Beat the Bears: My first state championship experience

Nine years ago I was a junior at East Hampton High School. The boys soccer team was preparing for its first state championship game since 1968 and the entire school was behind them.

The school gathered in the auditorium for a pep rally on the morning of Nov. 18 and the only part of it that I can remember is, “BEAT THE BEARS!”

East Hampton was the third seed in the Class S tournament and Granby Memorial, the Bears, were the fifth seed.

The tournament bracket that year looked quite strange, especially if you compare it to recent years. All twelve teams in the tournament received a first round bye and the top four seeds each had a double-bye.

Anyway, I rarely went to games after school. Don’t ask me why, it doesn’t make any sense to me now that sports is my life. I remember seeing the quarterfinal game at EHHS when Sports and Medical Sciences Academy came to East Hampton with the Bellringers coming away with a 2-0 victory — there was even some yelling and almost a fight after the game. I have no idea why, but I have learned to realize that high school students play with a lot of emotion and sometimes it boils over.

In the semi-finals, East Hampton played No. 2 Tourtellotte at Tunxis Mead in Farmington and came away with a 1-0 win. The Bellringers were now set to play in their fourth state finals game and had a great opportunity to win the first state championship in school history — it was supposed to happen.

The boys soccer team had some of the best athletes the school had seen in some time. Scott Wheeler was all-state in almost everything he did, Pat Hammond was one of the states top goaltenders and all of my friends were on the team.

Junior year is when everyone you know is finally getting their drivers licence. It’s also the time when you do a lot of stupid things, because you are free. You don’t have to ask your parents to drive you, they just want you home by a certain time.

This was the first time I really felt like I was on my own.

Friday night, what seemed like the entire school met in the parking lot and we decided who was going to drive. I ended up going with a friend who was still not cleared to drive with friends in the car, but it didn’t matter, we were going to the state championship.

The convoy of cars left East Hampton and made it’s way to Rocky Hill, much faster than it should have, but high school kids are invincible and it’s fun.

We got to the school, piled out of the cars and walked under the lights of the stadium. We filled the bleachers on the near side of the field and as the game game started we went crazy. A few members of the pep-band brought their instruments — this was the coolest thing. Teachers were walking and as weird as it is to see a teacher outside of school, the entire town was behind the team.

Then, in the 20th minute of the game, Granby scored.

It was one goal, but we were down.

Time began moving faster and faster. Granby was strong. East Hampton had a hard time even finding its way into the Bears territory. According to the Hartford Courant, the only game story I could find, the Bellringers were out-shot 19-2 and really had no chance the entire 80 minutes.

Granby Memorial had won its 11th state championship.

I didn’t know then, but the Bears are one of the most succesful boys soccer teams in Connecticut. They have now played in 18 state championship games and won 11 of them, but since that game in 2005 are 0-3.

This Friday will be the fifth state championship appearance for East Hampton.

There were no byes this year, the Bellringers have beaten No. 26 Housatonic, No. 10 Canton, No. 2 Griswold and No. 6 Haddam-Killingworth, three by shutout and one in penalty kicks.

I’m not saying this year’s team is better than the one in 2005, but like the saying goes, “they are hot at the right time.”

East Hampton has seen state champions recently, the baseball team won Class S in 2011 and the girls cross country team in 2008, but the small-ish town East of the river has just five state championships in its history.

In covering high school sports over the last year or so, I have come across some incredible student sections and although there is no “home-field advantage” in the finals, East Hampton can definitely bring it with them.

All that stands in the way of the sixth state championship in school history and first in soccer in the top-seeded Spartans of Somers. A team that has championship experience. They have played for a title five times since 2004 with their most recent coming in 2012 — their only loss. So you better believe those kids want to end their career with a championship.

All I ask of East Hampton is to “BEAT THE SPARTANS!”

2014-2015 Northeast Conference Preview: Is it time for Robert Morris to dance again?

viperlivesports:

I thin fourth in the NEC is fair for CCSU. They have the talent to get it done this year, it just depends if the Blue Devils can rebound the ball and limit turnovers in Vinales’ senior season.

Originally posted on CollegeBasketballTalk:

source:
Getty Images

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole has guided his program to back-to-back 20-win seasons, although his Colonials have no NCAA tournament appearances to show for it. For two straight seasons, Robert Morris has been relegated to the NIT following an upset in its conference tournament at the hands of Mount St. Mary’s.

Despite having one of the best young coaches in the nation and arguably the conference’s top player again this season, the Colonials have had trouble navigating through the NEC field, and this season the conference could resemble a minefield.

The Colonials lose the back court of Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate, but six returning players…

View original 467 more words

The NEC News Wire – September 23

viperlivesports:

As much as I love CCSU, I can’t pick them first. I believe they will have a good year with a lot of experience, especially in the backcourt with Vinales and McMillan. Drakeford is a senior this year, too, after a year in the system, he should step up as a 2nd team all-conference performer and Peel should have a breakout junior campaign.
Ryan Peters has liked CCSU the last few years as a sleeper team and they have under-achieved. If this isn’t the year they make a run, they won’t for a while.

Originally posted on Blackbirds Hoops Journal:

Ten days now until teams can begin practicing in preparation for the 2014-15 college basketball season. Things are starting to ramp up a bit more and more every week now. Almost all the schedules are out and preseason planning is taking shape. Folks, the wait is almost over.

Here is this week’s NEC News Wire:

- On Monday, the NEC announced that they will be holding their third annual NEC Basketball Social Media Day back at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Tuesday, October 21st. As usual, the event will be streamed live on NEC Front Row starting at 11am. Also for the first time, the event will also air live on ESPN3.

The format will be the same as last year where all ten NEC men’s and women’s head basketball coaches will be in attendance as well as one player from each team. Fans can send in questions and tweets via…

View original 566 more words

What is Nick Neumann doing in the minors?

Nick Neumann's headshot from the Jamestown Jammers, the Class A - Short Season affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Nick Neumann’s headshot from the Jamestown Jammers, the Class A – Short Season affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This isn’t going to become a theme where I just write about low level minor league baseball players that most people have never heard of, but I will occasionally write about the two who were drafted out of Central Connecticut State University this past year.

Yesterday I mentioned JP Sportman, the 27th round pick of the Oakland Athletics this year who played in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game last night and right now I will talk about his former college teammate, Nick Neumann.

Neumann was drafted in the 28th round of the 2014 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and was immediately assigned to the Jamestown Jammers of the NYPL. 

After getting Tommy John Surgery midway through his career at CCSU, Neumann became the Blue Devils frontline starter, which is also a reason I don’t think I ever got to see him pitch. Most of the games I went to in New Britain were during the week, when I wasn’t working (college students work on the weekends). 

I know you don’t care about what he did in college, so lets get right to where he is now.

The adjustment to professional pitching seemed a little bit rough for the Middletown, Conn. native.

In his first five appearances, he allowed 10 runs in 11 innings and his ERA blossomed to 8.18, but after that, he seemed to figure things out.

After July 4, Neumann has basically cut his ERA in half and as of August 16, the NYPL All-Star Break, it sits at a respectable 4.55 with a low water mark of 4.50 on August 6 after a 2 1/3 inning scoreless appearance in his first game back in his home state since he was drafted.

He has struck out at least one batter in every game since July 18 and is averaging 7.5 K/9 and 3.83 K/BB ratio.

Neumann has been pitching about once every four days and is averaging almost two innings per appearance.

At 23.116 years old per Baseball Reference, he is slightly older than the average player in the NYPL, but with an encouraging trend, I expect Neumann to pitch in a full season league next year.

How did JP Sportman make the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in 26 games?

JP Sportman was a 4-year starter at Central Connecticut State University and tonight will be in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game after hitting .367 in 26 games with the Vermont Lake Monsters. Photo Credit - www.ccsubluedevils.com
JP Sportman was a 4-year starter at Central Connecticut State University and tonight will be in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game after hitting .367 in 26 games with the Vermont Lake Monsters.
Photo Credit – http://www.ccsubluedevils.com

He can hit, that’s how.

Four years ago I first saw JP Sportman step on a baseball field at Central Connecticut State University. All I knew then was that he had a major league name. Today he takes a step closer to realizing that dream by playing in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game.

After being drafted in the 27th round in the 2014 MLB First Year Player Draft by the Oakland Athletics, Sportman tore through the Arizona Rookie League (.321/.414/.393) earning a promotion to the Vermont Lake Monsters after just 22 games.

Going 0 for his first 11 in the NYPL, Sportman collected his first hit on July 26 and hasn’t stopped hitting since. Since that game he has gone 0-fer in just three games boasting a .367 batting average as of the All-Star Break with a high-water mark of .408/.427/.605 on August 11.

On July 29, he hit his first professional home run. The very next night he hit another and to this date, Sportman has three professional home runs.

There are some scouts and writers I have followed on Twitter who tweet about the surprise A’s late round pick. This was the most telling tweet I have seen thus far.

From July 27-August 2, Sportman raised his slash line from .250/.296/.375 to .356/.400/.556 to earn the NYPL Player of the Week award and warranted this response from the Northeast Conference’s Director of Communications, Ralph Ventre.

Tonight, JP Sportman will suit up for the North Division in the All-Star Game in Brooklyn at 7:30 p.m., an honor he truly deserves. If you want to see what JP’s friends are tweeting about him, follow #SportmanTracker on Twitter…okay, maybe it’s just me tweeting about him.

By the way, JP Sportman has the highest batting average in the entire Oakland Athletics organization with at least 200 plate appearances.

 

Recharged

This past weekend I went to Boston for the fourth annual Saber Seminar. I have been attending this weekend of baseball talks for the last three years and each year I never want it to end.

The Saber Seminar is a weekend full of talks on baseball, anywhere from the physics of the collision between a bat and a ball, to panels discussions with the Red Sox directors of scouting and medical procedures that baseball players are going through. From 9-5, Saturday and Sunday, your day is packed full of incredibly smart and powerful people talking about the best game in the world.

Every year I attend, I learn more and more and want to be like these guys I am listening too, especially the media panel.

On Sunday, a group of six baseball writers, Pete Abraham, Evan Drelich, Ben Lindbergh, Dave Cameron, Tim Britton and Alex Speier sat on the stage and took questions about using advanced statistics in the mainstream media. This was cool, but that is exactly what I want to do.

Lindbergh and Cameron, writers for Grantland (an formally Baseball Prospectus) and FanGraphs respectively, don’t have as much of an issue writing for a more advanced audience, because the people who read their work know what they are looking for. The other four are beat writers and although they understand the advanced metrics, can’t use them all at once in a game story.

This is where my passion and need to write came back.

Just listening to these great writers talk about their everyday work made me think, “Why am I not writing everyday, even if it’s not ‘important?'”

So here I am, writing on my blog once again, writing about whatever I want to write about and it doesn’t matter how many people read it or how many comments I get, I need to write.

An attendee asked Dave Cameron what is the best way to become a good writer and possibly get hired by one of these companies and he answered, “write everyday for yourself. Write for six months or a year everyday and see if you still like it. If you can write everyday, take the weekends off, and still enjoy doing it, you can be a writer.”

So that’s what I’m going to do. Write everyday and hopefully I can improve my craft well enough to advance in the world and finally write about baseball everyday, my eventual dream.

I am still writing for GameTimeCT and will do so as long as I can, but will also write for myself.

PODCAST?

This is a possibility.

On Saturday afternoon, while we took a break from the talks in Boston, I texted Scotty Lufbery and asked him if he wanted to start a podcast with me.

I got the inspiration from Ben Lindbergh who records Effectively Wild with Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus everyday. I love listening to them talk about baseball and realized that I have had plenty of these conversations with Scott and many of my friends over the years, so why not record it and post it?

It may not be a regular thing and it probably won’t be good, but it will be fun and that’s all that matters.

The best part about this idea is where each of us were when I came up with the idea. I was, of course, at Saber Seminar: “The Best Weekend in Baseball” and Scott was in Williamsport for the Little League World Series. Maybe you can tell, we both love baseball.

I believe that this podcast will be about 70% baseball and the rest other sports with probably a lot about our fantasy leagues.

If anyone has any ideas, feel free to tweet at me.

Here we go!

COLUMN: CIAC basketball “Final Four”

I thought I had a good idea going into championship weekend at Mohegan Sun, but now that I saw a majority of the teams play it doesn’t look so good.

I had always thought that a Connecticut high school basketball “Final Four” would be a cool idea.

I want to see who the real number one team in the state is by playing a game. The four teams that win a championship would them play each other to determine the true “state champion.”

It would be an interesting idea, but doesn’t make any sense.

I watched the Class M and LL boys championship games on Saturday at Mohegan Sun and wow! there is a huge difference. I thought Weaver was a top team in the state coming in, but they got handled pretty easily by East Catholic. Then I stayed for the nightcap to see what all the hype was about and the game lived up to its billing.

Either of those two teams, Fairfield Prep or Bridgeport Central would dominate any other team in the state, it wouldn’t even be fun to watch.

The top of the smaller three classes are pretty similar, with probably M and L being the closest in talent level, but LL is far and away the best in the state.

My idea would have had maybe the LL winner play the M winner and then S and L play and then the winners play in the finals, but we already know Central would destroy East Catholic and then most likely Windsor. They are loaded with talent.

I never really understood why the CIAC divided schools up by size, but now I do. If you have a large pool of kids to choose from, you will have a better chance of having better players.

Although it is all about money so, whataya say CIAC? Can we make this happen?

COLUMN: DCT Sports top 3 games of 2014

As some of you may know, I started writing for GameTimeCT during the second week of February. Because of this, I can’t write a “top basketball games of the year, because I started late. So here are my top three basketball games I saw in 2014.

#3: February 10 – South Windsor vs. East Catholic

The first game I covered as a member of GameTimeCT was the girls South Windsor at East Catholic in Manchester. It took me all day to figure out which game I was going to cover, but when I finally noticed that South Windsor was undefeated at the time and they were playing an East Catholic team that had won four in a row and played the Bobcats closely in the first game they played.

The No. 3 team in the GameTimeCT/Register rankings that week, came out strong, but the Eagles stayed close enough to make a move in the second half. In the fourth quarter, East Catholic was down 47-45 before scoring six straight to take the lead for the final time, handing the Bobcats their first loss of the season.

South Windsor went on to play in the Class LL state championship game, losing to Lauralton Hall.

#2: February 11 – New Britain vs. Newington

This is the second game I covered, but that’s not the reason I chose it.

I didn’t know much about the rivalries in the CCC, but I figured this would be a good one. I walked into the gym at Newington High School and could feel a buzz. It wasn’t the buzz of that in Mohegan Sun this past weekend, but it was there.

The stands filled with student section from both towns and the trash-talking started.

New Britain was the eighth ranked team in the GameTimeCT/Register poll and sat atop the CCC standings. Newington jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, led by freshman guard Jared Simmons, one of the best freshman I saw play this year. He attacked the Golden Hurricanes inside and out. Four 3-pointers were made in the first quarter, the second best first quarter scoring performance I saw this year.

It would have been a great game if Newington ran away with this won, but the more impressive part was New Britain coming back and taking control.

The big three of Annuel Saint Juste, Curtis Hyman and Craven Johnson got the Golden Hurricanes back on the board and Hyman capped off the night with a huge dunk to seal the deal. The first of many I saw this winter.

New Britain won the CCC regular season title, but faltered in the tournament, losing to Weaver in the second round and then to Greenwich in the Class LL quarterfinals. Newington beat Hall in the state tournament qualifying round, but then had to play Fairfield Prep. We all know how that turned out.

#1: February 28 – Weaver vs. Middletown (CCC tournament)

This was the first time I saw Weaver play this season. I was asked to cover the game for the Middletown Press and happily obliged, not know what I was getting myself into. It was a good thing.

The 8/9 match-up in the CCC tournament would spark the Beavers into a rhythm that would take them to Mohegan Sun in the end.

Middletown took an early lead, but after a technical foul issued to Makai Hunter, Weaver made four free throws and the tides turned. The Beavers employed their full-court press forcing 14 steals, the only player they couldn’t stop was Brandon Simmons who scored 38 points, the highest point total I saw all season.

Weaver went on to win the CCC tournament title over Maloney and advance through the Class M state tournament with ease before falling to CCC North foe East Catholic at Mohegan Sun.

 

Honorable Mention: March 19 – Weaver vs. Lewis Mills (Class M semi-finals)

This may not have been the most exciting game or competitive, but the shear dominance is what impressed me the most.

Weaver had been the team throughout the tournament that no one wanted to play. Joe Morelli said this early on and the Beavers proved it to be true, winning their state tournament games by an average of 36 points.

In the first quarter, against the top-seeded team in the Class M tournament, No. 12 Weaver dropped 31 points, including seven threes on their way to the 89-33 semi-finals win.

Like I said, this wasn’t the best game to watch, but it was the most dominant. Three players for the Beavers scored at least 19 points, with KeAndre Fair leading the way with 20. Senior Josh Jones hit three 3s in the first quarter.

Although Weaver ended up losing the Class M title game in convincing fashion to fellow CCC member East Catholic

COLUMN: Good and bad of championship weekend

The CIAC state basketball championships at Mohegan Sun is always one of the most exciting weekends of the year for Connecticut high school sports and this past weekend was no different.

I got to the arena around 9:30 a.m. and for some reason I was surprised at the amount of people sitting in front of slot machines that early. As I was told later by Jimmy Zanor and Tom Yantz, there is no time in the casino.

I received my press credentials and found a seat court-side for the start of the day.

First up was the girls Class L finals, Capital Prep vs. Weaver. I had been following Weaver for a little while this year which made it more fun to watch this game with coaches and players I had gotten to know.

In the first half it had looked like the Beavers were going to knock off the No. 1 team in the state, but they had been at the top for a reason. They shook off the rust and ran away with the title.

The second game was the one I got to cover.

Honestly, this was the game I was most excited to cover, two CCC teams, including the No. 12 Weaver Beavers who had faltered early, but since Reggie Hatchett took over as coach midway through the season, lost just two games, including winning the CCC tournament and making other teams in Class M look silly on their way to the finals.

Well, they were the ones looking silly in the second half of the championship game. Weaver played like a 12 seed (which means nothing), but didn’t really have it together. They fell behind and didn’t know how to come back, losing their second straight finals game.

I made my way backstage to find the coaches and get some quotes before settled down in the media room to write. This was the real deal, real journalists from all over the state churning out stories and photos. I caught the end of the Thomaston/St. Paul girls Class S game on television. That looked like a great one.

Once I was done with my story and eating lunch with two people I look up to in the business (Yantz and Zanor) I made my way back to the court to watch some more basketball…and tweet until my fingers hurt.

The common theme of the day was the “underdog” getting an early lead and then the “favorite” coming back in the second half to win the title. That happened again with the girls Class LL game between Lauralton Hall and South Windsor. I saw the Bobcats played a few times this year, actually they played in the first game I covered for GameTimeCT this season. They are good, but the Lauralton Hall/Mercy rivalry I had heard about since last year’s championship game must have really prepared them for this game, coming back to take the LL crown.

The nightcap was the game of the ages.

I stayed, because I had heard so much about this undefeated Fairfield Prep team and their huge center, Providence bound Paschal Chukwu. I hadn’t looked around, but at one point before the game started I sat back and gazed through the arena. Wow! The place was packed.

The game tipped off and already had the feel of a heavyweight bout. Those kids were moving so fast and playing like their life depended on it. Threes were raining and Chukwu was defending the basket, scoring and dunking like no one else was in the gym. This was the game to see.

Late in the second quarter I turned to my new “friend”/co-worker Pete Paguaga of the Register Citizen and told him, “I just realized that I hadn’t looked at the scoreboard all game.”

Prep was up by double-digits, but I thought it was a one-possession game. It was that exciting and that fast-paced.

Once my computer connected to the WiFi again, I started tweeting again, just like everyone on press row, this was a good one…you had to be there.

You know the details now, Bridgeport Central came back from being down 19 to beat the “best team in the state” for the Class LL title. What happened immediately after the buzzer sounded was a different story and I had a first-hand look of the situation.

I’m lucky I wasn’t injured like a Central cheerleader was.

After the arena cleared out, a few people were hanging out behind the basket where this took place. EMT’s and a stretcher were brought in to tend to a cheerleader who had an apparent concussion and was not responding normally. This is what no one is talking about. Yes, the Hilltoppers may have pulled off the biggest upset in Connecticut basketball history and have every right to celebrate, but there’s a cost. There’s a reason why Mohegan Sun and the CIAC made it clear the no one would be allowed on the court to celebrate, injuries can occur. This time the players went into the crowd, trampled people, broke equipment and injured a classmate.

When did this become a respectable way to celebrate? Enjoy the time with you teammates, accept your trophy and medals like adults and then have a celebration, parade or whatever you want when you get home. Don’t jump into the crowd with no regard for the people who are there and come away injuring people. Multiple bodies were laying on the ground for an extended period of time while players jumped into the arms of classmates, taking their shirts off and celebrating. It got out of control and the security didn’t know how to handle it so they let it go.

When the mob cleared, I retrieved my backpack with broken headphones inside. A Mohegan Sun security person told me I should bill it to the school, which I wish I could, but when the Central administrator talked to me, he said it was a liability I agreed to working there and they weren’t going to do anything about it. Fine, I will get my headphones replaced either way, but when your school brings its own security, because you expect something to happen and it does and it can’t be controlled, something is wrong.

Thank god it’s baseball and spring sports season.

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