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!”

Advertisements

East Hampton vs. Haddam-Killingworth volleyball preview

East Hampton and Haddam-Killingworth have been two of the best teams in the Shoreline Conference for a few years, just behind Morgan, who no one can seem to beat. Well, they face off tonight for a chance to play for a conference championship.

Twice this year the Cougars and Bellringers met and both times H-K won 3-1.

The game is in Higganum and for the third time this year, I will be there. The Haddam-Killingworth Fieldhouse has the ability to get loud and I expect the student section to make some noise. It will be tough for an East Hampton team, who has been battling injury all year to win.

H-K has two of the best outside hitters in the conference and will be tough to stop. Both teams are well coached and wouldn’t be surprised if this one goes five sets, but I think the Cougars are too strong.