Here are the top 10 local sports storylines of the year from the New Britain Herald coverage area:
1. George Springer wins World Series and World Series MVP
It was quite the 2017 season for Houston Astros outfielder George Springer. The New Britain native not only made his first All-Star game, posting career highs in batting average (.283), home runs (34) and RBI (85), but saved his finest performances for the game’s biggest stage. Against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Fall Classic, Springer hit .379 with seven RBI and tied a World Series record with Reggie Jackson in 1977 and Chase Utley in 2009 of hitting five home runs in the series.
One of those home runs would turn out to be a game winner. In the top of the 11th inning of Game 2, Springer hit a two-run homer off Dodgers reliever Brandon McCarthy as the Astros went on to win 7-6. Houston went on to win the franchise’s first World Series in seven games and Springer was named the Series MVP.
2. New Britain fires, then rehires Darwin Shaw
The New Britain boys basketball program decided to head in a different direction by hiring new head coach Kurt Reis this offseason. But with that came the surprising move that saw the team cut ties with longtime assistant and junior varsity head coach Darwin Shaw after 32 years with the program on Oct. 19.
Shaw’s firing did not last long, however. Just three days after the announcement, which resulted in a firestorm protesting the decision on the New Britain Herald Facebook page and website, the school extended an offer to bring Shaw back as the JV head coach in what it called a “learning experience.” After taking so time to decide if he wanted to come back, Shaw chose to accept the offer on Nov. 9 and return to the basketball program before the start of the regular season.
3. New Britain High coaches aren’t certified
Before the Shaw controversy, New Britain High School found itself with another issue in May as nine coaches during 2016 school year weren’t up to date with their state certifications that deal with player safety and concussion protocol. The biggest name on the list was current football coach and former NFL player Tebucky Jones.
New Britain received an anonymous letter about Jones’ certification before the team’s 2016 season finale against Berlin. The school then launched an investigation soon after to find “several” coaches who had been coaching without permits. Jones maintained he was certified, with his certification running out after the 2016 season, meaning he would have to recertify before the 2017 season began, but the school district said he was not. In the end, Jones completed his recertification and coaches the Hurricanes to a 5-5 record this past season.
4. Sal Romano makes MLB debut
It was quite the season for local baseball talent. New Britain native George Springer won the World Series and World Series MVP with the Houston Astros, but that was not the only big local story line involving the MLB as Southington native Sal Romano made is major league debut for the Cincinnati Reds. The right-hander made his first start on April 16 against the Milwaukee Brewers - a loss - where he allowed three runs (two earned), walked four and struck out two in three innings of work.
Romano was optioned back down to triple-A two days later and wound up on the disabled list soon after, but was recalled to the Reds in the beginning of July and earned his first MLB win on July 6 against the Colorado Rockies. Romano would end up making 16 starts throughout his rookie season for the Red, compiling a 5-8 record with a 4.45 ERA in 87 innings pitched. He also struck out 73 and walked 37.
5. Berlin girls soccer reaches Class M finals for first time since ’98
Berlin girls soccer is a mainstay in the playoffs come state tournament time, but this past season was truly a special one for the Redcoats. After finishing the regular season just 8-8 to secure the 20th seed in the Class M bracket, Berlin suddenly had all the momentum. The Redcoats upset No. 13 East Catholic 2-0 in the first round, before beating Platt Tech 7-0 in the second round and topping Cromwell 2-1 in the quarterfinals after Julia Sisti scored the game winner with nine seconds remaining.
Sisti once again provided the key goal in the semifinals, finding the back of the net on a penalty kick to knock off top-seeded and undefeated Lewis Mills to send Berlin to its first Class M championship game since 1998, when first-year head coach Katie Amenta was a player at the school. The Redcoats would fall short in the title game to Granby Memorial 3-0, but it was quite the run.
6. CCSU football reaches FCS playoffs for first time
It had been a tough run for the Central Connecticut State football team, which had gone just 9-25 in its first three seasons under head coach Pete Rossomando and had not had a winning season since 2010. That all changed for the Blue Devils this past season. Despite starting the season 0-3, CCSU went on an eight-game winning streak to end the regular season, went undefeated in the Northeast Conference for the first time in the program’s history to win its first conference title since that 2010 season.
But most importantly, the Blue Devils reached the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history after securing the NEC’s automatic berth. CCSU faced off against New Hampshire in the first round of the playoffs, but would fall 14-0 after losing its top two quarterbacks to end its season 8-4.
7. Newington boys volleyball wins fourth title in six seasons
The expectation each season for the Newington boys volleyball team is nothing less than a championship. After falling in the Class M semifinals in the 2016 season, the Indians found themselves back on top in 2017 to claim their fourth title in six years. They just needed to engineer a major comeback to do so.
Down two sets to South Windsor 24-26 and 20-25 to start the match, Newington won the next three sets 25-18, 25-15 and 16-14. After a back-and-fourth third set and a quiet fourth, the Indians and Bobcats headed to the fifth set for a dramatic finish.
After Vinh Dau put Newington up 15-14, Zach Harmon received a set from Evan Metzger and unleashed a spike that the South Windsor blocker could not handle, the ball fell to the floor and the Indians erupted in celebration.
8. Area wrestlers win state titles/New England title
Wrestling as always been one of the area’s strongest sports and this year was no exception that saw a number of grapplers win individual titles along the way. Southington’s Austin Abacherli won the Class LL title at 150 pounds in his final season with the Blue Knights on a 3-2 decision over Newtown’s Alexander Stavola. His teammate, Paul Calo, won the 160-pound New England Championship after beating Xavier’s Ryan Devivo on a 5-1 decision. Devivo had topped Calo for the LL title two weeks prior.
Berlin also had two wrestlers cap off their seasons with some hardware. Now-former standout Nick Arborio became the first Redcoat to win an individual State Open title in the past decade after beating Ellis Tech’s Sean Johnson by a 4-3 decision to claim the 113-pound championship. His teammate, Dan Veleas, meanwhile, took home the 120-pound Class M title on an 8-1 decision as just a sophomore.
9. CCSU football has multiple suspensions
While the Central Connecticut football team saw plenty of success during the 2017 season, there were also some issues head coach Pete Rossomando had to deal with, specifically having to suspend players on multiple occasions for the same issue. Rossomando had to suspend four players - Chika Chukwu, Jose Garcia, team captain Randall Laguerre and Kenneth Keen - for the team’s game against Youngstown State Sept. 16 as a result of an off-campus party. Garcia and Chukwu were later suspended indefinitely.
Just over two months later, Rossomando suspended starting quarterback Jacob Dolegala and backup offensive lineman Dave Cinti for the same offense. Only these suspensions were for the team’s game against New Hampshire, which also happened to be the program’s first ever FCS playoff game. The Blue Devils lost 14-0.
10. New Britain Bees hire Wally Backman
After finishing out the season with an Atlantic League-worst 58-81 record, the New Britain Bees decided to make a change at the managerial position. The franchise decided to move on from Stan Cliburn after two seasons and replace him with former New York Mets second baseman Wally Backman.
But the move was not without some controversy. Backman was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks in Nov. 2004, but was fired four days later without having managed a single game after reports came out of prior arrests - one for DUI, another for domestic violence - and financial problems where he had to declare bankruptcy to avoid paying over 20 creditors.
Backman later managed the Mets single-A and triple-A affiliates to first-place finishes in 2010 and 2014, but was let go from the organization after clashes with the front office.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org