Pat's Reporter Blog

Sports Editor’s Playbook, Sept. 15, 2014

Monday, September 15th, 2014
Patrick Newell

At the Sherburne-Earlville home football game last Friday, I asked assistant coach Ed Holmquist, “Did Matt Hull play last year?”
“Yeah. He was a skinny kid last year who worked really hard in the weight room in the offseason,” Holmquist said.
Hull’s name was not mentioned in my preseason interview with head coach Mike Jasper, and not a word was mentioned about Hull in the Fall Sports Preview feature article on the Marauders.
Assuming Hull stays healthy, I’ll have some space reserved for the sophomore in next year’s article.
“Matt Hull was amazing,” Jasper said after a 40-21 victory over General Brown.
Hull did a little bit of everything running for the team’s first first down, catching a TD pass, and he returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown. His running style is ideal for kickoffs as he launches himself forward with no lateral movement. He may make a simple cut left or right, but he’s north and south all the way. Holmquist, who calls the offensive plays said Hull has excellent running form that complements his speed. “He squares his pads up and he runs low,” the S-E coach said.
We already knew the Marauders had offensive weapons in quarterback Cody Marango, running backs Brodie Roebuck and Brady Sopchak, and receivers Ben Khoury along with tight end Gavin Giroux. Hull gives the opposing teams one more headache to consider when defending the Marauders’ offense.
Through two games, Hull has two rushing TDs, a receiving TD, a special teams return TD, and he drew a key defensive pass interference penalty in the second half against General Brown that led to another touchdown.

I don’t think I’ve ever covered a football game where one player accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s offense (assuming the team gained at least 150 total yards) than Mike Oralls did last week. The Norwich senior ran for 172 yards and Norwich finished with 186 total yards (all rushing).That figures to 92.4 percent of NHS’s total yards. Unfortunately, Oralls’ big day came in a 20-12 loss.

I had to go back to the Fall Sports Preview to verify what Bainbridge-Guilford boys’ soccer coach Pete Feltham said about his team’s prospects this season. I’ve worked with Pete for over a decade, and at his brashest, he is cautiously optimistic, and effusively complimentary of his opponents. Feltham always gives his opponent due respect, but I did elicit some information from our preseason interview that made me believe he was playing possum. Off a .500 team from last year he had eight returning starters. The Bobcats were also successful in putting goals on the board, and have taken it to another level this season. Entering Monday night’s home game against Norwich, B-G’s record was 4-0, the first time that has occurred in my nearly two decades covering Bobcats soccer. Said Feltham in the preseason interview: “It would be nice to give the top teams in the league a challenge.”
Pete, you are.

Follow Patrick Newell on Twitter @PatrickLNewell

Reviving an old golf column

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
Patrick Newell

This week we are reviving an old column, one in which I play golf at a local or regional course – along side a willing partner – and submit a review of the course, while also sharing any humorous happenings during our excursion. For years, I teamed up with the late Bob McNitt, who had a lifetime of golf experiences, and stories to share from just about every course we played. Bob was a consummate raconteur who always provided plenty of fuel for the story. This year, one of my buddies and golf partners, Mike McCormack, has agreed to step in and offer his insights from our day on the links. Mike is not a native of Chenango County, but he is no less entertaining than Bob. Since I just recently returned to the newspaper and fall sports are just around the corner, we will likely have about three or four golf columns this year before resuming the feature full-time next year. Our first stop: Afton Golf Course.

Anyone enjoy trivia? I sure do, especially of the sports variety. As a matter of fact – and my wife Aida will attest – I store hundreds of seemingly pointless and meaningless tidbits of sports information that are just waiting to one day surface. I’m sure there are plenty of other people just as interested in sports factoids, and thrice weekly, I will supplement the sports section with a trivia question. Yes, the answer is easily found with a quick Internet search, but the idea is to test one’s sports knowledge. I will delve into all sports topics, and provide the answer on an inside sports page. The goal is to publish trivia questions Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week (assuming we have enough space). If I receive positive feedback through the first month, I’ll continue the feature throughout the year.

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Where have I been the last four months?

Thursday, July 10th, 2014
Patrick Newell

According to our website, March 4, 2014 was the last time I posted a blog. In case you were off the grid the past few months, I left the newspaper for New Mexico, and recently returned after a 3 1/2-month absence. I wrote back-to-back columns over the past two weeks detailing my time away from the paper, although I steered clear of the specific details of my return.
I won’t delve too deep into my decision to return to New York, but let’s just say finding a job in the newspaper business in 2014 is an extremely difficult task. Those who already have a steady job in the media hold on to said position until retirement or death – whatever comes first.
With the impending departure of Shaun Savarese, the sports editor during my hiatus, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to once again step back into my old role. Thank you Shaun for your time covering Chenango County sports, and I wish you well in your next endeavor.
To the Chenango County readers, it is truly a blessing for me to chronicle the achievements of local athletes. I’ve said it many times and I’ll write it again: Yes, this is a job, but it never feels like work.

Two of the biggest summer events that I have covered the past 19 years are right around the corner. This weekend, hoops will dominate the center of Norwich with the return of Gus Macker. It seems so long ago when then-Norwich mayor, Joe Biviano, sought out ideas to spice up Norwich’s summers. I can’t remember anything else Joe did while in office other than rubber-stamping Gus Macker, but this tournament has proven a smashing success for nearly two decades, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
The second big event, and this applies to my personal affinity for golf, is the annual Canasawacta Country Club Men’s Member-Guest tournament. I have covered several local tournament, but this one is the biggest, draws the best overall competition, and oozes camaraderie, family, and fellowship. As a lifelong golfer, It really doesn’t get much better.

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Thank you 21st century technology

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Patrick Newell

I love wrestling, and to this day, I wonder why I didn’t compete on the Norwich High School wrestling team. I played junior varsity basketball for the Purple Tornado, but I knew in seventh and eighth grade that accolades were not coming my way on the hardwood floor.
Post high school I have heard more than a few times: “Did you wrestle in high school?”
“No.”
“Well, you would have been pretty good.”
“Thanks for telling me that 25 years too late.”
From a professional – and personal – standpoint, it crushed me when I had to decide what event I would cover Saturday, March 1. In Binghamton, Norwich was playing in back-to-back Section IV basketball championship games. In Albany at the Times Union Arena, the New York State High School Wrestling Championships were being held.
In the end, I chose the basketball games because I like dealing in certainties.
Driving to Albany early Saturday morning, there was no guarantee any of the local wrestlers would advance to the evening’s finals. But, I did have an ace in the hole: 21st century technology, and a couple of close friends giving me updates.
If this was 1997, I would have never had the details that appeared in Monday’s sports section.
While covering the basketball games, I received text messages from my longtime buddies, John Klockowski and Charlie McMullen. Both were standout wrestlers during their high school days, and each remains passionate about the sport.
Time Warner Sports aired the state finals, and as events transpired, JK sent me messages. I had period by period updates of Tristan Rifanburg’s 7-1 state finals win over Laken Cook, and two weight classes later, received a summary of Frankie Garcia’s state title victory. I remember smiling when Klock gave me a second-period update on Garcia: “Garcia is up 4-0 with two tilts in the second.”
Thank you to my friends, thank you to the inventor of text messaging, and thank you Time Warner for airing the state championships.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
Patrick Newell

Norwich’s boys basketball team is justifiably gaining notice in the state rankings, and recently ascended to the number seven spot in the New York State Sportwriters Association’s Class B poll., As the only unbeaten team left in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference, Norwich enters each game with a target on its back, said head coach Tom Collier. “We’re getting everyone’s best game; we’re their Super Bowl,” Collier said following last Thursday’s victory over Susquehanna Valley. The community has taken notice, too, and attendance numbers are on the rise at the pared-down Norwich High School gymnasium. A few years ago, the bleachers were updated to meet building code regulations, and the result was a loss of about 33 percent of the total capacity. It’s fair to say the maximum seating was exceeded Tuesday, Jan. 21 when Norwich entertained longtime rival Oneonta. Every bleacher seat was taken, and it was standing-room-only at each exit. It won’t be long before Norwich will need to set up a closed circuit viewing to accommodate the additional patrons. Norwich loves a winner, and the dominant start to the 2013-2014 season is rekindling some memories of the state championship teams of 1993 and 1994. While this year’s team is not facing the likes of Binghamton, Ithaca, Vestal, and Union-Endicott (maybe in the STAC tournament), similar to the state title teams, the manner in which the Tornado are winning is nearly identical. The 1993 team that went 29-0 averaged well over 70 points per game, and had a victory margin of about 23 points per game. This year’s NHS club is giving up less points per game than the ’93 team, but it, too, is winning by 23 points a game. In 13 Norwich wins this season, only two have been decided by less than 10 points – one against Section IV opposition.

No love for Sherburne-Earlville?
Sherburne-Earlville’s girls have battled injuries, illness, and other circumstances that have kept one or two starters out of the lineup multiple times since the turn of the calendar. Still, the Marauders have extended their unbeaten winning streak to 15 games after two more wins. The pollsters who compile the high school state rankings remain unimpressed as S-E remains in the 19 spot in the latest Class B iteration, released Jan. 31. S-E entered the rankings several weeks ago, but have barely moved in the standings. Still, S-E is on the verge of surpassing the school’s single-season victory record of 17. Just think, as recently as 2006, the Marauders had not compiled a single winning season in Section III or in the Susquenango Association in Section IV. Now, winning seasons are the norm as are division championships in the Center State Conference.

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Most successful Chenango County teams in recent years

Friday, January 24th, 2014
Patrick Newell

My recall of teams, events, and players is not quite what it used to be. Unlike my early mentor, Tom Schwan, I do not have binders upon binders detailing every team ‘s record from the past 19 years. I have a few of Tom’s old records on hand, and I often use them for reference when looking back at the 1970s and 1980s. Bowing to my long-term memory deficiency, I have compiled a list of the most successful teams from the past six or seven years. These respective teams may not have been the best team in Chenango County that particular year in that particular sport, but they certainly accomplished the most.

Baseball (Oxford, 2007)
Oxford won a sectional championship, beat Cooperstown in the state regional finals down in Endicott before losing in the state semifinals.

Softball (Greene, 2012)
Riding the pitching of senior Rebecca Hanrahan, the Trojans had the school’s best softball season in school history winning a Class C championship and advancing to the state title game where they ultimately fell on victory shy of a state championship.

Girls’ Basketball (Greene, 2008-2009)
It was quite a debut season for head coach Dave Gorton, who inherited a talented bunch of ladies from longtime Trojans mentor, Bill Case. After losing to Harpursville in the MAC title game – one of only two losses that season – the Trojans avenged that defeat less than two weeks later in the Class C playoffs, won the Section IV championship, and advanced all the way to the state semifinals before losing to the eventual state champion.

Boys’ Basketball (Norwich 2012-2013)
Norwich has won four Section IV titles over the past 12 years, and while last year’s team may not have been the best, it came the closest to advancing in the state tournament. The previous three NHS champions all lost by double digits, but last season, Norwich dropped a one-point final to Westhill, and had possession of the ball at the end of the game with an opportunity to win.

Swimming (boys and girls), Greene
In terms of sheer accomplishments, Greene takes the top spot. The boys won 48 straight league meets from 2001-2010, and had a 20-meet winning streak in 2007-2008. The Trojans girls went undefeated in 2007-2008 piling up 24 straight wins an adding 20 of 21 gold medals in the 2007 MAC championships.

Field Hockey (Greene 2009, 2012)
The only difference between these two teams was the margin of victory in the state playoff games. The Trojans went unbeaten in 2009, and didn’t allow a single goal throughout the postseason in capturing the Class B title. It was rinse and repeat three years later with the reward a Class C state title and another unbeaten campaign for head coach Sue Carlin

Bowling (Sherburne-Earlville)
Over the past decade, the Marauders – boys and girls – have rarely lost as many as two matches in a season, and each club (boys and girls) is well on its way to another unbeaten season and a Center State Conference title.

Football (Greene, 2008)
The last Chenango County team to win a Section IV title was Oxford’s 2000 team. Since that time, Greene, Norwich, and Oxford have all made Section IV finals appearances. Of late, Greene has led the area with two sectional finals appearances over the past six seasons. The better of those two Trojans teams was the 2008 outfit that finished 9-1. That Greene team averaged 38 points per game and won by an average of 25 points a game heading into the Class C championship game. Coming in as a prohibitive favorite, the season ended in a 14-6 loss to Elmira Notre Dame.

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Top five games I saw in 2013

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
Patrick Newell

I thought it would be fun, as I wind down my career at The Evening Sun, to make a series of “top-five” lists on a variety of topics. Today, I look at the best five games I attended in 2013 in descending order. Interesting note, three of the five games on my list involved a loss by the local club.

5. Marathon 3, Greene 2
Greene’s boys soccer team brought an unbeaten record in the sectional semifinals against nemesis Marathon. The Trojans controlled the first half, but gave way to a big Marathon comeback. Marathon scored the go-ahead goal with 19.6 seconds left to apparently clinch the win. Greene, though, pushed its entire lineup forward in a swarm of green of white on the ensuing kickoff. The Trojans’ attack led to a last-second goal that was ultimately waved off by the official. It was a crushing loss, but a tremendous effort, nonetheless.

4. Sherburne-Earlville 14, Frankfort-Schuyler 0
The running joke among some faithful at S-E is that my attendance at a game is the kiss of death for the Marauders. It’s not an unfounded opinion. In 19 seasons covering local football, I have been to around two to three S-E games a year. In about 40 games, I would wager the Marauders have won maybe 10. Of those 10, this season’s win over Frankfort-Schuyler – a matchup of state-ranked teams – was perhaps the biggest since the club moved into Section III in 2002. S-E has come up short in nearly every big game, but the program turned the corner with this shutout victory. S-E finished with a 7-1 record, its best record in 11-man football in 42 years.

3 Norwich 48, New York Mills 45
This came was completed just before the turn of the calendar as the NHS boys pulled off yet another miraculous comeback. Down 14 points with two minutes left in the third quarter, there was no indication Norwich’s fortunes would change. That never-quit mentality led Norwich back and to a triumphant victory in the Stop DWI Holiday Classic Region II title.

2. Harpursville 53, Unadilla Valley 51
Unadilla Valley’s girls were coming off a Midstate Athletic Conference championship the previous week, but had perhaps the toughest first-round sectional playoff game one could schedule. In a third seed versus sixth seed matchup, it was high-quality basketball from the opening tip with each team trading leads. Harpursville led by two late in the game, and survived a UV miss on a last-second putback attempt to advance. Not only did Harpursville advance in this game, it won the Section IV Class C title, and rode that momentum to an appearance in the state finals.

1. Westhill 59, Norwich 58
At number three we had a Norwich boys’ basketball comeback that led to a victory. About 8 1/2 months earlier, the Purple Tornado came up one-poiint shy in the state quarterfinals in a display of fortitude and perseverance. Norwich trailed Westhill by 16 points midway through the third quarter. Nothing was going right, but the patented comeback that has become an NHS staple left Norwich one point short. Norwich forced a late turnover and had possession of the ball with under 20 seconds to play. Unfortunately, it never got that winning shot off. “We just ran out of time,” said Norwich coach Tom Collier after the game.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Jan. 9, 2014

Thursday, January 9th, 2014
Patrick Newell

Basketball Statistics
At the midway point of the season, two basketball teams have the same number of losses with which they started – zero. Norwich is 7-0 and ranked among the top 10 Class B boys teams in New York, while Sherburne-Earlville’s girls improved to 10-0 Thursday night, and recently made an entry into the Class B poll at the 18 spot. Individually, the top three scoring leaders for the boys are David Dufresne of Unadilla Valley at 22.6 points per game; Austin Jasper of S-E, at 19.9 points per tilt; and Zach Wentlent of Greene, who averages an even 19 points per tilt. UV earns a sweep of the scoring leaders with Taylor Davis of the Storm headlining the girls at 17.6 points a game; Lilly Berg of S-E is next at 15.8, and Greene senior Jess David is presently averaging 14.1 points per game.

Rankings
Speaking of the aforementioned rankings, they are available on the New York State Sports Writers Association website, and are updated weekly. Coaches tell me that rankings don’t mean much in the regular season, but they sure do mean a lot to fans – and sportswriters who need something to dress up a game story. In truth, the final poll after the state championships are completed is the only time rankings really matter to coaches.

Don’t stick a fork in me
Earlier this week I officially announced my impending departure from The Evening Sun. Don’t stick a fork in me just yet. I still have hundreds of game reports to bring to the readers, and I hope a deep run in the playoffs will extend my stay. Over the next few weeks, I will share some of my favorites on various local sports topics from the past 19 seasons.

Follow me on Twitter @evesunpat

Sports Editor’s Playbook, 2013 year-end edition

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
Patrick Newell

Knowing that this is my final winter sports season at The Evening Sun, we’re beginning to wax nostalgic. As 2013 comes to a close, I have reviewed some of the highlights of the previous 12 months of high school sports, and have pinpointed those moments here. We start with the end of the 2012-2013 winter sports season, and bring you through to December 2013. Not every sport is recounted, but that does not diminish the accomplishments of those not mentioned here.

    Winter Sports (January-March)

Wrestling
A half-dozen local wrestlers finished among the top six in the state at the 2013 New York State Division II Wrestling Championships. Norwich’s Frank Garcia and Tristan Rifanburg along with Greene’s Christian Dietrich were one move away from winning state titles, but settled for runner-up finishes. All three are back this year, and are among the favorites in Feb. 2014. Also placing in the state tournament were Greene’s Mike Beckwith, and B-G/Afton’s Mark Viviano and Chris Cirigliano.

Girls’ Basketball
Unadilla Valley finished with its best record in school history (15-2), and captured the Midstate Athletic Conference championship beating Unatego. The Storm, though, ran into formidable opposition in Section IV tournament play facing Harpursville in the opening round. Harpursville survived a last-second UV shot attempt to prevail by two, and went on to win the Section IV crown and advance to the Class C state finals. Although it made an abrupt departure from the postseason, the Storm were among the best Class C teams in the state.

Boys’ Basketball
Norwich overcame a number of injuries and illnesses to claim it second straight Section IV Class B title beating Whitney Point by 22 points. In intersectional play, the Tornado made a strong second-half rally against Westhill only to fall a point short of reaching the state semifinals. Through the first month of the 2013-2014 season, Norwich is again on top of its game entering January 2014 with a perfect 6-0 mark.

Boys’ Swimming
Norwich threatened to win a division title, was third in the Section IV Class B meet, and had a number of top-five individual finishes. The Tornado have continued that momentum to start the 2013-2014 season, and again could challenge for a division championship.

Indoor Track and Field
On the same weekend Norwich’s basketball team was winning a sectional championship, Norwich junior Matt Murray became the best 600-meter sprinter in the state. Murray became the first Norwich athlete to win an indoor track and field state title when he won the 600 meters in early March. If he decides to defend that title this season, he is the odds-on favorite.
 

    Spring Sports (April-June)

Track and Field
The largest accumulation of standout athletic performances this past spring came on the track. Norwich’s Murray and Brooke Bonney won sectional titles, as did B-G/Afton’s Julia Knapp. All three also placed in the Division II state meet. Knapp was fifth in the 100-meter hurdles; Murray took fifth in the 800 meters; and Bonney was fifth in the discus and sixth in the shot put. All three was also champions in their league and class meets. Additionally, Unadilla Valley’s Dylan Thomsen continued to set new records in the distance events, and won a MAC title in the 1,600 meters with a school-record time.

Golf
Norwich repeated as Class B champion taking the team title by a whopping 16 shots. The Tornado linksters were led by overall low medalist, junior Corey Johnson, who shot a 3-over-par 73 at Maple Hill Golf Club.

Softball
G-MU’s girls had the best season amongst the area teams that we cover. The Raiders finished with double-digit wins and won a first-round sectional postseason game before falling to eventual Section IV Class D champion Afton.

Baseball
While no team in Chenango County advanced past the quarterfinal round of the playoffs, we did see one of the most impressive seasons turned in by a Norwich pitcher in some time. Hurling against some of the best hitting teams in New York, junior left-hander Cody Barnes had the highest single-season strikeout total by an NHS pitcher in over 25 years striking out 81 in 40 innings, while also recording all five of Norwich’s victories.

    Fall Sports (August-November)

Football
Sherburne-Earlville claimed a division title in Section III play, earned its highest state ranking, and hosted its first playoff game since joining Section III in 2002. The Marauders finished with a 7-1 record, its best mark in 11-man football in over 40 years. Norwich qualified for the postseason a fifth straight season, but suffered an opening-round playoff defeat to Johnson City

Boys’ Soccer
Greene won yet another MAC league championship, remained unbeaten through the regular season and first two rounds of the postseason before losing in the Class C semifinals – by a single goal – to Marathon.

Girls’ Soccer
Greene senior Paige Wilcox built on her all-time scoring mark finishing with nearly 150 career goals, the highest known total in Chenango County history.

Girls’ Tennis
Norwich coasted to a STAC East division title, and lost just two matches the entire season.

Field Hockey
Greene again advanced to the Section IV finals, but missed intersectional play for the first time since 2005 losing to Whitney Point by a single goal.

Girls’ Swimming
Oxford’s Abby Voce had the top individual performance at the class meets. The eighth-grader was second overall in the 50-yard freestyle.

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Sports Editor’s Playbook, Dec. 17, 2013

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
Patrick Newell

For the first time in the 30-plus-year history of the Norwich Pennysaver Girls Basketball Tournament, a champion was not crowned. Held last weekend, the longtime event – one that we at The Evening Sun cover extensively – was reduced to three teams when Vestal bowed out of the tournament. Norwich coach Josh Bennett said Vestal officials gave notice in late November. With winter schedules set months in advance, it was impossible to scramble for a fourth team to fill the unexpected vacancy.
As we said, no tournament champion, no all-tournament team, and for first-time tournament entries Utica Proctor and New Hartford, just one game instead of the two that were scheduled. It’s not the first impression you want to make when welcoming newcomers to your tournament, and both schools would be justified in not returning.
The reason for Vestal pulling its girls out of the tournament was a conflict with another school event. Not another sporting event, state testing or even an emergency school assembly. A high school with an enrollment pushing 1,200 kids pulled its 20 to 30 junior varsity and varsity girls out of a two-day event for a school dance.
Yes, you read that right.
“Both Joe (Downey, Norwich athletic coordinator) and I made countless calls and emails (to Vestal) to confirm everything,” Bennett said last weekend.
Bennett was furious with how the tournament played out, but after long discussions with the Utica Proctor and New Hartford coaches, hopes those schools will return to next year’s tournament.
It’s safe to conclude Vestal will not be invited back. One of the core principles of athletics is making a commitment – mind and body – to your team. When you’re school does not honor all of its commitments, what message does that send to the kids?

Follow me on Twitter @evesunpat.