Two local teams were fighting for their state tournament lives this past weekend, whether it be to stay in the tournament or to ensure a spot in one. The stakes were as high as ever on both stages, and key contributors were called upon to step up and keep their team’s seasons from ending.
The two teams experienced different outcomes, but they both saw fantastic efforts from junior starters who will be back, and possibly even better, come next season.
Berlin’s Justin Skates and Southington’s Emily Eigo are this week’s Athletes of the Week for putting their teams in position to notch huge victories against either the top competition in the state or a fierce rival looking to spoil a season.
The Berlin football team played its regular season finale against rival New Britain in the Wishbone Bowl on Friday night, needing a win to ensure a spot in the Class L state tournament. A loss, and the Redcoats’ season would likely have been over. Skates made sure the latter wasn’t an option.
The junior quarterback, starting in his first Wishbone Bowl, threw for four touchdowns to three different receivers to spark a 26-6 rout of the Hurricanes and clinch a state tournament berth. When the night, and the biggest win of the season for Berlin, was over, Skates had completed 10 of his 20 passing attempts for 262 and the four scores in the top performance of the night.
Skates’ biggest plays in the game came when he was needed most, when the game was still to be decided. Battling through a scoreless first quarter, Skates and the Redcoats were still struggling on offense early in the second, but the first-year starter completed three straight 3rd-and-long passes so keep the chains moving, and eventually found Danny Lynch in the end zone to end the drive with a touchdown. Two plays later, he connected with Mark Addamo for a 35-yard score, and suddenly, Berlin had the breathing room it needed.
For Skates, it was a fitting performance to end a regular season that was once shrouded in doubt, but now ends with another postseason berth. Nick Melville was initially expected to be the Redcoats’ starting quarterback this year, but an injury before the season started moved Skates up the depth chart, and his steady improvement has helped Berlin finish the regular season at 7-2, and hoping for more starting next week.
“Justin came into this spot not knowing he was going to start, and he’s been huge,” said wide receiver Jamie Palmese, who was the beneficiary of one of Skates’ touchdown passes on Friday night. “That was big for us.”
The Southington girls soccer team was deadlocked in a scoreless tie of its own in Saturday’s Class LL state championship game, and was facing relentless pressure from No. 3 Glastonbury. While the Blue Knights’ offense continued to search for a spark, their junior goalkeeper Eigo made sure her team at least stayed within striking distance to bring home a state championship trophy.
In a pressure-packed second half, Eigo kept the game tied when Glastonbury’s Madison McGraw gained possession and charged the net with nobody in between her and a go-ahead goal but Eigo. As McGraw reached the goal area, Eigo aggressively bolted out of net and slid toward McGraw, grabbing the ball and ending what was the best scoring chance of the night before it could ever materialize.
Later in the half, the Tomahawks were on the attack again when Samantha Forrest had a wide-open shot from right in front of the goal, but Eigo made a sliding save, one of her six on the afternoon, to again deny Glastonbury the lead.
“She’s always very calm and makes big saves,” Southington senior Emma Panarella said of Eigo’s effort. “She’s really good back there. She’s stable.”
The Tomahawks continued to pressure and finally got a goal past Eigo in what was a 1-0 loss for Southington, but the Blue Knights allowed just six goals all year and one in the state tournament, showing top defense backed up by Eigo’s play in goal. With just three starters graduating this year and a load of talent coming back, Southington could find itself back in a deep tournament run next year, and it will have an experienced goalkeeper ready to make the big saves should the defense suffer a breakdown.