. After the Indians built a four-run lead and had ace pitcher Mac Crispino on the hill to close it down, black clouds percolating in the western sky nearly escorted the visitors to a monumental comeback.
But even stormy weather and shaky karma couldn’t keep Northwest from advancing a step closer to its goal -- regaining the Class S championship.
A strong start from sophomore righthander John Arel and relentlessly aggressive baserunning staked the top-seeded Indians to a 5-3 victory over the resolute Eagles Sunday in a quarterfinal at Northwest Catholic.
Northwest (20-2) will take on Cromwell Tuesday at Waterbury's Municipal Stadium with game time slated for 7 p.m. Cromwell, which ousted St. Paul Sunday, eliminated Northwest in a Class S football semifinal in December. Northwest won its first and only 'S' title in 2010.
Arel tossed six sparkling frames, allowing the No. 24 Eagles (10-13) one run on three scratch singles. He walked just one, struck out three and used a three-pitch mix to jam the East hitters, inducing slow grounders, humpback line drives and lazy fly balls.
The Indians carried a 5-1 lead into the seventh inning after scoring four times and sending eight batters to the plate in the sixth. Northwest coach Cory Carlson had Crispino ready, but neither the Eagles nor Mother Nature was going to let the Indians and their ace slide by without a tussle.
The wind rustled the nearby treetops, the rain sent the crowd scurrying and the burden of coping with the sudden calamity fell on Crispino. Singles by Casey Carone and Tyler Aprea and a two-out walk to number-nine hitter Nick Benoit brought Garrett Richardello up with the tying run.
First baseman Dan Errico called for an infield pop and was startled when the wind blew it back toward the first-base dugout, well out of his reach. Given a reprieve, Richardello lashed a two-run double to left but Crispino struck out Andrew Gordon to end the game.
“Weird circumstances. It should have been a 5-1 game,” Carlson said. “When a kid hits a routine pop-up to first base, we’re in monsoon conditions and it takes a 90-degree turn. It’s a state tournament and you’ve got to get it in. The umpires did a good job getting it in and luckily things worked out in our favor.”
Crispino said he retained his focus in spite of the atmospheric onslaught.
“You want that situation as a pitcher right there. You want to close it out with all the fans here,” he said. “The thing about it is you can’t even throw the ball across the diamond. Did you see that pop-up? It flew like 10 feet. Pretty crazy.”
The key element in all of Northwest’s scoring was the stolen base. The Indians tried eight and succeeded on seven. Crispino had three and Alex Mortillaro, who scored the go-ahead tally in the sixth, had two. But the strategy wasn’t flawless. The Indians had one runner thrown out at the plate and another caught off second base.
“[Aggressive baserunning] is something we’ve always done,” Carlson said. “We have the best first-base coach in the state if not New England (Jason Maule) at the high school level. He’ll take guys that aren’t fast and makes them fast by reading the pitcher. He’s done an outstanding job getting our baserunners prepared.”
Northwest took a 1-0 lead in the third against East starter Aprea. Crispino laid down a perfect bunt on the first pitch of the frame and proceeded to steal second and third. Mortillaro laced a one-out single to left.
Arel faced the minimum through four and hadn’t allowed a hit when Ryan Wieczorek began the fifth with an infield hit in the hole. He advanced on a balk and a tapper back to the mound. With two down, Aprea singled to the opposite field on a payoff pitch to score the equalizer.
“[Arel] was fantastic,” Carlson said. “Two cue shots and an infield single. Honestly what he does is throw strikes. … He’s doing a better job mixing pitches and getting ahead of guys.”
East loaded the bases but Arel sawed off Richardello on a 3-2 pitch to retire the side.
Mortillaro worked a walk to start the big sixth-inning rally and stole second. Mike Wine laced a 3-2 single to left. Mortillaro held up at third, but when catcher Alex Fulco fielded the throw from the outfield and tried to get Wine at second, Mortillaro scored in a cloud of dust.
“Early in the game the same thing happened but [Will Carew] got tossed out on a close play at the plate,” Mortillaro said. “We were talking about how the catcher was blocking the plate so you do a hook slide and try to get your hand in. I saw the throw to second was low so I figured I’d be aggressive and go off my instincts.”
Dylan Robinson, who struck out looking with the bases loaded in the first, reprieved himself with a base hit that scored Wine. Andrew Dornfried drove in Robinson with a single and Carew scored the final run on a wild pitch.

Class S Baseball Tournament
NW Catholic 3, East Catholic 2
At Northwest Catholic

East Catholic                         NW Catholic
                           ab  r  h  bi                                ab  r  h  bi
Richardello ss     3  0  1  2       Wilson ss            3  0  0  0
Gordon cf          4  0  0  0       Crispino cf          3  1  1  0
Cella rf-3b          3  0  0  0       Errico 1b            2  0  0  0
Wieczorek lf       3  1  1  0       Mortillaro 3b      1  1  1  1
Carone dh          3  0  1  0       Wine c                2  1  1  0
DiPace 2b           0  0  0  0       Robinson lf        3  1  1  1
Fulco c               3  1  0  0       Carew rf             1  1  0  0
Aprea p-rf          3  1  2  1       Angelini dh        3  0  1  0
Felice rf              2  0  1  0       Arel p                 0  0  0  0
Rooke p              0  0  0  0       Dornfried cf       3  0  1  1
Greene p             1  0  0  0      
Benoit 1b           1  0  0  0
Totals                26  3  6  3       Totals                21  5  6  3

East Catholic    000 010 2 – 3  6  1
NW Catholic     001 004 x – 5  6  0

E – Fulco. LOB – East Catholic 5, NWC 6. 2B – Richardello.
SB – Crispino 3, Mortillaro 2, Wilson, Robinson, Dornfried.
CS – Wilson.

East Catholic
                                 ip    h  r  er  bb  so
Aprea L                    5     4   3   3   5   4
Rooke                       0.1  2   2   2   1   0
Greene                      0.2  0   0   0   0   0

NW Catholic
Arel W                     6     3   1   1   1   3
Crispino                    1     3   2   2   1   1

Aprea faced 2 batters in 6th inning.

WP – Rooke. BK – Arel, Rooke. HBP – by Aprea (Mortillaro, Wine);
by Arel (Richardello). T – 1:59. Records – EC 10-13; NWC 20-2.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


My recent time spent covering the postseason for Hall and Conard has further reinforced my respect and appreciation for the scholastic sports scene in West Hartford.
BASEBALL: On the baseball front, Northwest Catholic made a powerful statement that it reigns supreme in town by sweeping its two-game sets with the public school teams, but the level of play across the board was almost certainly the best it’s ever been.
Credit the sensational work being done at the youth level for the dramatic upswing.  Atop the list is the West Hartford Amateur Baseball Association, the brainchild of Rick Sanford and Steve Meucci.  Their organizational acumen has been tantamount in providing expert instruction for the players and guidance for the players and their parents.  They don’t get nearly the credit they deserve, and neither do the people aligned with them, some of whom I know (Elliott Lane comes to mind) and others whom I’ve yet to meet.
Conard’s teams have been consistently above average.  The Chieftains have qualified for the Class LL (‘L’ in 2005) tournaments for the past nine seasons.  They have won first-round games the past two years, beating Hall last week and Xavier last year, but have not moved past the next hurdle since 1975 when they lost to New Britain in the semifinals.
Hall’s 12-win season ranks as one of the best in school history.  The Warriors went 13-9 and won the CCC West in 2009 under Dave Masters, but winning records on the diamond have been rare in the north end.
Neither school has ever won a state championship, but with the quality work being done at the youth level, primarily at the West Hartford Youth Baseball League where the philosophy is focused on competing rather than just having fun playing the game, statewide recognition is imminent.
Such recognition is familiar at Northwest, where Cory Carlson and his dynamic staff have the Indians racing toward their second Class S crown.
BOYS LACROSSE: For those who haven’t seen it, I urge you to read my story in the West Hartford News on Conard’s tournament ouster at the hands of Brien McMahon-Norwalk.
Talk about a coach who has dedicated his life to a program, I give you Bill Condon.  He battled to keep his emotions in check after the 16-8 loss, but it wasn’t the setback per se that shook him. 
Although he wasn’t prone to discuss it at the time and I wasn’t about to pry into his inner feelings, I could tell that this crop of seniors meant a lot to him and the thought of not being together as a team anymore tore him up.  If that doesn’t convince you that your boy could learn something beyond the game playing Conard lacrosse, I’m not sure I could provide that service.
At the core of the Chieftains’ senior group is Ricky Cotton.  St. John’s University is not only getting a dedicated athlete but a young man who will enrich the campus with his leadership, tact and understanding.  By fighting back tears, Condon was showing me that his relationship with Cotton was somewhat closer to father-son than coach-player.
Cotton starred in three sports at Conard, so credit should also go to wrestling coach Chris Glowacki and football coach Rob Cersosimo for developing a great athlete and a greater person.
The Norwalk outfit showed once again that Fairfield County lacrosse continues to retain its superiority over any team greater Hartford can muster.  At this writing, top-ranked Simsbury is still representing, but whether or not the Trojans can become the first Class L/Division I team north of Cheshire to capture a pennant remains to be seen.
GIRLS LACROSSE: The Hall girls turned in another inspired performance for another of West Hartford’s dynamic coaches, Steve Boyle, by turning back a capably upset-minded group from Danbury, 12-11.
Even in the internet age, there was no way Boyle could have known that the Hatters’ dramatic improvement stemmed from the return to eligibility of a state-class athlete in junior Raven Winters.  With Winters supplying the athleticism and fellow junior Pauline Kaplan winning draws and controlling the area in front of the cage, Danbury was miles ahead of the team that Hall dismantled early in the season.
“We didn’t even know Winters existed,” Boyle said after the game. “We just knew based on their results against the top teams in the state that they were very much improved.”
The Warriors are very young.  Kelsey Smith is the only senior, and how she distinguished herself in ultimately neutralizing Danbury’s dominance of the draw.  Boyle instituted a counterattack strategy that Smith and Megan Tracy exquisitely interpreted.  It was essential in Hall’s rebounding from a three-goal deficit in the second half.
Boyle heaped praise on the effort of his goalie Maddy Hooper, whose understanding of the position has advanced light years.  Hooper, just a sophomore, will be among the state’s best by the time she graduates, if she’s not among them already.  As Boyle said, she not only made spectacular saves, but disrupted the Danbury advances with aggressive play around the crease, and ignited fast breaks with good decisions after gaining possession.
Hall is not the quickest team around but there is none smarter.  Boyle’s daughter Alannah and Cookie Aronow combine game savvy and excellent stick-handling to create offensive opportunities.  They weren’t intimidated by Danbury’s defensive commitment to aggressive play.
Every team of Hall’s quality needs some speed element and that is supplied by junior Hayley Mullins.  While Mullins will go to college on a soccer scholarship, she has the stuff to gain some All-State consideration in lacrosse.  Mullins printing down the sideline, cradling the ball safely in the pocket of her stick, is a sight to behold.

Friday, June 1, 2012


I know many people follow my writing here in Blog-ville and I’ve been grossly negligent.  A month between blogs doesn’t cut it, but here’s what’s been occupying my mind.
First, I am going to stray from the familiar whimsy of sports to some reality checks that make me wonder about the basic intelligence of those whom we elect to legislate.
How about the highways?
When we Connecticut folk travel through Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, we pay tolls.  After I got stuck at an NYC-area booth that accepted only EasyPass and got thoroughly embarrassed about holding up a line of people with NYC-style patience, I bought the EasyPass gizmo for the windshield and cruise through the booths.
But here in Connecticut, drivers from other states zip through for free.  How does the state make up for the shortfall that these millions of drivers would bring, and do so elsewhere? Simple, they double the tax on our gasoline.
As a resident of the Farmington Valley, I go out of my way to plan trips to the Commonwealth so I can fill my tank for up to 25 cents-per-gallon cheaper than I can here.  I buy a whole bunch of stuff up in Southwick now – trips to The Summer House for lunch, Meadow View Farms to buy the veggie plants and flowers for the garden and grab a cuppa Joe at the Daily Grind, a terrific coffee shop in an old church at the north end of town. Then over to Valero I go to fill up the truck.
How did our legislators let us down so?  Where were you guys when our neighboring states were figuring out how to establish revenue streams without taxing their residents to the brink of hysteria?
So, you guys need money that you can spend it on what YOU deem important.  Okay, somebody ostensibly smarter than me has to make these decisions.  I just wish the voters would engage in some analytical thinking instead of just casting their votes like elections were popularity contests.
Did you notice when you’re on the highway and doing 65 or so, there are at least a dozen people flying by you on the left and right who have to be touching 90?  If they want to drive like idiots and endanger the lives of innocent people, why shouldn’t they pay the freight?  How about putting some troopers out there and assessing some hefty fines, not for just disobeying the speed limit, but obliterating it.
Common sense, guys.  Let’s take our attention off these worthless busways that too few will use and focus on that elusive element that the Good Lord disbursed, which has devolved dramatically since the long-gone days of my youth.
Another kick that I’ve gotten on is all the rackets out there in which some cash in and the foolhardy get sucked in.  Some of these infomercials and spam emails defy sensibility so severely that it’s hard to imagine anybody could possibly fork over their hard-earned cash.
Anybody who knows me can rightly conclude that I have studied up on weight-loss gimmicks over the years.  Hey, I ain’t giving up my Pepe’s Pizza (Sally’s when I get to Wooster Street in my native New Haven), my fried clam visits to Lenny and Joe’s and my occasional burger binges at Harry’s in Colchester.  We’re all going to die anyway and I’m dying with a grin on my face, not having eaten rabbit food in vain for 20 years.
“Take this pill three times and day, and if you follow a sensible diet plan and get plenty of exercise, you will drop 20 pounds in a month.”  No shit, Charlie, and you’ll lose the 20 just as readily without taking the placebo.
“Congratulations, you’ve won the Belgian Lottery.  Just give us your social security number and all your bank account data and we’ll share our $2 billion bounty with you.”  So scream the emails I get about 30 times a week.  You mean to tell me that there are folks gullible enough that buy into this bilge that it encourages these back-room geek reprobates to keep on sending them?
How about today’s TV shows and movies?  If there aren’t either robots, fire or both involved, the majority don't watch.  Robots.  Fire.  Mmmm, cool.  Then a fabulous movie like “The Artist” comes around, sweeps the Oscars and 75 percent of the people I talk to never even heard of it.  But that idiotic, repetitive computer-generated trash with one-eyed, metal evil-doers plundering smoldering cities below?  Robots.  Fire.  Mmmmm, cool.
Call me an old-fashioned fool trapped in the past but I’m having a grand old time watching movies like “Mutiny on the Bounty” (Charles Laughton-Clark Gable version) and “Casablanca” for the umpteenth time.  And how awesome it’s been rediscovering the merit of the old Westerns. 
James Arness (Matt Dillon of “Gunsmoke”) recently passed away but he’ll never be forgotten.  Clint Eastwood sure was cool in those old “Rawhide” shows.  You even learn new words, like remuda (where the horses were secured at night during cattle drives).
That’s only part of what fires me up.  C’mon over for a few hours of “Bonanza,” James Cagney flicks and a couple of tomato pies from Pepe’s and you’ll get the rest.