Basketball season is upon us

My first year covering high school football was a little rough. I may some mistakes with names, I still don’t have a good statistics system and I especially have trouble writing on deadline from a McDonald’s halfway across the state. That being said, it was a good experience.

Basketball season is upon us and although my favorite sport, baseball, doesn’t play until the spring, I am excited for basketball games.

Last year while I was working with Joe Pelletier at the Middletown Press for my internship, I covered a number of girls basketball games including Maria Wesleyj’s 1,000th career point night at Mercy, some Middletown High games, the Shoreline Conference semifinals at Coginchaug with Jimmy Zanor and the state finals at Mohegan Sun (Friday night). I missed the “shot heard ’round Connecticut” when Wesleyj hit the buzzer beater to win the Class LL championship for Mercy. Those were a great experiences and this winter I know I am ready to write some great boy’s and girl’s basketball stories for both the Middletown Press and Game Time CT.

I don’t know how much I will be writing, because I will also be at ESPN some nights during the week, but I will do my best to cover games for both of these outlets and collect scores from around the Middlesex County area and Shoreline Conference to increase my exposure.

In the Shoreline Conference, I look for Cromwell to repeat for the lone reason that they won last year and have the conference player of the year coming back, Janelle Harrison. The senior will be heading to the University of Hartford next year, but will carry the Panthers first this year. They will not go undefeated like they did last year, but are surely the team to beat.

I hope I can write enough and be called on enough to get back to Mohegan Sun in March for the state finals, that will be a solid season and over just in time for baseball season to get started.

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Fall season review

I’ve been writing a lot about the Shoreline Conference and how dominant they are during tournament season, so here is my quick recap of championship Saturday.

Morgan won the girls Class S volleyball championship for the 19th time in school history and first since 2005.

The Huskies thoroughly dominated the Shoreline Conference and state tournament sweeping 18 of 20 matches in the regular season and three of four in the state tournament, including the championship match against Lyman Memorial.

Cromwell won the boys Class S soccer championship for the sixth time and first since 2009.

The Panthers were a strong team all year and only got stronger through the state tournament. A 4-2 (OT) victory over top-seeded Old Saybrook on October 15 was a statement game for Cromwell. They ended up losing the eventually conference championship game to Old Saybrook, but defeated them again when it really mattered, 1-0 in the Class S semifinals. Cromwell dominated the championship game 3-0 over Bolton, finishing a great season and another state title for the Panthers.

Portland and Old Saybrook played to a 0-0 (OT) draw in the Class S girls soccer championship game; named co-state champions.

Portland was the team to beat coming into this season and proved it all year. They didn’t go undefeated or anything like that, but they played their brand of soccer in the tough Shoreline Conference. Old Saybrook finished the regular season in the middle of the pack, but their goal keeper, Mia Neas, one that everyone has been talking about, powered the Rams to a shared state title. The senior did not allow a goal in the state tourney.

I don’t like the fact that co-state champions can be named and I’m sure the players have mixed reactions on this, but why have penalty kicks decide the rest of the tournament games, but no the biggest one of the year? Maybe that’s why, because it’s such an important game. Professional soccer ends championship games with PK’s, I just don’t understand why title games in soccer are allowed to end in a tie.

Time to move indoors, it’s time for hoops!

SLC in Class S finals

Lets start in Class S girls soccer where two Shoreline Conference teams will play for the state championship.

#5 Portland vs. #11 Old Saybrook

Last year the Highlanders lost to Immaculate 5-0 in the championship game and are back for another shot, this time they are the favorites. Portland, coming into the season, was the team to beat, but the entire conference was much tougher and deeper than originally thought. Nine SLC teams qualified for the tournament, with five of them in the top 11, including both of these teams.

Portland has the senior class and leadership to bring home the title. They did not score as much as they thought they would, but they still have an offense that is able to explode. Marisa DiMare, the Portland keeper, came into this season already holding the school record for shutouts and added 11 more this year, excluding SLC tournament games.

Old Saybrook went 9-5-2 in the regular season with 3-0 and 1-0 losses to Portland. In the state tourney the Rams defeated the top team from the conference, Coginchaug in penalty kicks, 3-1 and then the No. 2 seed St. Bernard 3-0 in PK’s.

Throw the records and seeds out for this one. These teams know each other too well and anything can happen.

Boys Class S

A great run by the Cromwell Panthers has brought them back to the title game for the fourth time since 2006 (champions in 2009). They went 12-3-1 in the regular season, including a 4-2 OT victory over top seeded Old Saybrook at home on October 15. With 10 shutouts, junior Ryan Murphy is tough to score on and the defense doesn’t give many opportunities.

Bolton has a powerful offense that could break the Cromwell defense down. They have scored 61 goals in 19 games (3.21/game) and never had a 1-0 win. They scored at least two goals in all 15 wins this year. I don’t know much about this team, but there results say a lot, it will be a tough match-up for Cromwell.

One common opponent they have is Valley Regional. Bolton beat them 2-1 in the semifinals and Cromwell played them twice, once winning 3-1 early in the season and then again in the SLC tournament, losing 4-3. Cromwell and Bolton are former COC (Charter Oak Conference) foes who will fight for the state championship.

AND VOLLEYBALL

I was hoping for another all-SLC final to back up my previous post, but one team will do.

Morgan has dominated the conference for years and finally beat Coventry to get back to the state championship game for the first time since 2010 and their 19th time overall. If you follow Connecticut volleyball, you know Morgan and coach Joe Grippo. They are undefeated this year and lost only five sets all season (three in SLC play, two to Coginchaug). Coventry was supposed to be the Huskies biggest test of the year and they breezed right through to the finals (25-18, 25-17, 25-19). Morgan may not play the prettiest type of volleyball you have ever seen, but they win and they don’t make mistakes.

Lyman Memorial had to beat two SLC teams to get to the finals (Coginchaug and East Hampton) and they did so handily. Now their biggest test of the year will come in the championship game. The Bulldogs may have played a tougher, larger school schedule and could be ready for Morgan.

SLC aside, both teams played Fitch this year. Morgan beat them 3-2 in their second game of the year and Lyman beat them 3-1 later on in the regular season. If this is any clue to how the title game will go, it should be a classic.

How deep is the Shoreline Conference?

You may know by now how much I love the Shoreline Conference (especially volleyball), but I have been noticing during tournament time, how good they really are.

Let’s start with girls soccer since the finals are almost set.

Before the year started, I went to Portland High School to do season previews for both the boys and girls soccer teams. The boys were coming off a winless season and the girls, a trip to the Class S finals. Coach Sandy Booth told me the girls had two goals this season, “get back to the SLC tournament and make the state tournament.” They have now done both.

Portland defeated Coventry 2-1 Monday night to secure their second straight state finals appearance. They lost to perennial power Immaculate of Danbury last year 5-0 (Immaculate moved to Class L this year). The Highlanders were expected to contend for a state title this year, but coming into the tournament as the #5 seed was a little low. Yes, anywhere in the top-10 is a contender, but coming off the season they had before, without losing much, Portland had high expectations.

They received a first round bye and then defeated #21 Wheeler (5-0), #4 Bolton (1-0) and #16 Coventry (2-1) to advanced to the Class S finals.

But this isn’t about Portland girls soccer, it’s about the Shoreline Conference.

On the other side of the bracket, #2 St. Bernard will play #11 Old Saybrook on Tuesday for a spot in the final vs. Portland. So how strong is the SLC? Eight of the teams finished the regular season with a record above .500 and nine made the state tournament. 38% of the Class S tournament was made up of the Shoreline Conference. #20 Morgan was the lowest seed, but the next lowest was #13 East Hampton, who finished the regular season with a 8-5-2 record; including a win against #3 Coginchaug early in the season.

Old Saybrook went 9-5-2 in the regular season in the SLC with keys wins over Old Lyme and East Hampton.

Basically in Shoreline Conference girls soccer, they beat up on themselves all fall and when they got to the tournament, they are taking it out on everyone else. We could have an all SLC girls soccer final and if that happens, I won’t be surprised.

Boys soccer is just as strong.

Last week I was at a Class S second round game between conference opponents, Cromwell and Haddam-Killingworth. The Panthers defeated the Cougars 2-1 in OT and moved on to play…surprise, another SLC opponent in East Hampton. As a matter of fact, after Cromwell plays Old Lyme in the semifinals on Wednesday, there will have been four all-SLC matchups in the Class S tournament with the possibility of one in the finals.

Much like on the girls side, more than half of the conference made the boys tournament (30% of the field represented by the SLC). #18 Lyman Memorial was the lowest seed for the conference with a 7-8-1 record. Old Saybrook gained the top seed after thouroughly dominating the regular season (14-1-1). Their only loss came to Cromwell in OT and they tied Westbrook, which was the biggest shock of the year. Westbrook only won once all season.

Three of the four teams playing in the Class S semifinals are from the Shoreline Conference, so it’s very likely that we could have another all-SLC final, although this #2 Bolton team is not going to be easy for the #3 Valley Regional Warriors. Bolton outscored their opponents 52-23 on the season and 7-2 in the state tournament. Valley Regional also has an explosive offense, but it will be tough.

On the other side, Cromwell is playing Old Lyme. The two met in the last game of the regular season with Old Lyme winning 2-1 in OT. The Panthers are playing some great soccer right now and have the opportunity, if Valley Regional wins, to not play a single team outside of conference in the state tournament.

Now to where I call my high school sports expertise, at least in the fall: volleyball.

Once again, the Shoreline Conference is dominating.

Morgan and Haddam-Killingworth entered the tournament as the top two seeds and only Morgan is still standing, but it took another SLC power to take out H-K…East Hampton.

The teams met twice during the regular season (H-K won both meetings) and twice in postseason (East Hampton won both meetings). As you can tell, there is too much parody in the conference, minus Morgan. The top of SLC volleyball was very good and the bottom was not. I wouldn’t say it’s the deepest conference, but very well might be the most competitive in the state. Morgan has won 22 straight title, but that’s besides the point, the rest of the league is catching up.

H-K has a very good team overall. They have some of the best attackers in the conference and maybe the state and play with great ball movement. East Hampton hasn’t even had a volleyball program for that long, but ever since John Post came in, they have been winners. In 2011 they made the state semifinals and are back two years later. Plus, the Bellringers are playing their best volleyball of the season right now and have a great chance to make the finals if they can beat Lyman Memorial.

Like I’ve said before, Coginchaug may be the most talented team in the conference. They have all the pieces and have shown signs of greatness, with set victories over Morgan on two occasions. Hale-Ray and Valley Regional aren’t in the same conversation as the top four, but are still good teams and didn’t qualify and win matches in the tournament for no reason. It just goes to show how deep the Shoreline Conference is.

In three separate tournaments, the SLC has had seven teams make the semifinals out of a possible 12. If you don’t think the Shoreline Conference is the deepest in the state or at least Class S, than who is?

Spring Sports Bombardment

The last couple of weeks at the Middletown Press, for me at least, have been pretty slow. Basketball season ended and we didn’t have all the scores coming in every night, well, that changed tonight.

I put all the spring sports schedules in my Google calender to begin the day and it showed me just how many games we had to cover every day. Then there was a little bit of downtime before the results started to come in. The one call I took was from the Mercy golf coach. The Tigers lost their first match of the season 224-228 to Cheshire.

A lot of the springs sports coaches email in their results which is nice, but when you start to see them all pile up, it’s a bit intimidating. I wrote up some tennis and golf today along with Joe doing the other stuff. The worst thing I may have heard was that today was a slow day, just wait until tomorrow.

I looked at the Shoreline Conference baseball schedule the other day and was hoping I would be able to go to the Haddam-Killingworth vs. Cromwell baseball game for a number of reasons. Cromwell is the reigning Class S state champion and H-K was the Class M runner-up last year. Cromwell has one of the best pitching staffs in the state and H-K has a couple good hurlers as well, not to mention Brian Moskey, my friend Kellie’s brother who I have heard can bring it, but haven’t seen him play yet.

Joe told me that Jimmy Zanor is covering the game, but I could go. Then he almost changed his mind and had me go to the Middletown vs. Vinal Tech baseball game, which I would have no problem covering, but the other game is way more appealing.

Cromwell and H-K softball teams are playing at the same time also at Cromwell High School, so Joe asked me to keep an eye on that game as well. That’s the trade-off I had to make in order to go to the baseball game. I’m sure I will also have a bunch of other games to write about when I get back to the office.

I’m excited for baseball season and hoping I am busy for the rest of the time I am at the Press.

Great Time of the Year

It’s finally that time of the year. The days are growing longer, the flowers are starting to bloom, you can go outside with just a sweatshirt on…it’s baseball season.

I have been waiting for this time for too long. The winter is nice, but I only got to go skiing once this year and spent another two days digging out after some of the largest storms I have seen in 23 years. I couldn’t be happier to have baseball back.

The beginning of March is when the college season started. Both of the Central Connecticut fields were plowed in time to have the home opener and even though it was still freezing cold, I was there supporting the men and women of the CCSU baseball and softball teams.

As most of you know, I have been covering the softball team for the last two years and it has been a blast. This year might be the best yet, not only because I have a great relationship with the coach and the players, but this is the best team CCSU softball has ever seen.

The baseball team is just as good. They seem to finally have both the pitching and hitting to get them back to the Northeast Conference championship game, it would be the first time since 2010.

But what I am really going to be paying attention to this year? High school baseball. I told you about my Middletown High and Xavier story the other day, but that’s not all. There are some great baseball players in the state of Connecticut that I hope to see; even the small Shoreline Conference has something good going. Marvin Gorgas from East Hampton can bring it from anywhere on the field. Low 90’s fastball, hits for power and can play the field as well. The Cromwell pitching staff could be one of the best in the state and they hope to return to the Class S championship game. Even Haddam-Killingworth should be good. The Class M runner-up from last year may have lost a couple starters, but my friend Kellie’s brother Brian Moskey is only a sophomore and should turn some heads this year with both his bat and right arm.

I have never been so excited for high school baseball in my life. I can’t wait to follow the stories and cover some games, it’s a great time of year…and of course I will be at my fair share of minor league games as well.

Aside

Championship Weekend

I have done so much and so little since the last time I sat down to write, so let me fill you in…

Last Thursday I spent a few hours in the Middletown Press office putting together the “Tale of the Tape” for the state basketball championship games. The Press had three teams that we cover playing for a state title last weekend, Cromwell girls, Valley Regional boys and Mercy. Each team had their own story heading into championship weekend at Mohegan Sun, but one turned out to be one of the best stories in the history of Connecticut basketball.

The “Tale of the Tape” piece I did was some research on each team and their opponent. I may be a little slow with research, but it was a fun piece. Although it took a while, it was enjoyable, because that is something people who read the newspaper are more likely to look at rather than read the entire game preview.

The first story was the Cromwell girls basketball team. They went through the entire regular season without losing a game, they won the Shoreline Conference tournament and waltzed their way through the Class M state tournament on their way to Mohegan Sun where they met Notre Dame-Fairfield.

The second game of the night was Valley Regional-Deep River vs. Weston. Both of those teams had some pretty great stories heading into the finals. Valley Regional was the #5 seed in Class M. Two years ago, Valley won the Class S championship with Jon Luster and Co. this was the best four-year run in the school’s history regardless of a championship in 2013.

Weston was the #23 seed in the tournament and upset #10 University, #2 Kaynor Tech and #6 Enfield on their way to the finals. They had some setbacks early in the season including some injuries and their coach being forced to resign and then get reinstated later in the season. If Weston had won, it probably would had been the best story of the weekend, until Maria Wesleyj of Mercy stepped on the court.

The Mercy basketball team is arguably the best girls basketball team in the state. They had lost two games all season, both to Career Magnet, one of which being in the Southern Connecticut Conference title game at Quinnipiac University. I may have written about that a few weeks ago, but I can’t remember. Anyway, the Tigers had been to the state tournament finals three years in a row and lost all three games by a COMBINED 7 points. This year marked the fourth straight finals appearance  which is an amazing accomplishment alone, but for the five seniors on the team, they weren’t about to let the elusive title slip away again.

I covered one and a half Mercy basketball games this season, the first one I went to was the first night of my internship, I went with Cathy and met Jimmy Zanor there, because Weselyj was set to score her 1,000th career point. She did so just as we entered the gym. The second game I covered was on my own. Mercy destroyed Hillhouse that night, but the point of me covering the game was to improve. I talked to coach Tim Kohs and two players, Weselyj and fellow senior Jordyn Nappi (Weselyj is friends with my girlfiend’s sister and to this day she knows me as the awkward guy who interviewed her). That story was one of my favorite game stories I have written thus far.

Let me make this quick…

Cromwell defeated Notre Dame-Fairfield 42-28, although they did trail by 3 at the half for only the 2nd time all season. They finished the season 28-0, the first undefeated team since 2007. This was Cromwell’s first girls basketball state championship.

Valley Regional defeated Weston 52-45. Weston played the Warriors very tough and were even still within 3 points with under 2 minutes to play. This is Valley Regional’s 2nd state title in three years.

Now for the game of the weekend. I was not there due to a prior commitment, but trolled Twitter during the game. I actually lost track of time and checked my go-to social media site for game updates. At the half, Mercy trailed by 3. I was a little surprised, because earlier in the season Mercy defeated the same opponent, Laurelton Hall 66-47. I was with my girlfriend at the time and I told her that the game would probably come down to a last second shot by Mercy (I swear I said this, you can ask her if you want).

We went out to dinner and engulfed in conversation in Northampton, I completely forgot about the game until after it was over and we were about to leave the restaurant.

The game was tied at 51 when Laurelton Hall, the sister school of Mercy, took a 2-point lead on a layup with 3.8 seconds left. The story was writing itself, Mercy had made the finals four straight years and had lost by a total of nine points. That just couldn’t happen.

Sheena Landy stood under the basket prepared for the biggest inbounds pass of her life. She heaved the ball 3/4 the length of the court…Cassie Santoro caught the pass between three Laurelton Hall defenders…dished to the streaking Weselyj in front of the Mercy bench…Wesleyj launched a three-pointer as the over 9,000 people in attendance held their collective breath…SWISH.

Weselyj won the game as the final horn sounded. She just hit one of the biggest shots in the history of Connecticut high school basketball history. After losing the three previous years, it only makes sense that Wesleyj was the one to hit the shot heard ’round the state Saturday night. Described as one of the purest shooters in the state according to a Hartford Courant preseason “Top-25 Players to Watch,” it was her shot that brought the Class LL championship back to Mercy High School.

My girlfriend asked me if I was disappointed I wasn’t at the game and the real answer is yes, but if I was there, it wouldn’t have happened, that’s just the way things work. I went Friday night, because I wanted to see Cromwell finish an undefeated season and I wanted to see Luster play. I got what I wanted. You can’t predict anything like that and that is the beauty of sports.