Here are the top 10 local sports storylines of the year from the Bristol Press coverage area:
1. St. Paul baseball wins Class S title
For the first time in over 40 years, the St. Paul baseball team came out on top of Class S. On June 12, the Falcons struck down Morgan 4-2 after star pitcher Connor Crean struck out the final Morgan batter with a man on base. It was Crean’s 13th strikeout of the game. The game had been tied in the top of the final inning, but St. Paul’s Mike Dombrowski drove in Jackson Hines to break the tie and Ben Mazzone scored the insurance run on an overthrown ball to third base. The Falcons claimed the No. 4 seed in the tournament by finishing the regular season with a 15-5 record.
2. Terryville girls soccer reaches semifinals, Covello reaches 96
For the first time in program history, the Terryville girls soccer team reached the semifinal round of the Class S state tournament. With a 3-2 win over Bolton in the quarterfinals, the No. 11-seed Kangaroos advanced to face No. 2 Old Lyme. The Wildcats took down Terryville 3-0 in the semifinal game but the success was a big step in the advancement of the Kangaroos’ program. Just four years prior to their appearance in the semifinal round, the Kangaroos had just finished a season in which they had won only once. They won zero games in the two seasons before that. A big reason for the turnaround was the arrival of Jenna Covello, who finished this season, her senior year, with 96 career goals.
3. Little League honors Springers at World Series
In late August, George Springer Jr. and Laura Springer - the parents of the Houston Astros’ George Springer III - were honored on the field before the championship game of the Little League World Series. The Springers were named the 2016 George and Barbara Bush Little League Parents of the Year. They have volunteered for years with the Walicki Little League in New Britain, where their three kids played. George Springer Jr. was also a member of the Forestville Little League team that reached the 1976 World Series.
4. Wrestlers from Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern win Class L titles
The Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central wrestling programs were both among the top in Class L last season and they showed it at the class tournament at the end of the season. The Rams’ Noah Cruz and Kris Nizielski at 220 and 285 pounds, respectively, and the Lancers’ Josh Wilson at 138 pounds each claimed titles in their weight classes. In the finals, Wilson earned a 6-4 decision over Middletown’s Jordan Baker, the weight class’s top seed. Cruz earned his title with a 17-2 technical fall over E.O. Smith’s Patrick Clark, the No. 2 seed. Nizielski’s win came by a 7-4 decision over Fairfield-Ludlowe’s Billy Stapleton.
5. Blues’ play record-setting long game
On July 27, the Bristol Blues took on the North Shore Navigators in what would be the first installment of a record-breaking game. After trailing 4-0 after the seventh inning, the Blues stormed back to tie the game to force extra innings. Neither team could break through over the next eight innings and the game was eventually called after the 17th, which came shortly after midnight. The game was resumed in the 18th inning as the first half of a doubleheader on Aug. 4. The lack of offense continued through three and a half more innings until the Navigators scored on a walk-off sac fly in the bottom of the 21st inning. The game was the longest ever played in the history of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.
6. St. Paul girls basketball’s Mone wins No. 300
On Jan. 27, St. Paul girls basketball improved to 16-1 with a 51-39 win over Torrington but it was also coach Joe Mone’s 300th of his tenure as the Falcons’ head coach. Mone’s first season with St. Paul was the 1995-96 season and the Falcons were a rebuilding program at that time. Since then, Mone has lifted the program up to the top of Class S and even a couple of championships. The Falcons won the Class S title in 2001 and 2010 and reached the championship game in 1998, 2000 and 2014 but lost. In Mone’s 21 seasons coaching, St. Paul has 12 winning seasons and two .500 seasons. The Falcons have also earned the No. 1 seed in the Class S tournament twice.
7. Records set at Battle for the Bell
In the annual Battle for the Bell football game between Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central, multiple records were set. While the Rams went home with the Bell, both teams made their way into the record books. The Lancers’ Edgar Hernandez returned a fumble 70 yards for Eastern’s only touchdown of the game, breaking the record of 65 yards. By not completing a pass, the Rams became the 11th team to do so in the yearly Thanksgiving Day game’s history. Bristol Eastern’s negative-66 yards on the ground and negative-30 yards of total offense were also records by a long shot, with the overall offense being the first time any team has not totaled positive yards in the Battle for the Bell. With the Rams’ Luis Medina and Isaiah Miller both eclipsing 100 yards rushing, it was only the fourth time two rushers from the same team have passed the century mark in the annual game.
8. Bristol-native Pikiell reaches first NCAA tourney, hired by Rutgers
After five appearances in the America East tournament finals in six years, the Stony Brook men’s basketball team, then coached by Bristol-native Steve Pikiell, finally earned a conference title and the school’s first berth in the NCAA tournament. The Seawolves defeated Vermont 80-74 to make the leap to March Madness for the first time. Stony Brook was defeated in the first round by Kentucky but the appearance in the tournament afforded Pikiell another, even bigger opportunity. On March 22, Pikiell was introduced as the new head coach of the Rutgers men’s basketball team after signing a five-year deal with the Scarlet Knights.
9. St. Paul girls tennis’ Kempes wins NVL singles title
At this past spring’s Naugatuck Valley League individual girls tennis tournament, St. Paul junior Natasha Kempes emerged with the singles title. The biggest bump in her road to the crown came in her second-to-last match of the tournament. Kempes and teammate Victoria Kilbourne met in the semifinal round of the bracket and Kempes got the better of her fellow Falcon 6-1, 6-2. Waiting for Kempes in the finals was Woodland’s Ally Mane, who Kempes defeated by a score of 6-1, 6-1. With the win, Kempes finished her NVL season without a loss.
10. DiChello, Ogonowski set Bristol Eastern swimming/diving records
At this fall’s Class L state championship swimming and diving meet, Bristol Eastern’s Zoe DiChello and Brianna Ogonowski both set school records with their performances. DiChello, a junior diver, earned 10th place with an 11-dive score of 354.30 points, which broke the school record of 342.90, previously held by her sister, Taylor. Competing in the 100 breaststroke, Ogonowski, a sophomore, finished 11th at the meet with a time of 1:09.55. That time earned her the Lancers’ record in the event.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @K_baum30