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Between The Lines 6/13/13

POSTED June 14, 2013
BY John Nestor
Twitter: @nestorjdn

Between The Lines 6/13/13

Rich Szymanski ended up having to make good on a bet, but it's one he was happy to lose.

A Harwinton resident and longtime teacher and golf coach at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Szymanski had to shave off his mustache after the Panthers boys golf team made good on their half of the bargain and won the Division I State Golf championship at Fairview Farms.

The Panthers carded four rounds in the 70s and waited for some of the state’s top teams to finish up. After the final tally, Pomperaug was still on top and took home the CIAC Division I Golf Championship.

Pomperaug finished with a team total of 15-over 303 with Simsbury second at 307 followed by Greenwich (308), Fairfield Prep (310) and Staples (314) to round out the top five.

It is the third state title for Pomperaug coach Rich Szymanski, who is in his 25th season, and probably the sweetest.

"When we won the other two titles we were in Division II," he said. "To come here in Division I and beat Greenwich and Simsbury and Conard, those are the top teams in the state. It makes today such a great win."

Leading the way for Pomperaug was junior John VanDerLaan, who carded an even-par 72. VanDerLaan tied for third with Paul Pastore of Greenwich to earn a spot in the New England Championships.

VanDerLaan and his teammates were thrilled at winning the title and almost as happy to make Szymanski break out the razor. The mustache had been with Szymanski a long time and has a funny history.

"I grew it after my first year at Pomperaug so I've had it 24 years," Szymanski said. "I was tired of being asked for a pass in the halls like the students so I decided to grow a mustache and have had one ever since."

Szymanski made good on his promise but it doesn't sound like his upper lip will be bare for long.

"I shaved the mustache off the moment I got home that night, so I could start growing back right away," Szymanski said.

NORTHWESTERN DOMINATES: A quick note of congratulations to the Northwestern boy’s basketball and baseball teams for back-to-back outstanding seasons. Much like Thomaston has been the dominant BL force on the girls side, Northwestern has been the leader lately on the boy’s side of things.

The basketball team has actually had a nice two-year run with a Class S semifinal appearance capping the 2011-12 season. The campaign ended with a loss to eventual state champ Immaculate and there was no shame in that. With just about everyone back, the Highlanders were expected to be the best team in the BL in 2012-13 and they certainly lived up to the expectations.

Northwestern won its first 24 games this season on the hardwood, sweeping the BL regular season and tournament titles in the process. The season ended in the Class M quarterfinals against Bloomfield but the loss could not take away from an excellent season.

The 2013 Northwestern baseball season followed a similar path. The Highlanders won the 2012 BL title but were tripped up in the first round of the states despite a 16-4 record in the regular season. With tons of experience and talent returning, Northwestern was picked among the favorites in the BL to start the season this spring and were clearly the class of the league.

Northwestern won its first 19 games and the BL title before falling in its regular-season finale. The Highlanders then took their fans on a thrill ride all the way to the Class M state title game. Three one-run victories, including a pair in extra innings, put the Highlanders in the state semifinals against Holy Cross. 

The Highlanders jumped all over the Crusaders, taking an 8-1 lead and holding on to win 8-5 and book a spot in the Class M state championship game. It was Northwestern's first baseball title game appearance since a loss to Shepaug in the Class S final in 1973. Two, maybe three plays kept the Highlanders from the title in a tight game against St. Joseph from the FCIAC. 

A throwing error in the second led to the Cadets' first run after the Highlanders took a 1-0 lead. A failed sac bunt attempt in the sixth likely cost the Highlanders another run. Those things happen in the course of a baseball game but those two plays stand out because Northwestern pitcher Zach August was brilliant and allowed just one run in the first seven innings. Take away the throwing error or get the bunt down and Northwestern could be celebrating a state title.

Instead they can still celebrate a special year of sports up in Winsted. The GN football team was once again in the mix for a playoff berth and is one of the, if not the best football program in the area at the moment and we all know how dominant the Highlanders were in basketball and baseball this year. There wasn't a state title to cap any of the seasons but the Highlanders still put together a run that will be talked about for a long, long time.

TALENTED TITANS: The 2013 edition of the Torrington Titans is off to a slow start this season but there is still plenty of baseball ahead and if last season was any indication, there will be some good baseball played by some talented players.

A total of five Titans were selected in this year's MLB Draft, including three members of the 2012 squad. Tyler Bashlor went in round 11 to the New York Mets, pitcher Alex Moore was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 28th round and former Torrington High and Western CT State star Conor Bierfeldt was drafted in round 29 by the Baltimore Orioles. Reliever Mike Joseph, another member of the 2012 Titans, signed with the Orioles last summer and was recently promoted to the Aberdeen IronBirds of the Class A New York/Penn League.

A pair of 2013 Titans were drafted as well with catcher Kaleb Holbrook going in round 38 to the Los Angeles Dodgers and outfielder Kelly Starnes being picked in the 40th round by the Minnesota Twins.

According to the FCBL at least 12 players that have played in the league were selected in this year's MLB Draft so it seems that the Titans and the league as a whole are heading in the right direction and giving talented players a chance to be recognized and further their baseball careers. 

NEWS AND NOTES: They got in about two hours of play during the first round at the U.S. Open before rain forced a delay. It looks like Merion is going to be a wet and sloppy track and it remains to be seen if the conditions render the shortish but historic course defenseless or not. I'd be surprised if Tiger Woods doesn't contend but right now it’s hard to select a favorite with all the weather conditions coming into play. ... Speaking of golf, if you are a fan of the game or just a sports fan in general, head out to TPC River Highlands next week for the Travelers Championship. I've covered the last three and it’s one of the great events on the Connecticut sports calendar and a very popular event among PGA Tour players which has led to strong fields the last few years and will again this year. 

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