Here are the top 10 local sports storylines of the year from the New Britain Herald coverage area:
1. Newington boys basketball has perfect regular season
Newington boys basketball is a mainstay come state tournament time, but it was truly a special season for the Indians last winter. The team rolled past rival Wethersfield in its regular season finale to give the school and the program their first 20-0 regular season in history. But Newington did not stop there. After hitting a snag in the CCC tournament, the Indians had a renewed focus in the state tournament and advanced to their first Final Four in boys basketball in 31 years, when the date read 1985, before a thrilling overtime loss to Middletown ended their run in, which Jared Simmons led a 20-point comeback to become the school’s all-time leading scorer after just his junior season.
2. Southington softball’s run done at 77
It had been almost three years since Southington suffered a loss on the softball diamond. But in a span that saw three straight state championships, the Blue Knights run of consecutive victories came to an end at 77 against then-No. 1 Fitch (who would go on to win the Class L title), just one shy of tying the all-time state record of 78, owned by Seymour. An error and a double led to a two-run fifth inning by Fitch that proved too much for Southington to come back from on that April afternoon, resetting the win-streak back to zero. The Blue Knights would regroup, making it all the way to the semifinals where they would again be defeated, making it the first time since 2011 they did not reach the title game.
3. Berlin honors Nick Zuk
Losing a teammate, friend and family member is never easy at any stage in life, especially for a group of high schoolers. But Berlin football had to do just that this season as Nick Zuk, a former standout offensive lineman with the Redcoats, passed away after a battle with Leukemia this past June. The team hosted a Nick Zuk Night at Sage Park in September where a stone monument was unveiled and would remain. That night ended with a 50-14 victory over Rockville on the field and the winning continued all the way to the playoffs.
The Redcoats would honor Zuk throughout the year, starting each game with just four offensive linemen, leaving the right tackle spot reserved for their teammate. The loss of their teammate galvanized the team as the players used Zuk as motivation to once again find themselves in the postseason, including needing a win in the season finale against New Britain that would need overtime - all for Zuk.
4. Upham runs way into records books
Southington football again saw a great amount of success on the football field, reaching the Class LL semifinals once again before finishing the year with an 11-1 record. But this team had a different look to it with Vance Upham leading the way. The running back not only rushed for a single-season record 1,950 yards and 25 touchdowns, but broke the school’s all-time rushing record held by former New York Giant Vinny Clements thanks to a dominant performance in the Apple Valley Classic against Cheshire on Thanksgiving Day, where he rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Upham finished his Southington career with 3,832 yards on the ground and 43 rushing scores, all despite splitting carries his first two seasons.
5. CCSU hires Marshall
After five straight losing seasons, Central Connecticut State felt it needed a change with its men’s basketball team. Following the retirement of long-time head coach Howie Dickenman, the Blue Devils brought in a familiar name to help revitalize the program, hiring former UConn star and NBA player Donyell Marshall in a move that generated buzz around a program that it had not felt in quite some time. Marshall called it a homecoming when formally introduced, surrounded by family, former teammates and his former head coach Jim Calhoun. CCSU, he said, was the right fit.
6. Veleas earns win No. 500
For 30 seasons, Leo Veleas has written in the lineup card for the Berlin baseball team and on April 20, the players helped deliver their head coach a rare milestone - his 500th win - at Sage Park's Zipadelli Field in a career that has featured so many moments and highlights. The victory came in bizarre fashion and needed an epic comeback to take place. Trailing most of the afternoon and down 7-3 to Wethersfield in the seventh inning, the Redcoats scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh, including the final run with two outs thanks to an Eagles’ error that ended up in the outfield, to seal the win for their coach.
7. Polish soccer comes to New Britain
Connecticut United FC brought professional soccer to the city of New Britain, but none of its games were bigger than the international friendly it played against FKS Stal Mielec, a professional team in Poland’s I liga - Poland’s second tier of soccer. Seemingly out of its depth against a bigger, stronger and faster opponent, CT United went toe-to-toe with its Polish counterparts and after 75 minutes of back-and-forth play where neither team was able to take advantage of their opportunities, Tiago Martins sunk a ball into the back of Stal Mielec’s net, which ultimately gave United FC a 1-0 win.
8. Bees complete first season
There were questions about the type of talent that would take the field at the recently-vacant New Britain Stadium when the new baseball season began in April. But the New Britain Bees proved more than capable of holding their own. The franchise featured plenty of exciting moments in its inaugural season and showed there was no significant drop-off in talent that had been there the year before. Along with taking the playoff races of both halves down to the wire, the Bees had five pitchers get signed to major league affiliates, along with six players selected to the Atlantic League’s All-Star game - the second-most of any team. Manager Stan Cliburn also won his 1,600th game as a manager and won the Manager of the Year award.
9. Guadarrama departs
Nick Guadarrama shocked Newington when he announced his decision to transfer down to the Perkiomen School, a private school down in Pennsylvania, to play football, basketball and baseball with less than a month before the Indians’ football season was to begin. Newington’s starting quarterback at the time, Guadarrama was also a second-team all-state basketball player and starting third baseman on the baseball team. The guard/forward combo formed a tough trio with Jared Simmons and Pablo Ortiz to help the Indians reach the school’s first Final Four in boys basketball since 1985 last season.
10. Silverman keeps scoring
Berlin boys soccer had plenty of memorable moments, including an upset over powerhouse Glastonbury during the regular season. But it was Noah Silverman that provided one of the top individual moments of the fall season. The junior forward was locked in during a match in late October against Bristol Central, scoring not once, twice or even three times, but found the back of the net on five separate occasions to tie a 21-year-old school record. He also recorded an assist in the game and finished the year with not only all-state honors, but with an All-New England selection as well.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach