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Friday, June 8, 2007

Party like it's 1969

I had to use that line from the old Prince song. Seymour won its first state championship Friday night since 1969, upsetting Waterford 2-0. Pitcher Charlie Chancio befuddled Waterford's all-star lineup, allowing just four hits.
You don't have to be from the Valley to appreciate what the Seymour fans did Friday night. They chanted coach Bob Kelo's name in unison while clapping. The first thing that popped into my mind, being a New York Yankees' fan, was how the Yankee fans serenaded Paul O'Neill during Game 5 of the 2001 World Series because they knew it probably was his final game at Yankee Stadium.
I'm not embarrassed to admit I got goose pimples listening to the chant. Kelo has been almost like an institution at Seymour, coaching the Wildcats when they were still in the old Housatonic League and being the longtime offensive coordinator for the football team. He has gotten Seymour to the brink of a state championship four times before, only to fall short. It just goes to show you how difficult it is to get there - and how much Kelo will appreciate it now that he has a title.
But a vet like Kelo is obviously more happy for the kids than himself. Sure, he got plenty of phone calls and text-messages from well-wishers on Friday, but the game is about the kids and they performed their best when it mattered most, concluding the season on an 11-game winning streak.
Make no mistake: Waterford's team was loaded. Name me another team that has four players headed to Division I schools? And a kid that got drafted (Rob Bono)? Only fellow ECC mate went higher than Bono did in the 11th round to the Astros.
But the thing you can't account for is heart. Seymour showed plenty of it during its run to both the NVL and Class M state championships. Believe me, they hear all about how weak the NVL is for baseball, how superior the SCC is supposed to be and so on and so forth, all the time. Whether that's true or not doesn't matter - at least not this weekend.
So, where will Seymour end up in the final New Haven Register Top 10 poll? It's still too early to tell, but I will jump them somewhere into my top five no matter what transpires on Saturday. The Wildcats are very deserving of that.
How far will Waterford drop? Probably not too far. So, it's Amity in the driver's seat to finish No. 1 for the second straight year. If Newington beats Amity, your guess is as good as mine who's No. 1.

Fingers crossed

That's exactly what the people at Travelers are doing as Phil Mickelson heads to Oakmont Country Club this week for the U.S. Open. Still fresh in people's minds is the double-bogey Mickelson had in last year's Open at Winged Foot, costing him a chance at a third straight major championship.
But the inaugural Travelers is praying its marquee name remains in the field. Mickelson injured his wrist, ironically enough, practicing at Oakmont before competing in the Memorial Tournament. That effort lasted 11 holes because he re-aggravated the wrist. Then, Mickelson withdrew from this week's St. Jude's as a precaution.
Don't expect Mickelson to withdraw this week. But he will spend plenty of time in the ankle-high rough, trying to hack out toward the green rather than going the safety route. People who bought tickets to the Travelers will be cringing, too, because they want to come see Mickelson play at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell beginning June 21.
Travelers has the tournament's best field in five years with Vijay Singh, Padraig Harrington, Trevor Immelman, Chris DiMarco, Darren Clarke and plenty of others, including defending champion J.J. Henry. They may get one more big name before next Friday's deadline.
They just hope their biggest draw shows. Otherwise, those attendance numbers will be a little lower than expected.

Come on out to Yale Field

I'm sure the Valley will be out in full support this weekend behind the Seymour baseball and softball teams. They will be at Yale Field Friday to cheer on the baseball team in its upset bid of Waterford, then travel to DeLuca Field 24 hours later to see if Seymour can add yet another state championship, and keep that big winning streak alive, against St. Joseph.

Seymour's baseball team is as hot as any team still alive in the baseball tournament. Ten straight wins has landed them in the final against a Waterford squad that boasts four future Division I players, including Rob Bono a pitcher/catcher and a two-time Register All-State selection.
Bob Kelo knows the Wildcats will need a great effort on the mound from either Charlie Chanciop or Rob Moir, or both, in order to spring the upset. They will also have to play some great defense, too.
I'm sure some of the old Housatonic League coaches will be pulling for Kelo to win his first state championship (he brought Seymour there in 1992, before Seymour moved over to the NVL). Seymour was last there in 2003 and will be forever a part of history when another olf Housy League coach, Bob DeMayo, got career win No. 700. DeMayo still sets the state-record pace at 764 and counting...
Saturday starts off with Class S, pitting the top two seeds (No. 1 St. Bernard vs. No. 2 Northwest Catholic) against one another. St. Bernard will have to try and win it without head coach Mike Garvie, who was ejected during the semifinal-round win over Trinity Catholic. Although my finals pre-tournament predictions in Class S (with Northwest winning) and M (Waterford over Seymour) are intact, Class LL is a different story.
No, Norwalk did not upset Amity, nor did Fitch win it all (BTW, Matt Harvey went from a projected first-round selection for Fitch to being selected at No. 118. I wonder how much Scott Boras' influence had to do with the fall). Amity returns for the third straight year against newcomer Newington. Don't be in any rish to give Amity the trophy just yet - Newington has beaten Cheshire, Notre Dame, Fitch and Bunnell along the way. Three of those teams were preseason top 10 teams in the Register poll. Still Amity is the favorite.
That leaves Guilford seeking its first title against Pomperaug back for a second straight year. Kudos to an anonymous responder who suggested the voters were underrating Pomperaug this season. The Panthers have peaked at the proper time, but they will have their hands full with Guilford, which can play small-ball with the best of them.
Feel free to share your finals predictions with me in the next day or so. Let's hope for good weather and competitive games.
See all of you at Yale Field.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sweet 16

We are down to the semifinals and all four No. 1 seeds are still alive in the state baseball tournament. That should not be a surprise, but predicting baseball is not like other sports.
How many people outside of Newington had the Indians taking out Fitch in 12 innings? But Newington deserves a lot of credit to hang tough against Fitch ace Matt Harvey in relief before using a suicide squeeze in the 12th to win. That is the biggest surprise of the tournament.
The one team to beat Harvey, Plainville, almost provided the knockout punch to another ECC school, Waterford, in Saturday's M quarterfinals. But Waterford rallied in the seventh to stay alive. I was not there, but Waterford has shown some resiliency in the late innings this year, including a come-from-behind win against Bunnell. This is probably a stretch, but this team could resemble the moxie of the 2002 Fairfield team that came from behind to beat West Haven in extra innings in the Class LL quarterfinals at Yale Field, then went onto win the title and finish No. 1 in the Register Top 10 poll.
Speaking of No. 1, the top two teams, Amity and Waterford are still there. I would imagine if one of them loses, the other would finish in the top spot. It would be difficult for Bunnell or Stamford to come from out of the top 10 to finish first. Newington came in ranked ninth.
Bunnell-Newington should be a fine tilt at Yale Field Tuesday at 3:30, followed by Amity-Stamford at 7. In Class L, Guilford takes on a perennial Class L contender, Berlin, in the semis at Palmer Field in Middletown at 7. This will not be easy at all for Guilford, which has had a storybook season and has handed Amity its only loss of the season. Bristol Eastern played second fiddle in town to Bristol Central, but Eastern vs. Pomperaug, last year's finalist, should be interesting as well.
The remaining two NVL schools, Woodland and Seymour, must battle a pair of ECC schools, Waterford and Montville, respectively, in the semifinals Tuesday at at eastern Connecticut. Can Woodland derail Waterford? Will Montville return to the title game and possibly defend its championship? That would make for a another storybook season.
St. Bernard took out Career in the S quarterfinals. That team should reach the final where the Northwest Catholic-Windsor Locks winner will await. Windsor Locks is the defending champion.
In fact, the only defending champ eliminated is Branford in Class L. Should be an interesting day Tuesday.