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A Week To Savor

POSTED June 15, 2011
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                                                   A Week To Savor

         It was one of those weeks you don’t let go of like a big old dog hanging on to a juicy sirloin. Eleven innings of Wamogo in the Class S baseball semifinals in one of the state’s classic venues, Bristol’s Muzzy Field, Seymour and Sacred Heart in the Class M softball finals and the beauty of the Litchfield Hills Road Race.

            It wasn’t that long ago that Wamogo and baseball in the same thought was kind of like putting Shaq on a mount in the Kentucky derby. Our nation’s pastime wasn’t exactly the Warriors’ game.

            But Gregg Hunt builds wherever he goes and he’s been to a lot of spots. Wamogo won the Berkshire League title this season and when it was all said and done he talked about how Wamogo baseball is no longer the laughing stock of the league and the state.

            You also rooted for Hunt here. He has been two state finals and suffered too excruciating losses. With Thomaston in 1985 when the Bears saw a 4-2 lead slip away with a misplayed infield popup and then with Terryville in a 10-inning all time classic that saw Kangaroo pitcher Ben Kozikowski go the distance.

            Wamogo had a horse this year in three-sport start Mike Odenwaelder. They banged the ball around with a lineup that hit from one through nine. The Warriors took BL rival Litchfield out in the quarterfinal, 9-2, setting up a battle with the team everybody called the class of `S’, East Catholic, coached by the legendary Jim Penders, father of the UConn baseball coach by the same name.

            On a summery evening the schools put on a delicious show that had everybody bleary-eyed the next morning, but was well worth the loss of sleep.

            Wamogo jumped out to a 6-2 lead, outhitting the Eagles, 10-2, going into the sixth inning. Six out away from a title appearance.  At this stage, however, it isn’t that easy. East Catholic roared back with four runs in the inning to tie the game and the fun was just starting.

            Odenwaelder, who had pitched in all three of three of the previous games (Saturday, Thursday and Tuesday) finally gave way for Travis Tompkins and the battle was on.

            The hours passed along with chances on both sides as Tompkins and Eagle reliever Tyler Aprea found ways to get out of repeated jams. There were clutch plays and mistakes, all of which added to the drama.

            You wanted to go home but you wanted the game to go on. It was that kind of good. Wamogo left five runners on base and had two runners caught off base in the extra innings. Mr. Hunt was not a happy man. Three times in the late innings the potential winning run was on third with two outs. The runner never got any further.

            Finally, a hero emerged when East Catholic’s Alex Fulco ripped a single through a seven-man infield in the bottom of the seventh inning. How good was it? Penders has been to eight finals, he called this one his program’s most courageous effort in getting there.

            The disappointment was thick for Wamogo – a winnable game. But they had earned their respect and for those of watching, it was three plus hours of special that left us wanting more.

            Two nights later, it was down West Haven High School to watch vaunted Seymour and upstart Sacred Heart Academy. You go into the state tournament never knowing and then you are reminded that you never know.

            Seymour was ranked No. 1, SHA No. 23. The Wildcats have eight state titles, SHA had none. Seymour was 25-1 while SHA was 15-9. You just kind of expected coach Ken Pereiras’ Wildcats to make it No. 9. It didn’t happen.

            Seymour led, 3-2, but SHA rallied for two runs in the fifth inning on Angelika Samos’ RBI double. Starting pitcher Molly Flowers never wavered in the final innings. The game ended on a bizarre note when Flowers struck out Kim Ferris prompting her teammates to roar out of the dugout and celebrate the way you celebrate a first state title.

            In the meantime, Ferris was running around the bases thinking the SHA catcher had dropped the ball. The umpire ruled, however, that the ball was not dropped, it had come out when the catcher had gone to throw it on the ground. Video confirmed the umpire’s ruling.

            Seymour was classy in its acknowledgement that SHA had deserved to win. Again, we were reminded that you just never know.

            Sunday was the 35th running of the Litchfield Hills Road Race.  Long ago the event transitioned from a party highlighted by race to a race sandwiched into four-day or so party.

            I hadn’t been on the cemetery walk in a while and I was reminded of the hour of smiling tears. It is a salute, a remembrance of some of the special friends of the LHRR that have moved on to that big road race in the sky.

            It started when LHRR co-founder, Boston Globe sportswriter and Litchfield native Joe Concannon died. There is a walk around to remember and be reminded that the body goes, the deeds and essence remain.

            We toasted Joe and `Bear’ Murphy and so many of the others. There was a bagpiper, guitar player and we heard a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace along with a taped version of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

            You have to be there, almost 100 people were. There were speeches but most importantly a lot of love.

            Saturday night was the LHRR cock tail party with some of the legends of the game – Bill Neller, Terry Collins, Beth Murphy, Dave Driscoll, Bruce Losee, Dave Vigeant, John McKenna, Gideon Mutisya, Jerry Shea. Rick Evangelist, John Clock and the list goes on.

            Race day was overcast but perfect for running which means nothing to a hoofer like me. However, the LHRR is much more than the race. It is a time to see some familiar faces like Torrington’s Don Murelli, the Hartford Courant’s Lori Riley, long-time colleague John Torsiello, my good friend Tim Gaffney, Rob Gollow, Carm DeFiore, the great Owen Canfield and so many others.

            We hopped in the press truck and took off on our annual trek over the 7.1 mile course. When it was done, we did our interviews and headed home. Another LHRR, another great time.

            All in all, when I put my feet up Sunday night I was glad the week was over but thinking what a great week it was.

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