Monday, July 22, 2013


"Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights."

I actually saw this marvelous quote when I searched the internet for something that would define the last few years of my professional life.  Imagine my surprise when I found that this was the intellectual property of a friend -- Pauline R. Kezer -- tossed in among words of wisdom from people like Einstein, Churchill and Shakespeare.

Pauline was Secreatry of State from 1990-94.  I met her through her husband Ken, the former New Britain High baseball coach who became a friend during my 15-year tenure at the New Britain Herald.  That kind of brings the parameters of this blog full circle.

I've never responded well to change.  When I went from two pillows to one, I couldn't sleep.  When I went from Hellman's Mayonnaise to Miracle Whip, I could no longer eat tuna salad.  When I go from the comfortable confines of my Chevy Avalanche and to my wife's claustrophobic Honda to save money on gasoline, I wind up needing a chiropractic adjustment.

Man do I hate change, but when it comes to my professional career, the latest one has become a Godsend. I hope the CFO at my new newspaper, the Meriden Record-Journal, doesn't see this because he may want to reduce my salary, but I'm loving this.

I left the Herald in November, 2010 for a crack at running a weekly sports sections for the [Farmington] Valley Press/West Hartford Press.  I enjoyed the writing and the reporting.  The people of those towns reacted extremely well to my work.  But all that gets nullified when you have a nitpicking psychotic for a publisher who almost drove that baby into the ground.

By June, 2011, I was washing my hands of that awful experiment and began freelancing.  Freelancing is great if you're financially set and the opiate of seeing your name in print just refuses to ebb, but when you can use the cash and you have to keep searching for work, it's a tough racket.

I worked for some great papers, like the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald, the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram, the Union Leader in New Hampshire, to name a few.  I've worked for others who have taken their time about paying, which means I have to lean back on the days working at my parents' collection bureau to get the funds due me.

That's all gone now.  Employment at the MRJ is a blessing, and I'm trying my very best to churn out quality stories for my new readers.  The one overlap with my past is Southington, which in my opinion ranks among the top 10 sports towns in the state.  When it comes to the rest of the circulation area -- Meriden, Cheshire and Wallingford -- I'm a newcomer.  Being a native of nearby Hamden has helped with the transition.

Inevitably what makes or breaks a job experience are the people with whom you work, particularly those who make the decisions.  Personally, I've found it unsettling to be a boss in this business.  I'd prefer to concentrate on my own work and be a viable part of a dynamic team and that's what it's all about in Meriden.

The sports editor is Bryant Carpenter.  I've known Bryant for more than 10 years.  We crossed paths in the field when teams from our respective circulation areas clashed and we developed a mutual respect.  Working on the same team with him is a treat because of his deep respect for his colleagues and genuinely good- natured demeanor.

It sounds like a basic thing, but today's younger generation seems to rank power above people.  Working relationships are hard to foster when the person at the top is bent on reinforcing the hierarchy instead of focusing on the product.  Some power-mongers are subtle, others blatantly overbearing, but neither approach works well with me.  At MRJ, we're all working together and that means happy days for our readers.  I've been working in this business for more than 20 years and it's nice when somebody asks for my opinion or my help instead of playing dictator like the charlatan at my previous full-time stop.  I know it sounds ultra-corny but a happy employee is a productive employee.

The third member of our writing team is Sean Kroffsik and a nicer guy you'll never meet.  I've know Seanie for awhile and I've never heard him say a bad work about anybody, nor has anybody I know ever said a bad word about him.  I'd have to work awful hard at being nice to develop that kind of personality but it comes naturally for Sean.  Lord knows I've failed at it since I know of a few people who would gladly take away my second pillow and put Miracle Whip on my turkey sandwich if they had the chance.  And those are only the ones I know.

The two guys who work on the desk are George Dalek and Paul Rosano, and they're great guys, too.  They have to be to wade through my copy, eliminate some of the flowery adjectives and toss out the typos.  A tip of the chapeau to the talented guy I replaced, John Petit.  Filling John's shoes isn't easy because he's so talented and so passionate.

Folks who know me know I'm heavily into history.  Through five years at the Bristol Press and 15 at the Herald, put together volumes of copious notes on sports at the local schools.  When I went to the weeklies, I began accumulating information on Simsbury, Avon, Granby, Canton and West Hartford.  My time in West Hartford was particularly heartwarming.  I am missing my friends there and come the fall, I'm going to miss the awesome coaches at Conard, Hall and Northwest Catholic.

But as the old door closes, new ones open.  I get to work with some pretty great athletic directors and coaches at my new schools with whom I've made acquaintance.  It'll take some time to revise my history books but I'll get her done.

I hope y'all will stay with me for what I hope is the final chapter of my career.  I have a feeling we're going to enjoy some memorable times and I'd like you to be on board.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


It’s Father’s Day and I’m trying to figure out why we get more nostalgic as time goes by.  Is it simply a consequence of chronology – we’re spending more and more time here so we leave more and more footprints?  Yet surely the majority of people think about nothing but the moment.
I raise my glass to my Facebook friends who lean toward the nostalgic, with special thanks to Mr. Hamden Plains, Ralph Santoro.  Ralph is one of those guys who I didn’t spend enough time with – he was chillin’ on Church Street while my boys and I were bombin’ around on Belden Road.
Ralphie was astute enough to get interested in photography and almost always had a camera slung over his shoulder when I’d run into him at those great places we went back in the 1970s.  Consequently, he snapped a few of me during a time when I wasn’t doing a heck of a lot of posing.  Photos of me in my 20s are pretty darned rare.
Through the miracle of Facebook, scanners and Ralph’s diligence, I was flipping through his collection of Hamden nostalgia and readily recognized so many of my old friends.  Most of them I haven’t seen in 20 to 30 years like that wild bunch of Spring Glen guys – the Lee brothers, the Boyle brothers.  Some of them I see from time to time, like Brooksvale Park caretaker and good buddy Vin Lavorgna and Billy Mezzano.
A few of the guys pictured are sadly gone at much too young an age.  Gary Conte, half-brother of one of my best friends Andy Vas, perished in a Long Island Sound boat mishap along with Paul Mangan, Billy Ford and Billy Collake on Memorial Day 1975.  That’s nearly 40 years ago, and their faces are etched in my mind.
Another wonderful guy – Joe Gambardella, brother of Andy and Leo – passed away within the year.  I spent many happy hours with the Gambardellas at their house that was demolished so Dunkin’ Donuts would have more parking spaces.  Ralph remembers.  So does my dear friend Sharon Davis, who married Andy G.  It pains me that I haven’t heard from Sharon in about 40 years, but shift happens.
Next Saturday (June 22), Hamden will be the scene of two nostalgic shindigs.  A group of guys led by Belden Road’s own Pete Sportino founded The Mighty Metropolis group of Facebook, which is now more than 1,700 members strong.  We had a get-together at Glenwood (best hot dogs on Planet Earth; where Hamdenites will always find an old friend) and now we’re re-convening at Brooksvale Park (10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) where Ranger Vinny certainly will be a gracious host.
The Hamden Plains Park Reunion is scheduled to take place at Outer Space, 295 Treadwell Street, Hamden from 4 to 7 p.m.  Live music will be provided by The Slides (original rock) and Broadway Hearts (piano-based rock).  I’d like to hit both but sometimes life intervenes.
Back to Ralphie’s photos … .  The old block on Dixwell Avenue where the Strand Theater once stood tugged at the heart strings.  I remember when sister Marji used to work there and we’d take in all the hits of the day – “Deliverance” and “The Poseidon Adventure” come to mind.  I can still smell that delectable combination of mildew blended with stale popcorn bathed in that exquisite drawn butter.  If Yankee Candle Company had that scent, I’d have to get a few.
He’s got photos of his mother Myra and the dance studio she ran on Church Street, including the newspaper clipping about Little Ralphie making his stage debut at Oakdale when he was 5.  That’s where he gets that dynamic stage presence he exhibits during his musical gigs. 
The photos from the Blizzard of ’78 were classic.  That’s when my Datsun got buried under a snow bank and I went without a vehicle for quite a spell. 
My old buddy Vinny “Bear” Pantera made sure I got to work at the Hamden Public Works Department every day.  Geez, I hope I thanked him enough.  Thought I saw Vinny one day a few years back when I was covering Rock Cats baseball, but it was his twin brother Mike.  That’s a mistake anybody can make.
Vinny played hockey for Hamden High during the years before Fairfield Prep made recruiting a priority.  I remember the twin rinks on Sherman Avenue hosting a team from Sweden and the place being packed.  Ah, the days when high school sports drew a crowd!  Vinny was a burly defensemen who patrolled a section of the ice where no West Haven forward would care to tread.
I can’t continue without paying homage to the Shultz clan.  Big Kirk and Little Richie, are the twins that look nothing alike.  Younger brother Scott yearned for the city life.  Youngest brother Bruce lives on a ranch in Montana. 
Middle brother Craig settled down in Hometown on followed in father Dutch’s footprints by pouring out his heart to youth sports, primarily girls basketball.  I remember when Craig took up lacrosse.  I wondered what the heck he would do that for.  Now, all these years later, I’ve covered my share of lacrosse and fully comprehend how he got attached to the sport.
Hey, I know I’ve missed a lot of good times and great people, particularly the great days when The Family – Ron Sambrook, Andy Vas, Johnny Coassin and Ray DeAngelis and I – were wandering Grateful Dead Heads.  The Great Bus Ride to see Jerry Garcia at Waterbury’s Palace Theater, courtesy of Ken Dubin, was a classic.  A longer one all the way to Norfolk, Va., courtesy of Lenny Young, was even crazier since it was something like 20 hours round trip. 

Thanks for letting me spout.  On this Father’s Day, I urge you to remember your families, remember your friends, remember those who have passed before us and do something nostalgic.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013


(Berlin Citizen exclusive)
VERNON  – The clouds were gathering in the first inning.
The Berlin High softball team used its patented small-ball style of offense to load the bases with no outs, but Rockville’s All-State pitcher Kaitlyn Lajoie struck out the third and fourth hitters in the Redcoats order.
Early momentum, so vital in a game where runs would almost surely be at a premium, was hanging in the balance. Exactly which way the game would turn rested with the next hitter, pitcher Makayla Harris.
Harris consummated a long at-bat with a two-run double to left and went on to pitch a gem in a 3-0 whitewash of the defending Class L champion and third-seeded Rams in a quarterfinal clash May 31 in the stifling heat at Rockville High School.
The memory of last year’s tournament ouster was thick in the air.
The sixth-seeded Redcoats were one pitch away from securing a second-round win at Brookfield 364 days earlier, but wound up losing 3-2 in eight innings. Berlin coach Jason Pires analyzed the game ad nauseam and took full responsibility. Harris, just a sophomore at the time, gained the kind of experience that nothing but playing the game can teach.
“I’d be lying if I said last year didn’t cross my mind when the bottom of the seventh started,” Pires said. “We’re not that team. I knew it wouldn’t happen again. I knew we were winning this game when it got to the seventh.”
Lajoie and Harris waged a memorable battle as opposing pitchers. Each gave up only three hits. Neither issued any walks. Lajoie struck out 10 and Harris countered with nine. The first inning at-bat was a microcosm of their personal battle.
Brittany Sullivan began the game by beating out a bunt. Megan Wicander tapped back to the mound but with the first baseman charging, the bag was left uncovered. Courtney Silvia slapped a grounder toward the hole. Third baseman Megan Gardiner made a diving stop, but Sullivan beat the throw to shortstop Emily Burg covering.
“We knew their game plan,” Rockville coach Frank Levick said. “We knew that first inning they were going to bunt the first four or five batters. Kids just didn’t cover the bags.
Two outs later, the burden of producing runs was on Harris.
In the midst of a 10-pitch at-bat, she rifled a liner outside the bag at third and it struck Sullivan in foul territory. Harris got a chance to breathe as the trainer tended to Sullivan. Emily Ference came on to pinch-run.
When a Lajoie delivery bounced to the backstop, Ference boldly dashed home with the first run.
“Put her name out there front and center,” Pires said. “Emily Ference doesn’t play much. She was a jayvee player a lot of the year. She came in in the hugest spot and that was an enormous thing she did taking off on that. We made them make the play and that was what we preached.
“I can’t be yelling at you to go or not go. You’ve got to make the decision and it’s got to be immediate and she got in.”
Harris ripped a double to left scoring the game’s final runs.
“I took a big breath and I was ready,” she said. “I had time to settle down [after the line drive struck Sullivan]. The team would have been a little more rattled if [the productive at-bat] hadn’t happened, but I’m sure we would have gotten pumped up in the end.”
As Pires said, Harris was the rest of the story.
A two-out error and a single by Stephanie Kurowski put runners at the corners for Rockville (20-2) in the second but Harris retired the side on a comebacker. Rockville managed an infield hit in the third and a single to center by Michelle Correia in the fourth but neither made it to second base.
Harris retired the final nine hitters.
“Makayla is not overpowering but no one hits spots like Makayla,” Pires said. “They’re not the first team that’s been frustrated by her. They think they’re going to smack her all over the place. They don’t and they don’t know why.
“It’s not fast but every pitch moves. Nothing is where they think it’s going to be. She throws three pitches and she throws them all well.”
Sullivan returned to the game after sustaining the ankle and was none the worse for wear.
Wicander made a running catch of a line drive by Rockville cleanup hitter Courtney Oliva leading off the fourth inning among her three putouts. Third baseman Kaitlyn Guild had two assists and a putout. Harris fielded her position flawlessly with two assists, as did first baseman Kat Burek with six putouts.
The Redcoats (20-3) advance to the semifinals to meet undefeated, second-seeded Masuk. Site and time were unavailable at press time.


Berlin 6, Rockville 4
(May 31, Rockville High)

Berlin                                                Rockville
                                    ab  r  h  bi                                        ab  r  h  bi
Sullivan ss                3  0  1  0         Skoly lf                    3  0  1  0
Ference pr                 0  1  0  0         Burg ss                    3  0  0  0
Wicander lf               3  1  0  0         Lajoie p                   3  0  0  0
Silvia cf                     3  1  0  0         Oliva rf                    3  0  0  0
Guild 3b                     3  0  1  0         Pettengill c              3  0  0  0
Burek 1b                    3  0  0  0         Correia 2b               3  0  1  0
Harris p                      3  0  1  2         Kurowski cf            2  0  1  0
Anderson rf              3  0  0  0         Turgeon ph             1  0  0  0
Veach dp                   2  0  0  0         Gardiner 3b             2  0  0  0
Germano 2b              0  0  0  0         Ose 1b                      2  0  0  0
Asal ph                      1  0  0  0
Patterson c                2  0  0  0
Totals                       26  3  3  2        Totals                       25  0  3  0

Berlin                        300 000 0 – 3   3   1
Rockville                  000 000 0 – 0   3   0

E –Sullivan. LOB – Berlin 2, Rockville 4. 2B – Harris.

                                            ip    h  r  er  bb  so
Harris W                            7     3   0   0   0   9

Lajoie L                             7    3    3   3   0 10

WP – Lajoie.  T – 1:23. A – 120.
Records – Berlin 20-3; Rockville 20-2.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


     BURLINGTON – The end of the Berlin High boys lacrosse season came like that final day of vacation.
The Redcoats know a long winter awaits with the constant reminder that they were unable to qualify for the Class M tournament, but the sweet smell of a late May victory will serve as a refreshing finish as well as a building block for campaigns ahead.
The program continues to surge forward under the guidance of coach Scott Rossi, who has worked hard for a decade to gain Berlin a foothold among the growing number of lacrosse towns in central Connecticut.
He envisions a positive future after the Redcoats concluded their campaign with a scintillating 13-12 victory over tournament-bound Lewis Mills at Malerbo Field that ended with a hard swallow and a wipe of the brow.
“We’re taking steps in the right direction,” Rossi said. “I think now what we really need to do is improve these kids’ lacrosse IQ and that it’s not an individual game with just a lot of dodging and good stickwork. To win at the varsity level it has to be a complete team effort.”
The seniors went out on a high note, led by jitterbugging attackman Nick Mangiafico, who tallied five goals and assisted on another.
Greg Buck, headed for a college career at Albertus Magnus, notched a goal and an assist. Long-stick midfielder Tyler Bouchard made some key defensive plays. Wojtek Zak, Jordan Kinney, Mason Paul and Jey Soucy also finished out their scholastic careers.
Replacing the scoring punch that the lightning-and-thunder combination of Mangiafico and Buck provided will be the primary concern as the program advances. Juniors Jordan Kradas (3 goals, 3 assists), goalie Matt Cote (8 saves), attackman Ben Tomascak (3 goals, assist), midfielder Luc Bolduc and defenders Anthony Duong and Sean Pollack will form the core for 2014.
“We’re definitely looking for some guys who can step up and finish for us,” Rossi said. “We have some guys on this team who have the potential. They just lack the confidence and experience right now.”
Bolduc is expected to be among the leaders.
“We’ve taken a good step forward,” Bolduc said, after the win over Mills. “This is only our second year. We had four wins last year. Now we have six (6-10). We have a lot of juniors coming back and I think we’re going to do good.”
WHEW! The Redcoats rode a dominating third quarter to gain the necessary edge against Lewis Mills, which cruised through the Western Connecticut Lacrosse League unscathed in 10 games but went 1-5 against outside challenges.
Trailing by two at the half, Berlin used three goals by Mangiafico and two by Kradas to take a 10-8 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“[Kradas has] really developed,” Rossi said. “He came on late to the varsity program last year. He’s been a starter all season. He’s still developing as an aggressive attacker and goal-scorer, but there’s no one better as a set-up man for us.”
Buck’s goal with 8:30 remaining gave the Redcoats an 11-8 lead but the Spartans, in need of a win to gain a home-field advantage in the first round of the Class S tournament, knotted the game at 12 with 2:16 to go.
Bouchard nimbly picked up a ball at midfield to ignite the game-winning attack. A centering pass from Kradas to Tomascak restored the one-goal lead with 1:23 left.
With 10 seconds left, Mills was in a desperate way. Possessing behind their own goal, the Spartans elected to go over the top with long-stick midfielder Patrick Keegan supplying the shot. The ball one-hopped Cote and he deflected it safely away like a catcher blocking a pitch in the dirt. The ball kicked to the corner as time ran out.
“The saves Matt comes up with are absolutely huge,” Rossi said. “Matt’ll make those save right on the crease, one-on-one. He never falls asleep on you and never gets caught out of position. This is a very steady goaltender.”
David Borovsky was the primary source of offense for the Spartans with three goals and four assists. Griffin Hayes had three goals.
“This game wraps up our season pretty good,” Bolduc said. “It’s a team we beat last year but they definitely improved. We improved, too, though. I think it’s a good win to end the season on and we should be proud of that.”

      Berlin 13, Lewis Mills 12
(May 20, At Malerbo Field, Burlington)
Berlin                  3   1   6   3 – 13
Lewis Mills         4   2   2   4 – 12
Goals – Berlin: Nick Mangiafico 5; Jordan Kradas 3; Ben Tomascak 3; Greg Buck; Cam Criniti. Lewis Mills: Dave Borovsky 3; Griffin Hayes 3; Connor Hall 2; Matthew Borovy; Cameron Fletcher, Trevor Watts.
Assists – Berlin: Kradas 3; Buck; Criniti; Mangiafico, Tomascak, Sean Pollock.
Saves – Berlin, Matt Cote 8; Lewis Mills, Jack Reitz 10.
Shots – Berlin, 38-27.
Records – Berlin 6-10; Lewis Mills 11-5.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


WEST HARTFORD – With the Farmington High girls lacrosse team a recent graduate from the CCC South to the CCC North, Hall coach Steve Boyle witnessed a marked improvement in his next-door neighbor’s program.
Both team came into their clash with identical records, both overall and within the conference’s premier division.
The Indians’ slick scoring combination of sidewinding playmaker Maureen Gallo and aggressive finisher Abby Arena fell a notch behind early. They kept the heat on but never recovered against Hall’s offensive onslaught.
Alannah Boyle scored five first-half goals and the defense never allowed Farmington to slip within three as Hall posted a 14-11 victory Tuesday afternoon at Robert Chalmers Stadium.
“We did some really beautiful things in the first half in transition, which I think showed that we had a lot of different weapons,” Hall coach Steve Boyle said. “That was a lot of fun, but was it a little closer than I would have liked? Yes, but it was a result I pretty much expected.”
Alannah Boyle scored the game’s first goal two minutes into the game and Farmington (10-3, 3-2 CCC North) promptly tied it on a pass from Maureen Gallo (goal, 5 assists) to Lauren Batton. But the Warriors (11-2, 4-1) scored five of the next six goals over a span of 10 minutes to gain firm control of the match. The only Farmington goal during the stretch was a free-position shot by Arena (5 goals).
The key to Hall’s surge was that Megan Tracy dominated the draws and kept the ball out of Farmington’s offensive zone.
“We call Megan ‘Sparky’ because she’s our little sparkplug,” Coach Boyle said. “She likes to do the draw. You don’t normally have one of your shorter players doing the draw, but she’s so feisty and competitive that when she wins it, she’s in transition right away and it takes some of the pressure off the other kids.”
Farmington coach Jeff Manaresi felt his girls had to control the draws in order to be successful.
“We had to have the ball,” he said. “I told them at halftime, good things would happen and if they had the ball, bad things would happen. It was going to be a matter of who had the majority of the possession [time].”
The Indians twice closed the gap to two in the first half, but never truly threatened to take command. They improved their defensive play in the second half, totally neutralizing Boyle, but Hall’s offensive diversity proved too much for the visitors to overcome.
Farmington, playing its first season against the CCC heavyweights and holding its own, trailed 10-5 at the half but quickly sliced the deficit to three as Batton assisted on goals for Arena and Audrey Gallo.
But by the time the midway point of the half rolled around, Hall restored its lead to 12-7. Rachel Aronow curled in on goalie Jadin James from behind the net, then Emily Kenny secured the rebound of a shot by Boyle and scored.
The Indians again closed the margin to three when Maureen Gallo found Megan Brockleman with 4:04 left, but Hall responded emphatically when Hayley Mullins (3 goals, 3 assists) set up Tracy with under three minutes remaining.
The Warriors put the ball on ice for much of the time left, thanks in large part to a steal by defender Mackenzie Molodetz as Arena bore down on goal with a minute to go.
“We did pretty much what we wanted to do on offensively but they’re a tough team and they have some really good offensive players,” Manaresi said. “When they had it, they could beat us.”
Manaresi exuded confidence at halftime despite the five-goal shortfall.
“We’ve played hard all year,” he said. “I know the group I’ve got this year will never quit. We’re always in it. We’ve come back from goals down other games so as long as they keep at it, which I know they’re going to do, we’re in every game.”
Hall’s amplified defensive pressure forced turnovers that contributed to the early lead. The turnovers stopped in the second half and control of the draw evened out. Hall’s All-CCC goalie Maddy Hooper (8 saves) had her usual impact on the outcome.
Farmington previously played in the CCC South with most of the programs newer to lacrosse, but was bumped up this season to make room for the first-year Bristol co-op team.
Glastonbury holds a slight edge over the Warriors for first place as the North’s only unbeaten team. The Tomahawks turned back Hall, 9-7, on April 25 in Glastonbury.

Hall 14, Farmington 11
(May 14, Chalmers Stadium)
Farmington           5   6 – 11
Hall                       10   4 – 14
First Half – 1. Hall, Alannah Boyle (Emily Kenny) 1:02; 2. Farmington, Lauren Batton (Maureen Gallo) 2:21; 3. Hall, Hayley Mullins (Rachel Aronow) 2:41; 4. Hall, Aronow (Mullins) 3:15; 5. Farmington, Abby Arena 5:22; 6. Hall, Boyle 5:45; 7. Hall, Hannah Cho (Shelby Saunders) 6:01; 8. Hall, Lauren Romano (Aronow) 7:25; 9. Farmington, Linna Jalinskas 12:34; 10. Farmington, Arena (M. Gallo) 19:08; 11. Hall, Boyle 19:50; 12. Farmington, Arena (M. Gallo) 20:29; 13. Hall, Mullins 22:01; 14. Hall, Boyle (Mullins) 22:33; 15. Hall, Boyle 23:28.
Second Half – 16. Farmington, Arena (Batton) 26:54; 17. Farmington, Audrey Gallo (Batton) 33:28; 18. Hall, Aronow 36:16; 19. Hall, Kenny 40:15; 20. Farmington, M. Gallo 41:06; 21. Hall, Mullins 44:37; 22. Farmington, Arena (M.Gallo) 45:28; 23. Megan Brockleman (M. Gallo) 45:56; 24. Hall, Megan Tracy (Mullins) 47:03; 25. Farmington, Jalinskas 48:44.
Saves – Farmington, Jadin James 6; Hall, Maddy Hooper 8. Shots – Hall, 24-21.
Records – Farmington 10-3 (3-2 CCC North); Hall 11-2 (4-1).

Saturday, May 4, 2013


By Ken Lipshez
WEST HARTFORD – The warm spring sun kissed the day like a blessing from above.

The grandstands at the University of Hartford’s Fiondella Field filled up quickly with parents, youngsters from the youth leagues and some of West Hartford’s leading citizens, all yearning for a positive experience and a firm commitment that winter is gone and spring is here.

Hall versus Conard has a special place in the hearts of every city sports fan, no matter what the sport. Through the hard work of the West Hartford Amateur Baseball Association – the brainchild of Rick Sanford and Steve Meucci – the schools’ baseball teams lined up on one field and the softball squads clashed adjacently.

Let the record show that the Warriors won the baseball game, 7-4, behind the stellar work of plucky senior pitcher and game Most Valuable Player Jacob Kochen. Softball remains the domain of the Chieftains, who put a 19-2 thumping on the improving Hall team.

But the event superseded winning and losing, as Hall coach Jeff Billing so eloquently stated after the game.
“It’s awesome. Coming over here, literally arriving and walking out on the field you can see a different bounce in their step,” said Billing, now in his third year guiding the Warriors.

“It’s such a great thing that the University of Hartford lets us come here. It’s such an amazing thing that Rick Sanford and Steve Meucci put all the effort in to make this happen. To get all the town baseball teams here out at second base for the National Anthem before the game. The atmosphere here feels like you’re playing professional baseball.”

Billing cited a comment made by his athletic sophomore shortstop Neil Kelley that will warm the hearts of Sanford, Meucci, Mayor R. Scott Slifka, State Senator Beth Bye, Athletic Director Betty Remigino-Knapp and anybody anywhere who values the role of sport in the lives of America’s youth.

“He said, ‘Coach, this is the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field.’ Win or lose, it’s an awesome experience. I’m really happy we started this and I hope this never ends. I hope there’s a 50th anniversary of the Mayor’s Cup,” Billing said.

Slifka called it, “a West Hartford holiday.” Remigino-Knapp expressed the win-win nature of the event considering that the price of admission and any subsequent donations would be placed in the coffers of the West Hartford Food Bank and the West Hartford Relay for Life.

But after the trimmings of the event were cherished, the reality was that the afternoon had to be painted either red or blue. Kochen made sure it was blue.

“I had to hit the strike zone but not leave anything over the plate for them to hit,” Kochen said. “Conard’s a really good hitting team. They can put any strike in the zone in fair territory and hit it hard. So, hit your spots, hit the outside, throw some offspeed to the good hitters and not let them get a really good piece of the ball.”
Given the choice of facing South Windsor Wednesday or mounting the steep hill at Fiondella, Kochen opted to wait, and it was there where he crossed paths with destiny.

“This is a memory he’ll now have for the rest of his life,” Billing said. “MVP of the Mayor’s Cup his senior year? He had never played varsity baseball before this year.”

While his performance didn’t match the one-hitter thrown by George Lund in the inaugural Mayor’s Cup in 2012, Kochen sternly threw strikes when he needed them most. He spread out eight hits in a route-going effort, walked four, struck out two and benefitted greatly from Hall’s flawless defensive work.
And the Hall bats were relentless against Conard’s two best pitchers – southpaw starter MaxVogel-Freedman and right-hander Charlie Fisher.

Reid Silverhart lashed Vogel-Freedman’s first pitch of the game into center for a solid single. Kelly drilled the second pitch inside the bag at third to put two in scoring position before the mustard had settled on the hot dogs. The tone of the game was firmly set.

“We won the game after two pitches,” Billing said. “If you can jump on people, especially as the visiting team, you’re going to put a lot of pressure on people.”

Silverhart score on a fielder’s choice grounder by Jon Greenfield. Just as Vogel-Freedman appeared to have put early jitters behind him, a passed ball enabled Kelly to make it 2-0. The mistake was a sign of things to come. 

“Defensively we’re not playing as well as we’re capable or need to,” Conard coach Ty Bongiovanni said. “It’s put a lot of pressure on the pitchers because mentally they’re changing the way they pitch because of it. They feel they need to strike out more guys than they really need to. I think it’s changing the way we approach just about everything. Our bats are totally different when we’re losing than when we’re winning.”
The bottom of the Hall order darkened Conard’s day in the second frame. Ben Horwitz singled and raced to third on a hit by Lucas Huber. Horwitz scored on a throwing error and Kelly laced an RBI single plating Huber.

Hall made it 5-0 in the third and ended Vogel-Freedman’s stint. Singles by Will Cook and Dan Nunes set the table. Horwitz walked and Huber earned a painful RBI when he was hit by a pitch with the bases full.
Conard battled back with single tallies in the third and fourth innings.

John Dinucci singled, stole second and scored on a double by Brendon Rossmeisl. After Alex Goroshko reached on an infield hit, Caleb LaRosa hit a laser to left, but Huber snared it and doubled off Rossmeisl at second.

The Chieftains climbed within three in the fourth when Fisher was hit by a pitch and scored on a single by Mike Eddy, but Hall began executing a successful end-game in the fifth. Nunes doubled to left and scored on a single by Zach Dobbins.

A little extra insurance at the University of Hartford seemed only suitable. Silverhart, who Billing dubbed the offensive MVP, started the sixth with a single, stole second and scored on an error – one of two dropped infield pops by Conard on the day.

When the final out was made, the Hall defense remained on the field and Bongiovanni ambled to the mound.
A special young man – Conard’s senior manager Phil Prieto – came to the plate for an honorary at-bat.

Prieto, a mentally challenged youngster who cannot play competitively due to safety issues, crushed a pitch into the right-field gap, circled the sacks and slid head-first into the home-plate dust.
It was a feel-good finish for a memorable afternoon.

              2013 Mayor’s Cup Baseball Classic

                              Hall 7, Conard 4
    (May 3, At Fiondella Field, University of Hartford)

Hall                                                Conard
                              ab  r  h  bi                                      ab  r  h  bi
Silverhart dh       4  2  2  0           Litke 2b                4  1  1  0
Kochen p             0  0  0  0           Dinucci rf            3  2  2  0
Kelley ss              4  1  2  1           Rossmeisl c        3  0  1  1
Greenfield 1b       4  0  0  1           Gorashko ss        4  0  2  1
Cook 2b               2  1  1  0           LaRosa 1b            3  0  0  1
DHorwitz pr        0  0  0  0           Fisher dh-p          3  1  1  0
Monos rf             4  0  0  0           Vgl-Frdmn p        0  0  0  0
Nunes cf              4  1  2  0           Muchin 3b          2  0  0  0
Dobbins 3b         4  0  1  1           Fracasso ph        1  0  0  0
BHorwitz c          2  1  1  0           Venora lf              1  0  0  0
Huber lf               2  1  1  1           Balesano ph        0  0  0  0
                                                        Eddy cf               3  0  1  1
Totals                 30  7  10  4        Totals                 27  4  8  4

Hall                                    221  011  0 – 7   10  0
Conard                              001  100  2 – 4     8  4

E – Rossmeisl, Fisher, Muchin 2. LOB – Hall 7, Conard 9.
DP – Hall 1, Conard 1.  2B – Kelley, Nunes, Rossmeisl.
SB – Huber, Nunes, D. Horwitz, Silverhart, Dinucci.
SF – LaRosa.

                            ip    h   r  er  bb  so
Kochen  W        7     8   4   4   4   2

Vgl-Frdmn L     2.2   7  5   4   2   6
Fisher                 4.1   3  2   1   1   2

PB – Rossmeisl. HBP – by Kochen (Fisher, Balesano);
by Vogel-Freedman (Huber; by Fisher (Cook).
A – 300. T – 2:11.  

Records – Hall 7-5 (3-4 CCC West); Conard 7-4 (4-2).

Saturday, April 27, 2013


I have heard and generally agreed with the undercurrent of protests asserted by public high school coaches and fans about what they perceive as the unfair advantages that “schools without borders” possess, primarily in basketball.
For the purpose of simplifying that statement without accusing anyone of unethical practices, we’re talking about the decades-old concept of parochial schools, and more recently magnet schools, luring students based on athletic merit.
It’s like the old ethnic jokes once deemed funny but now relegated to back alleys. The words are uttered in bar rooms, at water coolers, at dinner tables and in the grandstands at scholastic games, but rarely in a public forum. Many are tired of Xavier-Middletown dominating football, Fairfield Prep controlling Division I hockey and a significant number of these schools tilting the basketball floor, so they vent … off the record.
The CIAC reacted from in 2006-07 when the CIAC Boys Basketball Committee and tournament director Bob Cecchini developed an enrollment-based format accented by a “plus factor” to add some balance.
To implement a point system that would determine in which class (S through LL) a tournament-bound team would compete, institutions deemed “schools of choice” by the state (with the exception of schools commonly defined as tech schools) automatically had their “enrollment” number doubled.
All member schools would then be assessed additional numbers based on their tournament success over the previous four seasons. “Bonus” points would be added on the following basis: 10 for each semifinal appearance, 25 each time a team reached the final, 50 for winning championships.
Using the 2012-13 boys basketball tournament as an example, schools with less than 372 male students (using criteria from the previous school year) were slotted in Class S. Those between 372-505 were grouped in Class M. Class L contained schools with male populations between 506 and 711, while Class LL was reserved for those above 711.
St. Joseph-Trumbull, despite having 438 male students, was shifted from Class M to LL. First, the 438 was doubled to 876, then 180 bonus points were tacked on because the Cadets in the previous four years had made it to the semifinals three times (30 points), finals twice (50) and won two titles (100). Thus, the recruiting penalty (if I’m permitted to use that term) gave St. Joseph a sum of 1,056, placing it in the same stratosphere with much larger cross-town rival Trumbull (enrollment of 1,062).
The CIAC said some schools feel the procedure falls short of achieving its goal.
Now, a change to the system is on the horizon that would presumably help further balance CIAC postseason tournament fields, and since there are rumblings coming from committee members in other sports (read girls soccer), the proposed formula would be feasible across the spectrum of team sports.
The CIAC Board of Control on Thursday approved a proposal from a Board sub-committee for the utilization of a simpler formula.
Any team from a “school without borders” that has advanced to the quarterfinals or beyond in each of the previous three seasons would be bumped up two divisions. Those that have advanced the quarterfinals or beyond in two of the past three seasons would be bumped up one division. Those that have advanced to the quarters or beyond just once over the last three years would not be subject to change.
The proposal will be debated at the committee level before it becomes official practice. The new system could be implemented as soon as 2013-14.
“We’re taking it to both basketball committees,” Cecchini said. “If they go with it, we’ll go with it.”
The following is an example of how last March’s tournament structure could have been configured differently had the new system been in place:
The Capital Prep boys basketball team made it to the quarterfinals or beyond in 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12. Under the proposed system, the Trailblazers would have had to compete in Class L this past year. Under the current system, even the factor of doubling the school’s male population (71) and adding the points for tournament success kept Capital Prep well within Class S.
Hartford-based Classical Magnet (160 boys) advanced to the quarters or beyond in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but did not in 2009-10. Thus, the Gladiators would have been forced up to ‘M’ in the most recent tournament instead of competing in Class S.
Initially, no school would move up three divisions, but the possibility exists that a Class S school could eventually be forced into ‘LL’ if it keeps winning. If/when the three-year evaluation indicates the team is no longer winning at the same rate, it would be dropped back down.
The level of dissatisfaction almost surely boiled over because of winter doings at Capital Prep.
I am not privy to what goes on there, but to field championship-caliber basketball teams when your boys number 71 and your girls enrollment sits at 121 is not apt to happen by chance. To make matters worse, the coaching staff of the girls team evidently took particular delight in burying its foes.
If you think what controversial football coach Jack Cochran did in terms of score management was something less than ethical, consider the numbers for which Trailblazer coach Tammy Millsaps was responsible.
In going 18-0 against state competition, the Capital Preparatory Magnet School won its games by an average of 46.1 points per game. No typo there, that’s forty-six point one.
They humiliated their overmatched foes in the Constitution State Conference (largely tech schools) by 44 points per game, and then really turned it up in the Class S tournament. If you’re not sitting, please do so in case you get light-headed as your mind processes these scores:
CP “edged” Old Saybrook in the first round, 79-21. They must have really had it in for Valley Regional (100-27) in the quarterfinals. Fourth-seeded Morgan was a 94-36 victim in the semifinals and No. 3 Thomaston lost 84-55 in the final.
The problems there are multifold. My first reaction is that the word “integrity” must be considered profane at CP. My second is, I’m relatively certain the people behind that embarrassing display were operating within the framework of regulations.
Next, the CSC admitting a shark like Capital Prep to traverse the same waters as innocuous minnows like Parish Hill (serving Chaplin, CT), Putnam and the state’s vo-tech schools is either a humongous oversight or downright cruelty. Losing by 45 points can’t be doing the young female athletes at those girls much good.
If the girls hoop committee enacts the new system, Capital Prep will play in Class L next year. That “punishment” doesn’t come close to fitting the crime, but it will have to do for starters.
When the plans for magnet schools were taking root during the legislation of the Sheff v. O’Neill education lawsuit, I knew their presence in Hartford would undermine proud, longstanding sports traditions at Weaver, Hartford Public and Bulkeley. What I did not consider is that it could someday undermine the entire state.
Let’s hope both boys and girls committee members will accept the new system for the good of Connecticut scholastic basketball. Let’s also hope that the CIAC can continue to develop measures to further effect balance, but I’m not sure a separate tournament for schools without borders is feasible at any time in the near future.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


NEW BRITAIN – Disappointment was the foremost emotion that gripped New Britain High boys basketball coach Todd Stigliano as he emerged from the season’s final postgame discussion.
But other thoughts pervaded his mind. He talked about deep respect for Ridgefield, which had just ousted the Hurricanes from the Class LL tournament with a 63-57 overtime victory, and the Tigers’ Division I-bound star Kurt Steidl.
He also spoke of the offseason commitment that he and as many as nine returning juniors would have to make in order for New Britain to make a deeper tournament run.
The respect for Steidl, the 6’6 guard who heads to the University of Vermont next fall, echoed through the atmosphere at Chick Shea Gym. His tangible contributions were 31 points and 20 rebounds, but his greatest asset cannot be defined by numbers.
 “[Monday] night in the fourth quarter, he had 13 or 14 against Greenwich and they quoted him in the paper as saying, ‘I knew it was my senior year and I had to take over the game.’ Tonight, he just willed it,” Stigliano said. “He did whatever had to be done for his team to come out with a win. As sad as it is for me, you have to give him credit.”
The eight-seeded Hurricanes (18-6) were in prime position to advance to the quarterfinals.
A three-pointer by Michael Robinson – New Britain’s only one of the game – and a free-throw by Craven Johnson gave the ’Canes a 51-44 lead with 5:21 left in regulation. But the next four possessions brought three turnovers and Daequone Clark missing the front end of a one-and-one.
They still held a three-point lead as the time remaining slipped under a minute. When Steidl handled near the top of the key, he was double-teamed, but the Tigers deftly beat the overload. Two passes around the perimeter gave Jeff Racy an open look from beyond the arc in the left corner and the game was tied with 31 seconds left.
Stigliano called timeout with 20.2 seconds remaining. Annuel Saint Juste dribbled about 15 seconds away and unleashed a 25-foot jumper that caromed off the rim. It wasn’t what Stigliano dialed up.
“He’s obviously a good shooter and he’s hit a lot of buzzer-beaters,” Stigliano said. “He waits, waits and hopes the [defender] backs up a step and he can hit at NBA range. But no, that’s not what we discussed. I wanted him to get the ball but I wanted him to get it going to the rim.
“You want to be aggressive, try to get something underneath, you can get a rebound or try to get somebody to commit a foul. … It’s not his fault. He’s trying to help his team. It just didn’t work out that way.”
Overtime featured a Ridgefield parade to the foul line. Steidl went 7-for-9 from the stripe and the ’Canes offense went stagnant. They turned the ball over twice and misfired on all five of their field-goal tries. Ridgefield’s trapping 1-3-1 zone – a defense New Britain rarely encountered – effectively collapsed on Johnson and Hyman in the paint and walled off Saint Juste from impacting the outcome from long distance.
“I feel inadequate dealing with that 1-3-1,” Stigliano said. “I feel like I didn’t get them to understand what I wanted to have happen and we got stagnant. We couldn’t figure it out. We couldn’t get the ball where we wanted to get it. We didn’t do a good job moving the basketball.”
But Steidl was the story. He committed his fourth foul with 4:36 left in the third quarter and Ridgefield ahead 32-31. The Tigers initially expanded their lead to six in their star’s absence but the ’Canes ignited their transition game and ended the quarter with an 11-0 run.
Steidl’s fifth foul never came. He scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the fourth quarter and dominated the extra period.
“I just wanted to win this game so bad, I had to be smarter on defense and smarter on offense by not going into charges,” Steidl said. “I was just being a smarter player so I could be out on the court with my teammates and we could get the win.”
Johnson (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Curtis Hyman were powerful forces inside, but New Britain missed 10 of 11 from three-point range.
“They’re really athletic at every position,” Ridgefield coach Carl Charles said. “We knew they had a strong inside game. You could see evidence of that the way they attacked the basket. I thought they’d have better perimeter shooting.”
Robinson had six assists but was unable to get the open looks he had Monday against Staples. Clark had 10 points in his final game. Kevin Tirado, the only other senior, had two points and played aggressive defense in reserve.

Class LL Boys Basketball
Ridgefield 63, New Britain 57 (OT)
(2nd Round, at Chick Shea Gymnasium)
RIDGEFIELD (18-5): Charles Irwin 0 0-0 0, Jeff Racy 2 2-2 7, Matt Brennan 2 3-3 9, Pat Racy 7 0-1 14, Kurt Steidl 9 12-14 31, Jonathan Hicks 1 0-0 2, Andrew Barton 0 0-0 0, Chip McClelland 0 0-2 0, Dan Greenberg 0 0-0 0, Zach Ward 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 17-22 63.
NEW BRITAIN (18-6): Daequone Clark 4 2-3 10, Curtis Hyman 5 0-2 10, Michael Robinson 1 0-0 3, Annuel Saint Juste 3 4-5 10, Craven Johnson 6 10-14 22, Isaiah Vasquez 0 0-0 0, Kevin Tirado 1 0-0 2, Ronday McCray 0 0-0 0, Curtrell Hyman 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 16-24 57.
Ridgefield         16  14  10  17  6 – 63
New Britain      11  16  18  12  0 – 57
Three-point goals: R – J. Racy, Brennan 2, Steidl; NB – Robinson.