By The Post-Journal Sports Staff
Less than a week away from welcoming in a new year, it's only appropriate that we pause and remember some of the top local athletic achievements/events from 2012.
In 2012, Maple Grove’s Hope Pietrocarlo, left, led the Lady Red Dragons to their third straight state Class D cross country title; Randolph coach Pat Slater directed the Cardinals to their third state Class D football championship; and Frewsburg’s Thad Johnson, below, set a state hits record.
P-J file photos
As is usually the case in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, there were plenty.
Enjoy taking a trip down memory lane.
Before Frewsburg senior Thad Johnson could begin a postgame interview in late May, Coach Jay Grann handed him a navy-blue T-shirt. Emblazoned on the front were five words: ''New York State Hit King.''
Johnson pulled it down over his head and made sure it fit just right over his No. 5 jersey.
Like everything else in an incredible six-year varsity career, Johnson wore it well.
Not wasting any time, Johnson deposited a 1-1 pitch over the left-field fence leading off the bottom of the first inning for his state record-breaking 189th career hit, surpassing the previous mark of 188 set in 2008 by Adam Cutspec of Fort Plain. The home run - Johnson also tied the record with a tape-measure blast at Falconer - was one of three extra-base hits he had to lead the top-seeded Bears to an easy victory over No. 8 Holland in a Section 6 Class C quarterfinal at the Robert H. Jackson Elementary School Sports Complex.
Johnson's spectacular afternoon was really a microcosm of his senior season where he earned first team all-state by the New York State Sportswriters Association and Western New York Player of the Year, was honored in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd and was the catalyst that helped the Bears to their sixth straight sectional title and their third trip to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four in the last four years.
Johnson, who would finish his career with an even 200 hits, batted .562, scored 52 runs, drove in 28 and smacked 11 doubles, eight triples and six home runs. In addition to his hits record, Johnson ranks second on the state's all-time list in runs scored, third in triples, seventh in doubles and tied for 13th in RBIs.
An era came to a remarkable - and fitting - end the day after Thanksgiving at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Pat Slater, who coached the Randolph Cardinals football team since 1979, decided to step down, but not before guiding the Cardinals to their third New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship.
Sparked by a strong defensive effort and four rushing touchdowns, the top-ranked Cardinals knocked off No. 2 Tuckahoe of Section 1, 28-7, before a large contingent of Randolph faithful.
''You could have robbed the town,'' Slater said with a laugh. ''There wasn't anybody left (at home).''
Maybe the fans wanted to send their beloved coach off in style, too.
With his wife and two adult children looking on, Slater watched his team continue a proud tradition that took root a generation ago and has returned a bountiful harvest in the last two decades, including state crowns in 2005 and 2009.
Slater retired with 213 career wins, eight Section 6 championships and the three state crowns, but the life lessons he's imparted to his players - past and present - are incalculable.
''He means everything to us,'' said junior Cody Oldro, who was the game's most valuable player. ''We love him like he's our own dad. He takes care of us, works us hard every day and we thank him for it every single day.''
In his typical style, Slater downplayed his role, crediting his assistant coaches, which include Brent Brown, Gerald Carlson, Kevin Hind and Nate Armella. Two other former players, Greg Sherlock and Lucas Burch, have also played important roles in the team's success.
''All these guys step in and everybody works together, and that's what it's all about,'' Slater said. ''It's not one person, believe me. Everybody has to pull their own weight and these guys all do.''
But whether he liked it or not, it was hard not to notice the normally stoic coach get emotional once the game was decided. Slater exchanged hugs with players, assistant coaches and other support personnel, and then accepted the state championship plaque.
All the while the he struggled to keep his composure.
''Seeing my coach cry,'' senior Jordan Dowiasz said, ''brought tears to my eyes, too.''
At the start of the 2011-12 season, The Post-Journal covered a Jamestown High School swim meet and took a bunch of photos, including one of the record board that is mounted on on the wall at the east end of the pool.
Andrew Marsh's name was all over it.
The West Virginia-bound senior only got better as the season went along, capped by his performance at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships at the Flickinger Center in Buffalo last weekend.
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Peaking at just the right time - did we expect anything less? - Marsh became the first Jamestown swimmer to ever win a state title, capturing the 100-yard butterfly with a school-record time of 49.75, which earned him All-American status.
Earning all-state recognition of any kind is rare and an accomplishment to be applauded, but to be among the top of your sport from Bangor, Maine to Long Beach, Calif., and points in between is, well, once in a generation.
For good measure, Marsh also placed third (among public schools) in the 100 backstroke and sixth overall with a 50.97 clocking, which was good for All-American consideration.
Mike Ekstrom took over the Salamanca Warriors wrestling program for the 2011-12 season and had a front-row seat to history as senior Ben Haas captured his second consecutive NYSPHSAA championship at the Times-Union Center in Albany.
"To be here and actually coach someone like that,'' he said, "you will never forget that. I can coach for 30 years and that will be one kid I will always remember."
Wrestling at 152 pounds, Haas recorded a major decision and two technical falls to advance to the championship match where he met Derek Pflueger of Sandy Creek. The tandem had a combined 505 career victories, but it was Haas who came out on top, rallying for a 4-3 victory and another state crown.
PANAMA BOYS BASKETBALL
The photo in a March edition of The Post-Journal told the story better than words ever could.
The Section 6 Class D championship game had just ended and Panama coach Ed Nelson stood near the Panthers' bench and shared a long embrace with senior Nick Lenart.
The hug not only signified an amazing season, but it also signified one of the best in school history. In fact, the title-game victory over rival Clymer was the first at Panama since the 1970-71 campaign when Coach Ron Schrecengost led the Panthers to a 19-1 record, including a 69-36 win over Sherman in the championship contest at St. Bonaventure University.
"I think this (victory) is a community thing, too,'' Nelson said after the game. "A lot of coaches have been through here and a lot of players as well, so it's a big monkey off our back. It's been 41 years since we last won a sectional championship, and that's quite a stretch so I think it's a monkey off of everybody's back more than just mine or the team's.''
For Christina Walter, her performance at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Track & Field Championships was as simple as 1-2-3-4.
The sophomore from Maple Grove Junior-Senior High School successfully solved her problematic starts, led from start to finish and captured both the Division 2 100 and 200 meters at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. Furthermore, Walter became the first Red Dragon to depart with gold medals at a state meet, said assistant coach Doc Rappole.
According to Rappole, Walter's lead was never challenged after her first four strides out of the block. After posting times of 12.26 (second place) and 25.29 (fourth place) in the 100 and 200 preliminaries, Walter posted winning times of 12.46 and 25.46 in the finals.
Corey Wefing had seen the times, and boy, were they fast.
East Aurora's Sean Phillips held the top seed in all of Section 6 in the 3,200 meters with a time of 9:29.47, and Nate Smith of Pioneer was right behind him at 9:29.92. Wefing was fast, too, of course. Fourth in the section fast.
But he hadn't ever been that fast. That is, of course, until one day in May. Wefing, who entered the Section 6 Track & Field Championships as the fourth-seeded runner - his time of 9:47.50 was more than17 seconds behind Phillips - surprised even himself on day one of the state qualifier when, after biding his time by staying with the pack over the first 2,900 meters of the race, he found that little something extra within himself to pull away and capture not only the race, but a trip to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Track & Field Championships.
Since joining the Silver Creek varsity lacrosse team as an eighth grader, Zeddie Williams has racked up points at a pace faster than anyone else in New York State Public High School Athletic Association lacrosse history on the way to leading the Black Knights to three consecutive Section 6 Class C championships.
So fast, in fact, that this past season he already managed to snap the 18-year-old state record for points in a career - as a junior. During his squad's Far West Regional game against Section 5's Penn Yan, Williams tied Casey Powell's 1994 record for most career points by recording No. 533 with an assist to teammate Marvin Curry at the 11-minute mark. Later that game, the standout moved into sole possession of the record when he fired a shot from 20 yards out to beat the netminder.
An already stellar cross country season in the books, things just got a little sweeter for coach Robert "Doc" Rappole and his Maple Grove runners.
Rappole, who guided the Lady Red Dragons to an impressive third straight New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D title back in early November at Elma Meadows Golf Course, was recently named the Class D girls cross country coach of the year, while two of his pupils, Hope Pietrocarlo and Corey Wefing, were selected to the Class D All-State first-team.
Pietrocarlo, a freshman and an All-Western New York first-team selection, finished third in the state meet for the second year in a row behind a finishing time of 18:57.
Wefing, who won all of his races over the course of the season save the last, was also an All-WNY first-team choice and raced out to a solid fifth place (at a 5:21 mile pace) at the state meet with a finishing time of 16:32.4 - his best ever at Elma Meadows.
But those were just two of many local runners who made the all-state list.
Besides Pietrocarlo, fellow Lady Red Dragons Caroline Benson and Megan Marsh made the second team while Taylor Norris made the third and Abby Sirwatka was an honorable mention.
Sherman's Holly Eliason was also a second-team selection in Class D and her teammate, Rebecca King, along with Silver Creek eighth-grader Emma Seiders, were honorable mentions.
Lauren Reyda of Fredonia was named to the third team and Kirsten Holmberg of Falconer was an honorable mention in Class C.
For the boys, meanwhile, Wefing's biggest competition during the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association season, John Pannes of Olean, was an honorable mention for Class B.
There was a moment, late in their opening-round playoff contest against the Chautauqua Lake Lady Thunderbirds in May, that the Frewsburg Bears finally, and truly, started to play with that intangible asset coach Jon Blanchard values above all else - emotion.
Already in the midst of a four-game skid, the Bears' season, one that had started with such promise, was on the brink after having fallen behind on three separate occasions to the eighth-seeded Lady Thunderbirds and seeing their starting pitcher and ace, Samantha Mott, relieved from the circle.
While it may have been enough to crush other teams, the setbacks and challenges only motivated the Bears more. And as Blanchard huddled his troops in the bottom of the seventh inning, he could see it in their eyes.
"At the end of the Chautauqua Lake game you could see them play differently," he recalled. "They started to play with emotion and that has spilled over the rest of the way."
After the come-from-behind victory on that sunny day in late May, emotion - that will to win despite all obstacles - was ever present as the Bears battled their way through the playoffs, picking up big win after big win after big win on the way to a second straight Section 6 Class C title, a second straight Far West Regional victory and a second straight trip to the state softball final four.
FALCONER GIRLS TRACK
The streak continued.
Sporting an unblemished record in Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association dual meets since 2001, the Falconer girls track and field team kept that winning tradition alive in the spring after putting together yet another undefeated campaign.
Together the squad, which overcame the loss of a number of key contributers due to graduation last year, compiled a perfect record of 7-0 overall and 6-0 in Division 1. In the last dual meet of the season, the Lady Golden Falcons clinched their 11th consecutive Division 1 crown and won their 89th league contest in a row.
Last fall, Jamestown Community College baseball coach Anthony Barone told his team that he expected it to be the best in NJCAA Region 3 Division III by the spring.
The Jayhawks certainly played like it in the last month of their season.
Spearheaded by outstanding pitching, JCC advanced to the regional Final Four and finished the season 25-22 after a 7-18 start. The Jayhawks' midseason turnaround began in early April, and after dropping a hard-fought game to Niagara County Community College, they proceeded to win 17 of their next 19 games, including the last 10 in a row, on their way to earning their first trip to the regional Final Four since 2004.
JCC GOLF TEAM
Special describes Jamestown Community College's performance at the NJCAA Division III National Golf Tournament where it finished in second place.
Freshman Jake Yartz led the way by shooting 74-77-73-75-299 to finish fifth and capture NJCAA All-American first-team honors. Sophomore Casey Davidson, and freshmen Andrew Bird, Drew Chaddock and Brenton Wilcox also played well, capping a special season in which the Jayhawks finished first three times, second four times and had three third-place finishes in invitationals. Then, even though JCC received an automatic bid into the nationals as the host team, the Jayhawks earned their spot by finishing second at the NJCAA Region 3 Division III Tournament. The team was coached by Brett Mucheck, who was in his first year.
The Jamestown Community College women's volleyball team was planning a nice dinner to cap their November weekend at the NJCAA Division III National Tournament.
Here's guessing that the conversation was undoubtedly upbeat, even giddy.
For in a season in which they were few in numbers, the Jayhawks, who numbered six, proved on the biggest stage that they are one of the nation's best.
Sophomore Brittany Brace had 19 kills, 12 digs and two blocks to lead No. 5 JCC to a 19-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-23, 15-11 victory over No. 6 Howard County (Md.) CC to claim fourth place in the tournament, which was held at the University Center Sports Center.
Brace, who earned a place on the all-tournament team, had plenty of help from her teammates.
Sophomore Anna Nietupski had an ace, seven kills, 37 digs and one block; freshman Christina Rauh had five aces, 33 assists, 12 kills, 17 digs and one block; freshman Aricca Lis had one ace, 14 kills and 21 digs; and sophomore Kelsey Kyser had three aces, 10 kills and 13 digs.
''It's all about them,'' said Coach Ashley Lund, who earned her 101st career victory. ''They put in the effort and the time on the court. It's all because of them that it happened.''
RANDOLPH GIRLS BASKETBALL
Marah Maycock and McKenna Maycock took turns making headlines during the 2011-12 basketball, which included a run from late February to mid-March in which the Lady Cardinals advanced to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C championship game at Hudson Valley Community College.
Marah finished with 2,000 career points, but her younger sister, only a freshman, already has hit the 1,000-point plateau is on course to do even better by the time she's through.
One of New York State's top wrestlers during his six-year varsity career, Mitchell turned in an impressive performance in July at the AAU National Wrestling Duals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
All told, Mitchell, who was part of a team called the New York Kong, posted an 11-0 record at 170 pounds to earn All-American status. Along the way, he dominated opponents from Pennsylvania, Missouri, South Dakota, Illinois, Georgia, Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan and Delaware. He was so dominant, in fact, that he won nine matches by major decision, one by pin and one by technical fall.
"I think that was the best I've wrestled in my life,'' Mitchell said. "When my team was down, I always felt like I came through. I kind of picked them up.''
The New York Kong, comprised of the Empire State's top wrestlers, finished eighth among 46 teams.
HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS TENNIS
For the first time in 10 years, the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association sent a singles player - Rachel Mole of Frewsburg -to the state championships in November. She was joined by the Southwestern doubles team of Victoria Van Every and Elizabeth Rowan.
LUCAS OIL DIRT
LATE MODEL RACING
By 4:30 one July afternoon, just a little over an hour after the gates at Stateline Speedway were opened to the general public and some two hours before race cars began making their first laps around the 3/8-mile dirt oval, the three large grass parking lots surrounding the track were already nearing full capacity.
An hour later, those lots were filled, and excited race fans were left with no other option but to park their cars along Kortwright Road. Soon that row of cars along the road, numbering in the hundreds, stretched nearly a mile in both directions, and the shuttle service ferrying people to and from their vehicles was hard at work.
It was that kind of event.
"This is a really big deal," Randy Anderson, president of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame and a local racing historian, said, "These drivers are the best of the best and (former Stateline owner Lynn "Fritz" Seamens) wanted the best of the best at his racetrack. He started the process in 2010, and its taken three years to put this together because all racetracks want these guys. So you can understand why I'm excited about it."
Three years in the making and the late Seamens' dream of having his track finally host the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series was made a reality in July as people from far and wide made the trek to the event to witness some of the top drivers in the country battle for the $10,000 prize at the Empire 50.