2017 in review: The Top 10 Berkshire County sports stories of the year
Championships, disappointing losses, outstanding performances. Those were all recorded during 2017.
It was quite a year in sports around here.
Based on a poll of Berkshire Eagle sportswriters, here's a look back at the top 10 sports stories of the year.
1. Taconic wins MIAA state Division I baseball title
Could there be any other choice? Since 1966, only four Berkshire County high school baseball teams had won a state title. Pittsfield in 1966 was the last Division I state title team and St. Joseph in 1975 was the last team in the city of Pittsfield to claim the crown. The win didn't come angst free.
"To win states, being a five seed [in Western Mass.], everyone saying we don't have a good schedule and all this stuff," said winning pitcher Izaiya Mestre. "They can't say anything now. We're state champs."
As historic and memorable as beating Wellesley 5-1 in the state title game was, the state semifinal game was one for the ages. The Braves rallied to tie the game in the seventh inning and won on a walk-off single by Jake McNeice to beat Wachusett 12-11.
In the final, Izaiya Mestre hit the first Wellesley batter of the game, quickly settled in, and went on to pitch the Braves to a 5-1 win over the South sectional champions. Taconic, who lost in an extra-inning, regular-season finale at Pope Francis in Springfield, finished 24-1. That loss was the only blemish.
Only two of those Taconic players return for the coming 2018 season.
"Come next spring in March, I'm going to look in the gym and these guys are going to be off to college," Stannard said after the Braves got the trophy in Worcester. "I'm happy for them. I'm ecstatic. They've worked hard for everything they've got."
2. Pittsfield wins Western Mass. girls basketball title
For the first time since 2002, the Pittsfield girls won a Western Mass. basketball title, defeating Belchertown in the Division II title game. Pittsfield's last title came in 2002 on the back end of consecutive D-I crowns. For Pittsfield's Peyton Steinman, it was the erasing of some heartache. Steinman and the Generals had lost in Western Mass. finals in 2015 and 2016, and dropped a semifinal decision in 2014. "I've been waiting for this for a while," said Steinman. "To finally have this is a dream come true."
Steinman finished her PHS career with 1,728 points, and has taken her game to Division II St. Anselm, where she is a teammate of Pittsfield's Grace Guachione, a graduate of Miss Hall's School.
3. Mount Greylock girls win cross-country state title
Winning Western Mass. cross-country titles is nothing new for Berkshire County teams. Mount Greylock won in 2017, with Lenox having won the year before. But it had been a long time since a Greylock team had run to a state crown. The Mounties did it this year, and while running isn't easy, they did it with relative ease.
"I told the girls all season, I think we are the deepest team in Division II in the state," said Greylock coach Larry Bell. "I wasn't lying to them. It's still shocking. To win a state title, Greylock doesn't realize how rare it is. We've had so many comparatively, but it's been like 22 or 23 years since we won our last one."
Led by freshman Jackie Wells, the Mounties scored 87 points in the state championship at Wrentham. That was 38 points better than runner-up Nauset and 39 better than third-place Lenox. It was quite a Saturday for the Mounties, who beat Lenox by only three points in the Western Mass. Division II meet at Northfield.
4. St. Joseph closes, leaves a lasting athletic legacy
When Jessie Tobin won two individual events and was a part of a relay win at the Western Massachusetts girls swim championships, it meant more to her than just a gold medal.
"I've been thinking about it for weeks in advance," Tobin said, referring to the pending closing of the high school. "There's a lot of pressure to win. I want to do it for my school, especially because it's closing. It's probably why I cried when we won the first relay, because I was so happy that St. Joe, even though it's the last time we are going to be represented, we went out with wins and it was a great meet."
Tobin's teammate Ellie Field, also had a pair of individual wins in that meet, but Field was part of a co-op from Hoosac Valley.
The curtain came down on Senior Day in baseball, when Hunter Fox homered. It was the last home run in school history.
"It's sad to see," Crusader senior Mike Gingras said. "We have so much potential on the team. If we had a few more years — even look at basketball and baseball — if we had a few more years, we'd be back to where we were."
5. Hoosac reaches state football championship game
It is 137 miles from where Hoosac Valley started its football season to where the season wrapped up. But what a run it was.
The Hurricanes advanced to the MIAA Division VIII Super Bowl, where they played Millis on the artificial surface at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. It is never easy to have your first loss be the last game of the season, but that's exactly what happened to coach Dayne Poirot's team. The Hurricanes lost 37-0, and were outgained 389 yards to 180.
Don't think that this loss will haunt that football team.
"It was like nothing I've ever done before," Hoosac Valley's Adam Bush said. "It was really amazing. Even though we came out with the loss today, just having that experience, knowing I had that experience with my team and with my family, it just means so much."
6. Williams wins NCAA Division III women's soccer title
When Ilana Albert was starting her senior year at Pittsfield High School, a reporter asked her about her college ideas. She said her dream school was Williams, and having a chance to play there. Not only did she get in and make the team, but she donned a cow suit for an airplane ride to the NCAA Division III Final Four.
"It's kind of a ridiculous freshman year," Albert said before the Ephs left for Greensboro, N.C. "I couldn't have asked for a better freshman year, honestly."
Albert was one of many first-year players who played key roles for the Williams team that won its second NCAA Division III championship in three years. It was the fourth time in the last five years that the Ephs were a national semifinalist.
Defender Danielle Sim was named the D-III player of the year, Pinard and her staff won the coaching award, and Williams brought home another trophy after beating Chicago 1-0.
"I think no matter what happened today I was going to leave proud," Pinard said after winning the title, "but I think I am in just in awe right now of what happened out there and what these women did together."
7. Berkshire County high schoolers dominate in the snow
Winter usually comes early to the Berkshires, and some say this is why the county's high school snow athletes perform well. Their performances in 2017 earned a spot on the list.
The Mount Greylock Nordic teams traveled to Prospect Mountain in Vermont for the MIAA championships, and came home with dual championship trophies. The girls won their second straight title, while the Greylock boys made it seven — count 'em — seven in a row.
"It's so cool. It's so nice. We're not just a boys team or a girls team," Greylock boys' racer Evan Arthur told a reporter. "We're a complete team."
What Tanner Hill did on the mountain at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in the MIAA Alpine meet was just as impressive.
As a freshman, the Wahconah ski racer finished 32nd overall in the slalom. As a sophomore, he did a whole lot better. Hill was the slalom champion. He skied the race hill in 39.10 seconds, beating Andover's Jason Dennoncourt by two-tenths of a second.
"It feels so much better," said Hill, who also finished fourth in the Giant Slalom. "I think this year, I just clicked."
Lenox's Ella King did her part at the Alpine meet, finishing second for the second time in three seasons. It was her third top-three in three years, as she finished third in 2015.
8. Hoosac Valley girls win fifth straight Western Mass. basketball title
"The whole season it's been 'drive for five' and it has been a lot of pressure on us," senior Fallon Field said at the Curry Hicks Cage in March, "but it gave us something to work towards. And, especially for me and [Kailynne Frederick], bringing this home again — no matter what happens over the next week, we are going to leave Hoosac as champions, and we can make our community proud."
Hoosac's 48-37 win over rival South Hadley in the Western Massachusetts Division III championship game gave the Hurricanes a fourth-consecutive Western Mass. D-III title, and a fifth straight crown overall. In that run, coach Ron Wojcik's Hurricanes have beaten North Berkshire rival Drury twice, Sabis, Granby and last year's victim from South Hadley.
The Hurricanes parlayed those five Western Mass. titles into four state title game appearances. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they are still looking for the first state title to hang a banner on the wall.
"The championship, don't get me wrong, is great and we love it," Wojcik said after the Western Mass. title game, "but it's the relationships that you form with the kids that are more important than anything."
9. Lenox's Shannon Meisberger wins New England title in track and field
The Lenox hurdler was dominant throughout her high school career, but in her final season for the Millionaires Meisberger turned it up a notch by winning a New England title in the 300-meter hurdles. Meisberger raced at Norwell High School and held off Glastonbury, Conn's Danielle Brinckman, 43.41 seconds to 43.44.
"It was a lot of practice," Meisberger said about what went into her performance. "It was kind of an odd race for me to run, considering I run the 400 hurdles [in Massachusetts]. My start wasn't great, but I was able to pull it out in the end."
The win came a year after she finished second at the New England meet. Meisberger said a win in 2017 was the goal all season.
"I had my eye on it for a while, so to finally do it, it was a great achievement," she said.
Meisberger's New England win followed up her run through the 400 hurdles at the MIAA meets, where she finished first in the Central/West Division II meet and the All-State meet. She was the first Millionaire to win an All-State title.
10. Division I teams mining Berkshire hills for gold
Just starting this list of athletes made us have to catch our breath.
Berkshire County doesn't usually turn out a ton of Division I athletes every year. But 2017 was one of those years.
There's Jenna Benzinger, now playing basketball at Brown. Track athletes Emma Jourdain and Shannon Meisberger went from Lenox to the University of Maine and Georgetown, respectively.
Drury's Connor Meehan is now running track at Drury, Bryce Daley has committed to play for Pat Duquette at UMass Lowell.
Taconic's Drew DeMartino graduated early this year, and will play baseball for the University of Hartford in 2018. Another Brave, Devon Walker, also signed to play football for St. Francis University in Pennsylvania and completed his freshman season this fall.
Oh, don't forget former Lenox player Bailey Patella, who turned his prep career at Vermont Academy into a spot on the University of Vermont men's basketball team.
There's also Julia Murphy, who also went prep and signed to play softball for Providence. Lenox's Matt Tibbetts also verballed to Holy Cross this fall for soccer.
All around the county, athletes got their opportunities to take their talents to the Division I level.
Not every outstanding sports story can make the Eagle Top 10.
Here are a sample of some of the other top stories from 2017, brought to you in no particular order.
Wahconah football wins another Western Mass. championship. The Warriors played in a new division in 2017, and won the D-VII title with a 44-20 win over Frontier Regional. That's the fourth Western Mass. title for Gary Campbell Jr. and his charges since 2013.
For the first time since 2013, the Monument Mountain girls tennis team made it to the state championship. The Spartans won the Western Mass. Division III title, beating Lee 3-2. The Spartans beat Hopedale 3-2 in the state semis, but lost to Martha's Vineyard 5-0 in the finals. Monument finished with a 13-1 record.
The Williams men's basketball team returned to Salem, Va. for the NCAA Division III Final Four. The Ephs knocked off Middlebury — which beat Williams in the NESCAC championship game — in the Elite Eight, before falling to Augustana in the Final Four.
Wahconah's baseball team won its second Western Mass. Division III championship in as many seasons. The Warriors beat Mount Greylock to hoist the trophy, but lost in the state semifinals to Auburn. It marked the second consecutive season that a future state D-III champion beat Wahconah in the semis, as Groton-Dunstable had turned the trick in 2016.
Monument Mountain's wrestling team won its first Western Mass. title since 2014, taking the Division III crown. The Spartans' Nate Cormier (145 pounds) and Mount Greylock's Devin Pelletier (170) were individual Western Mass. champs. Pelletier, ranked No. 1 in the state, graduated with a Massachusetts career win mark.
In tennis, Mount Greylock's Jacob Fink dropped the first set to Belchertown's Jon Vinagre and was two games down in the second set. But Fink rebounded, won the match in three sets and Greylock went on to win its third consecutive Western Mass. Division III championship. It was the sixth straight time a Berkshire County boys team had won the team title.
Pittsfield's Kevin Donati had quite the summer for the Pittsfield Suns of the Futures League. The Pittsfield High School graduate and University at Albany player was sixth in the league with a .344 batting average, four home runs and 21 RBI, making the All-Star first team. Donati also made history by hitting the first inside-the-park grand slam in team history, doing it against North Shore. Donati's grand slam came off of reliever Austin Batchelor. The UAlbany infielder hit the ball to deep center, just to the right of the football press box. The ball bounced away from Navigators center fielder Brad Douglas, and the former Pittsfield High School standout had more than enough speed to not even have to beat a throw home.
Tom Hankey Jr. of Great Barrington won the Teen Masters grand championship last summer, bowling in Richmond, Va.
It was a record-setting 2017 at the Josh Billings RunAground. The Allen Heights Veterinary team of cyclist Josh Lipka, paddlers Tom Keefe and Ben Pigott and runner Steve Monsulick not only broke the kayak record they set in 2016, but got their goal of surpassing the Josh overall time record that had been in the books since the turn of the century. Kent Lemme won another Kayak Ironman title and broke his own record.
The North Adams SteepleCats saw a changeover in management. President Dan Bosley stepped down and was replaced by Allen Hall. Andrew Agostini replaced Jonah Bayliss as the team's general manager. Stu Pederson did not return as the team's field manager. He was replaced by St. Anselm assistant baseball coach Justin Sumner.
The Lenox boys soccer team finally got over its championship hump. After coming up short the previous two seasons, the Millionaires got it done in 2017 with a 4-0 win over Drury in the Western Mass. Division IV title game. Both teams made it to the championship game in impressive fashion, with the No. 4 Blue Devils beating No. 1 Hopkins 2-1, while the No. 2 Millionaires used an overtime goal from Zach Suffish to beat No. 6 Pioneer.
While Meisberger claimed a top-10 spot for her hurdling exploits, two other Berkshire County athletes brought home individual titles at the Central/West Division II meet. Wahconah's Victoria Gamberoni won the two mile and Drury's Connor Meehan won the 800.
The Mount Greylock boys cross-country team continued its dynastic run in Division II, as the Mounties claimed their eighth straight sectional crown. Jesse Seid took home the top individual honors to lead the way.
In golf, Lee's Thomas Fraser and Wahconah's Nate Dos Santos each captured Western Mass. individual titles. Fraser won the D-III crown with a 77 at The Orchards in South Hadley, defeating Hopkin's Jack TerDoest and St. Mary's Luke Willenborg by two strokes. Dos Santos captured the D-II title at Cranwell, shooting a 75 to defeat Southwick's James Longhi by four strokes.
Lists like these are always up for interpretation. Let us know what you thought we got right, what we got wrong, or what we missed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
2017 was a memorable year in Berkshire County sports, here's to 2018 bringing even more memories.