Some heady times for area teams

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - SPORTS - By Paul Augeri

Fe­bru­ary is still young, and yet the area’s high school scene al­ready has a state cham­pion in in­door track (Xavier), con­fer­ence champs in wrestling (Xavier) and gym­nas­tics (Mercy), and a boys bas­ket­ball team (Cromwell) two wins away from a 20-0 sea­son.

And there could be big­ger re­wards ahead for oth­ers, too. Time for a spin around the county.

** Xavier won the CIAC Class L in­door ti­tle on Fri­day night, its first at the state level in 20 years. On Satur­day, the Fal­cons’ 4x800 re­lay team, one of the fastest in the na­tion, checked in at the Mill­rose Games at the Ar­mory in New York.

Pierre Syl­vain, Ryan Gro­chowski, Peter Schul­ten and Will Cur­ran on the an­chor leg turned in another 8-minute per­for­mance, a time that got them a Mill­rose in­vi­ta­tion two weeks ago. They fin­ished in 8:00.34, eighth in the 12-team field. Xavier was the only Con­necti­cut rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the re­lay.

“The ex­pe­ri­ence was re­ally neat, just to be in the same build­ing as pro­fes­sional and top col­le­giate ath­letes,” coach Chris Stonier said. “We went out to lunch af­ter­ward and went back to see the main event, the tele­vised part. That was re­ally neat.”

The win­ning time in the re­lay was a scorcher, 7:43 by St. Benedict’s Prep of Ne­wark, a Mill­rose Games record by four sec­onds.

Syl­vain and Gro­chowski also were part of the 4x800 race at the Class L meet in New Haven the night be­fore, so they had lit­tle time to re­cover.

“Our per­for­mance at the Mill­rose, I think the guys did the best they could,” Stonier said. “A cou-

ple of them ran sea­son best times. Ryan ran a per­son­albest split, but I could tell Fri­day night def­i­nitely took some­thing out of them. That’s a lot of men­tal en­ergy (used up) in a 24-hour span. We put a lot of at­ten­tion on win­ning the Class L meet, so you could tell guys weren’t 100 per­cent sharp.”

Stonier and the Fal­cons’ four were grate­ful for ev­ery­thing the Mill­rose ex­pe­ri­ence of­fered, but win­ning a state cham­pi­onship “means so much to the alumni and to the school,” the coach said.

“We kind of put aside our in­di­vid­ual goals that day and re­ally just tried to do what­ever we could for the team. We brought 11 and all 11 scored. What more can you ask for as a coach?”

* *Xavier’s wrestling team won the South­ern Con­necti­cut Con­fer­ence ti­tle for the third straight year in re­mark­able fash­ion Satur­day. The six Fal­cons who reached the finals in their weight classes won them all.

The next stage is the Class L meet, which could be the most in­trigu­ing of the state finals. Xavier and Bris­tol East­ern have deep, well-tested teams. East­ern has won the last two L ti­tles. Mid­dle­town is not as deep but is in the mix, hav­ing de­feated Xavier and Bris­tol East­ern dur­ing the dual sea­son.

All are ranked in the lat­est Wrestling On­line Top 10 poll as well — East­ern third, MHS seventh and Xavier eighth, and No. 2 Sims­bury is in Class L as well.

“It’s ex­cit­ing to be in the po­si­tion of be­ing in the con­ver­sa­tion,” Mid­dle­town coach Mark Fong said. “I would say we are def­i­nitely the un­der­dogs in this sit­u­a­tion, but from where we’ve come from since the be­gin­ning of the year, los­ing 57-6 to Sims­bury, then to beat them in a tour­na­ment a cou­ple of weeks ago, is a great ac­com­plish­ment for my team. They have worked hard to get bet­ter.”

The CIAC will post seed­ings for each weight class in each state tour­na­ment on its web­site on Mon­day night. The Class L meet is Fri­day and Satur­day at Bris­tol Cen­tral.

** Mercy takes a 12-game state win­ning streak into Mon­day’s bas­ket­ball reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale at East Haven, the last SCC team to beat the Tigers (54-52 on Jan. 4)

East Haven (16-3) projects as the top seed for the SCC tour­na­ment, which starts Thurs­day. Mercy (14-5 over­all, 12-3 SCC) will be the four seed if it wins and five if it loses. Ei­ther way, pretty good con­sid­er­ing its 2-4 start to the sea­son.

“It’s a big game for us

just for mo­men­tum,” Tigers coach Tim Kohs said. “It would be nice to keep a pos­i­tive vibe go­ing.”

Mercy beat East Haven in last year’s SCC fi­nal be­fore go­ing on to win the Class LL cham­pi­onship. The Tigers are hov­er­ing as the 10th seed in the cur­rent LL rank­ings. They would get at least one home game in the tour­na­ment if they hold their spot.

One theme to the Tigers’ win­ning streak: They didn’t play well start to fin­ish and still one those games.

“We are not loaded with super play­ers at each spot, but I look at our com­pe­ti­tion and still think we can beat any­one on any given night,” Kohs said. “There is much more balance in LL field this year. We can play with all those teams, but we have to play well for a full 32 min­utes.”

The SCC tour­na­ment pair­ings will be known af­ter Wed­nes­day’s games.

WCNX Ra­dio (1710 AM, wc­nxra­dio.com) will be in East Haven, with Dan Zumpano and Meghan DeVille call­ing the ac­tion. DeVille was the cen­ter on the 2018 Class LL ti­tle team.

ELSE­WHERE IN THE SCHOOLS

** Ju­nior Gabe Charleston had a 31-point game, his ca­reer high, and Nick Wright added 21 in Cromwell’s 80-58 win over Mor­gan on Fri­day.

“Mor­gan played some 3-2 zone against us and Gabe shot well from 15 feet, near the free-throw line or on cor­ner jump shots,” Cromwell coach John Pi­none said. “The sec­ond half, we were in tran­si­tion a lot and he had some dunks and made good passes to guys for open shots. It was an up-and-down game in the sec­ond half and he’s much bet­ter in the open game.”

Only Had­dam-Killing­worth on Tues­day and Old Lyme (also un­beaten in the Shore­line) next Mon­day are in the way of a 20-0 reg­u­lar sea­son. Cromwell is 29-1 in its last 30 games, the one loss to East Hamp­ton in the 2018 Shore­line tour­na­ment fi­nal. The Pan­thers, who won the Di­vi­sion V state ti­tle last March, are the only un­de­feated team in D-IV.

** The Port­land girls (10-8) have played their way into the Shore­line and Class S tour­na­ments by win­ning six of their last seven. Kaitlin Capello scored 21 and 17 in wins over Old Say­brook and West­brook last week. Team­mate Ash­ley Garen had 15 points, seven re­bounds and six steals in the West­brook game.

** Af­ter stag­nat­ing near .500, the Cogin­chaug girls (12-7) have won four in a row and are locked on the fifth seed in the Shore­line tour­na­ment. The de­fend­ing Class S champs wrap up the reg­u­lar sea­son Mon­day night at home against North Bran­ford.

** One down, four to go for the Mid­dle­town boys. The Blue Dragons (4-12) blew out Platt last week as Te­jan Lanser hit seven 3-point­ers and scored 29 points and Dante Pope had 21 af­ter a 38-point game against Wind­sor last Mon­day. MHS needs to win its last four games to get into the state tour­na­ment, start­ing with Mal­oney at home Tues­day.

** Of the top six boys bas­ket­ball teams in Di­vi­sion V, three are from the Shore­line. Val­ley Re­gional (12-4) is one of the three, and could be the dark horse in a field that in­cludes In­no­va­tion (16-1), Old Lyme (14-1) and Somers (13-4) out front.

Val­ley bounced back from a six-point loss to Cromwell with a 53-38 win at Cogin­chaug on Fri­day. Gavin Grabowski, the team’s lead­ing scorer, had a game-high 29 points. The War­riors’ best de­fen­sive ef­fort came in that loss to Cromwell — they al­lowed only 42 points — and they didn’t have Grabowski, who was out be­cause of ill­ness.

“Grabowski’s 29 might have helped Tues­day,” coach Kevin Woods said in jest.

Watch out for the War­riors in March. Most of their im­pact play­ers are ju­niors or younger.

“We’re kind of done with moral vic­to­ries,” Woods said af­ter the Cromwell game. “At the same time, the ef­fort we put for­ward de­fen­sively, that’s a cham­pi­onship ef­fort, or very ca­pa­ble of win­ning the Shore­line or at least com­pete for a ti­tle in the Shore­line and in Di­vi­sion V. This is a very hun­gry group. They are de­ter­mined to get bet­ter and they will get bet­ter.”

** The Mid­dle­town girls visit highly re­garded Ber­lin on Mon­day night with a berth in the CCC tour­na­ment on the line. This will be a tough one for the Blue Dragons (11-8), who will be in the Class LL field. Ber­lin’s two best play­ers are ju­nior combo player Lyzi Litwinko, who av­er­ages a dou­ble-dou­ble, and shoot­ing guard Ash­ley Wen­zel (18.1 ppg).

“They are a one-two punch that can play with any­body,” Mid­dle­town coach Rob Smer­noff said. “The goal is to try to con­tain them and hope one is off. The night we played them here (a 62-54 Ber­lin win), nei­ther one would miss.”

** Mercy AD Tim Kohs on the school win­ning the SCC cham­pi­onship in gym­nas­tics in its fourth year as a var­sity pro­gram: “The kids that are se­niors have grown with the pro­gram. Win­ning the SCC is great for the school and it’s great when any new pro­gram does well. We added gym­nas­tics be­cause we want to of­fer kids dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s nice to see it reap some re­wards.”

FRANK ROBIN­SON: 1935-2019

How I wish I had been old enough to see Frank Robin­son play the game. His cre­den­tials are the stuff of lore: only player to win the MVP in both leagues; fourth on the all-time home run list at the time of his re­tire­ment, long be­fore the steroid era in­fested the sport; and Ma­jor League Base­ball’s first AfricanAmer­i­can man­ager.

In his later years, he be­came MLB’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of base­ball de­vel­op­ment, with a fo­cus on in­creas­ing AfricanAmer­i­can par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sport. Taken to­gether, his achieve­ments put him in a cat­e­gory of one.

Many pieces writ­ten about Robin­son in the days since his death Thurs­day at age 83 have char­ac­ter­ized his ca­reer and con­tri­bu­tions to the game as “un­der­rated” or “un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated,” and they were. Why? It’s hard to com­pre­hend. Who Frank Robin­son was was summed up best in a story re­layed by Jim Palmer, his Ori­oles team­mate and fel­low Hall of Famer, to the Bos­ton Globe’s Dan Shaugh­nessy late last week.

“One night in Fen­way, he hit a shot off the Wall that he thought was go­ing to be out. He jogged out of the box. But the ball didn’t go out and Yaz played it for a sin­gle. We won the game, some­thing like 9-4, so it didn’t re­ally mat­ter, but it mat­tered to Frank.

“When (man­ager) Earl (Weaver) got to his of­fice af­ter the game, there was a note from Frank and a cou­ple of $100 bills. The note said, ‘I em­bar­rassed the ball club, I em­bar­rassed my­self. It will never hap­pen again.’”

THIS AND THAT

** I bumped into Shirley Salafia last week and she hap­pily re­ports that hus­band Jake is do­ing well and watches wall-to-wall col­lege bas­ket­ball. Jake Salafia is 90 and among the most ac­com­plished high school bas­ket­ball coaches the area has ever known. Shirley said he takes in games when he can at the gym named af­ter him at Cromwell High.

** Des­tiny Chan­dler was one of three Mid­dle­town se­niors rec­og­nized be­fore the team’s home fi­nale Thurs­day. She was hurt in prac­tice last week and did not ap­pear in her team’s 52-40 win over Platt.

** Fi­nally, Jim Palmer’s story is a stark con­trast to what Manny Machado has in store for which­ever team signs him as a free agent. The for­mer Ori­ole told The Ath­letic re­cently that he isn’t “the type of player that’s go­ing to be ‘Johnny Hus­tle’ and run down the line and slide to first base … that’s just not my per­son­al­ity, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

Peter Hviz­dak / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Wil­liam Cur­ran and the Xavier in­door track took home the Class L state cham­pi­onship on Fri­day in New Haven.

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