Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Looking back on top moments of 2018-19 athletic school year
When the curtain came down on last week's Berkshire Eagle All Star Gala, it also brought down the curtain on the 2018-19 school year.
Whether you played a sport for one of Berkshire County's high schools or one of two local colleges, it was a year filled with memories and accomplishments.
Here, in no particular order of importance and by no means a complete listing, are some of my more memorable moments of the year just ending.
Between Lee's Thomas Fraser and Hoosac Valley's Henry Sniezek, Berkshire County was the epicenter of high school golf.
Both golfers were medalist at their respective Western Massachusetts championships. Sniezek helped lead Hoosac Valley to a Division II tournament title. Fraser, meanwhile, was medalist at the Division III tournament at Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamstown. He shot even-par 71 and was the only golfer to get near par that day. The Wildcats took home the D-III team title.
"Every day in practice when you're playing with him, you see the way he keeps himself composed," Dylan Ely, a Wildcat freshman, said. "He's such a leader on this team. He really helps all of us do the best we can every day."
Lee was also involved in one of the more heart-in-your-throat moments of the 2018-19 school year. That came on the rain-soaked artificial turf at Williams College's Farley-Lamb Field.
Lee and Hoosac Valley battled for the Western Mass. Division VIII football championship game.
A touchdown by Homer Winston with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter and a two-point conversion run by J.J. Jimenez tied the game at 8-8, which is how regulation ended.
In high school football, teams get four downs from the 10-yard line to score in overtime. A penalty put the Hoosac offense on the five, and Justin Meczywor scored on a run. Liam Feeley's conversion run made it 16-8.
Lee faced second down on the eight when Winston hit Cole Redstone in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. The rain and the Hoosac defense helped cause a fumble on the two-point try, and Hoosac had its championship.
"I looked at everyone and said 'This is our season right here, these two points. If we stop them, we win,'" Hoosac's Meczywor said after Winston threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Redstone.
"The ball was rolling around on the ground, and the whole time, I thought we had it," said Meczywor. "I was screaming 'Oh my God, the ball's still down.' I don't even know what to say, I'm still shook."
Lee coach Keith Thomson tried to smile, but that did not come easy.
"We had a few opportunities that we missed. We made a few too many mistakes. Hats off to Hoosac, they did a great job," he said after the game. "Our kids stayed in the fight. I'm awfully proud of them to come back and tie it up, and had that shot in overtime.
"It stings right now, but we're real proud of our kids."
There are some dynasties that live in Berkshire County. The Taconic baseball team has won two state titles in three years. The Hoosac Valley girls basketball team has won six Western Mass. titles in seven seasons and finally won a state title last March. I didn't even mention the powerhouses that are the Mount Greylock cross-country running and Nordic skiing teams.
But if you want to see the true definition of a dynasty, one only needs to watch the Williams College women's soccer team.
There are 441 NCAA Division III women's soccer teams in the United States, and for a school of just over 2,000 students to win three national championships in the past four seasons is an incredible accomplishment.
The title in 2018 did not come easy. Coach Michelyne Pinard's team had to go on the road in the Rounds of 16 and 8, and faced a familiar foe in Middlebury in the national championship game.
I happened to catch up with Pinard and her team after they returned to Williamstown, trophy in hand. It is a team that includes two area players who play big roles for the team. Ilana Albert went to Pittsfield High School, while Georgia Lord is from nearby Manchester, Vt.
The teams played 110 minutes of 1-1 soccer, and unfortunately, had to go to penalty kicks (the worst possible way to decide a national championship). Williams, behind senior goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill, won 3-2 to claim the title.
"I knew it was the last [kick], and I had followed the score this time, unlike other times. Often I don't know what the score is," Barnhill said, when asked to recall Eliza Robinson's final penalty kick. "I don't know if it's better. It's hard to pay attention when you're so focused on just making a save.
"I knew that if we saved it, we would win, which was an exciting opportunity."
Williams' Rain Condie had scored her penalty kick to put the Ephs up 3-2. Robinson was Middlebury's last chance, because Barnhill had made a stop on a PK by Riley Kinum that would have tied the score at 2-2.
"I've been able to read PKs pretty well in my experience, which has been interesting and fun. Once you start to read them and where they're going to go," Barnhill said, "you can start to cheat a little bit."
Robinson shot to the left post, but Barnhill read the shooter and got her hands on the ball, which caromed off the post and out of danger.
"As soon as I touched the ball, I knew it wasn't going in," Barnhill said. "You can see me turn around, because in case it starts to roll back. If it rolls back and off of the post, it would have been a goal. Once I knew it was definitely not going in, I was excited.
"I knew we had won, but it still felt incredibly surreal."
And if there was one team that let out the biggest sigh of relief in winning a Western Massachusetts title, it had to come from the Drury boys basketball team.
After all, the Blue Devils had not claimed a championship trophy since 1990.
Drury had two comfortable wins out of the gate in the Division IV field, before needing overtime to beat Pioneer Valley 76-72. That was, of course, the same Pioneer squad that got a buzzer-beating 3-point shot from Garrett Cote the year before to beat Drury 68-67 in the 2018 semifinals.
Cote scored 29 in the 2019 version of the semifinal, but the Blue Devils locked up the semifinal win as Scott McGuire Jr. made a pair of free throws with 6.7 seconds left. There would be no Panther comeback in 2019.
From there, the Blue Devils beat Ware 65-49. It was Drury's first championship Saturday appearance since 2009, and their first title since beating South Hadley in 1990 for the Division II crown.
"I've been growing up my whole life going to my dad's practices then watching him go home and stay up all night watching film," Reece Racette said to Eagle reporter Jake Mendel after the championship win over Ware. "Our team was the first one to bring him a Western Mass. title and it's a special group of guys who have been working since the summer. This is something that means the world to me."
Everybody has a memory of the 2018-19 school year. These were just a few of them.
And just think, in only eight weeks or so, we get to start it all over again.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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