A pair of local teams are entering their first week as state champions, ending their seasons at the pinnacle of the high school sports world.
Winning a state championship requires peak performances and individual efforts, and sometimes requires established players performing above their already high-level of play due to the absence of another trusted teammate.
Southington’s Julia Panarella and Newington’s Teddy Fravel are the New Britain Herald Athletes of the Week for their clutch play that led their teams to becoming state champions.
The Southington softball team competed in a state final for the sixth time in eight years on Saturday afternoon, but the Blue Knights had not walked away with a championship since their three-peat that ended in 2015. Panarella, a sophomore pitcher, hadn’t experienced any of that past success with Southington. In fact, last week’s semifinals game was the first time she laid eyes on DeLuca Field, the recent site of the Class LL tournament semifinals and final games.
Despite the lack of experience on the big stage, Panarella brought the Blue Knights back to the top with a pair of big-time performances, starting with a complete game gem against No. 2 Trumbull, where Panarella allowed just three hits and struck out nine.
Five days later, Panarella was back in the circle and soon Southington would be back on top of the state and Class LL, thanks to six solid innings from the sophomore, who allowed two runs on four hits in a 7-6 win over NFA. Panarella, who tossed a complete game against that same NFA team back in April, used that familiarity to her advantage on Saturday.
“I do remember a lot of their batters, and I remembered who slapped and bunted,” Panarella said. “We had notes written down about them from the first game so we knew what they were hitting and what they weren’t. That was really helpful for calling pitches.”
Panarella’s preparation paid off, though her quality outing was hanging in the balance when the Blue Knights committed a pair of errors in the seventh inning while Panarella watched helplessly from the bench. Still, her confidence in her teammates never wavered, just like her teammates’ confidence in Panarella stepping up for the big moments, in Saturday’s state final.
“I had full trust in our field,” Panarella said. “We did make a couple errors, but I knew we could do it. I knew we had it. Even though it got close, I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that we were gonna win it.”
The Newington boys volleyball team shared a similar confidence in its quest for a three-peat in the Class M tournament, though losing all-conference middle hitter Mason Romano made the Indians’ chances seem a bit less certain. Thanks to Fravel, however, Romano’s absence was managed with relative ease. Newington won 3-0 over Wethersfield in the semifinals before dispatching No. 2 Cheshire 3-1 in Thursday’s state final.
Romano, normally a kill machine for the Indians, missed those two matches, but Fravel responded to lead the team in kills both matches, starting with 14 in the win against Wethersfield.
Two of those 14 kills carried extra importance for the Indians, as Fravel used two big kill to stop a late Eagles run in the third set to seal the sweep and claim a narrow 25-23 victory.
In the first set of that match, Wethersfield had battled back to a 16-16 tie before two Fravel kills sent Newington on its way.
Fravel’s contributions continued in the state final, where he once again led the Indians in kills, this time racking up 17. His high level of play helped Newington turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 win, completing the program’s sixth state title in the past eight seasons, and Fravel has been a part of three of them.
Fravel praised teammate Razik Amadou for stepping up in Romano’s absence and securing the final point of the season with a kill to seal a close 25-22 win and avoid a decisive fifth set. His teammates would likely have plenty of praise for Fravel, who saved his biggest performances of the season for when his team needed him most. The shorthanded Indians remained state champs thanks to the senior taking on more responsibility in his final matches with Newington volleyball.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org