EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 29, 2013

The Year of the Knights: A look back at the year in sports

North Andover's unforgettable debut MVC season among scores of memories to cherish

High School Sports
Michael Muldoon

---- — Another memorable year in local sports is in the books.

There were literally hundreds of compelling stories. Here, in no particular order, are my favorites.

Unforgettable year for Knights

What a debut season for North Andover in the Merrimack Valley Conference. You could go on and on and on, but here’s the CliffsNotes version.

The basketball team had one of the greatest years in school history, reaching the Division 2 North final, stunned Central Catholic with a game-ending 33-9 run and sharing MVC title. Football coach John Rafferty fired and after a firestorm of protests is rehired. Legendary coaches Mike McVeigh, Bill Tarbox and Bud McCarthy retired. Danielle Coughlin became the first female wrestler in Massachusetts history to win a state title. Morgan Lumb became the first NA girl to earn a Division 1 basketball scholarship in 35 years and Isaiah Nelsen was the first boy hoopster to earn a scholarship in 38 years.

Nick Oswald rushed for a modern area record 402 yards in a game. A basketball star was blessed not to suffer crippling injuries when his car with four passengers flipped over. Reserve Megan Collins scored with a second left to give North Andover a 45-44 win over Central Catholic, the No. 2 ranked team in EMass., in the Christmas Tourney finals.

Remembering Bill Blood

An emotional overflow crowd packed the Pollard Funeral Home to pay their respects to coach Bill Blood of Methuen, who died in late January at age 63.

There were more well-known local coaches than Blood, but few were any better, or any more devoted or any more versatile.

He coached football, baseball and track and if he needed to coach any other sport, he’d be spending hours at the library poring over videos and books to master that one.

His last coaching job was with Phillips Academy track. An impressive number of Big Blue tracksters were at the funeral. An emotional young girl was sobbing. Blood’s widow, Debra, took her aside and calmly and lovingly instructed her that the best way to keep Bill’s memory alive was to show people the love and concern he always did for his students and athletes.

It was a beautiful moment.

The online tributes were numerous and passionate from students and athletes who’d been profoundly affected by the wisecracking teacher-coach with the big heart. Soon after, the Tenney Grammar School dedicated its gym in his honor.

Never-say-die Lancers

Few teams have struggled like Lawrence field hockey has the last 15 years or so.

Expectations were low in the regular-season finale. The Lancers were 0-17 and most any other team already would have been in “wait ‘til next year” mode.

Not so fast. Bianca Pena scored and Brittney Marte (9 saves) played like Tuukka Rask in net as the Lancers tripped Rockport 1-0. That snapped a 57-game losing streak dating back to Oct. 6. 2009.

There was no quit on the gridiron either. Methuen seemingly had their Nov. 9 game won when Willie Weinhold scored on a 1-yard run with 1:40 to play to up its lead to 36-24.

Nelson Valerio scored with 31 seconds left to make it interesting, but nothing more. Until the Lancers recovered the onsides kick. It appeared there just wasn’t enough time. But Valerio (3 TD runs, 2 TD passes) tied it on a 1-yard run with just five seconds left.

The best was yet to come. He found George Urena for the conversion pass and the improbable 38-36 victory.

From zero to state semis

It’s risky, to say the least, to become a varsity sport without a subvarsity season or two first.

But the Tewksbury-Methuen co-op girls hockey team was making the plunge. Its debut was against a veteran Boston Latin squad. True to form, it was ugly. But for Latin, which fell 8-0. Methuen High sophomore Amanda Conway scored three goals.

Conway didn’t ease up much the rest of the way, scoring a state-leading 52 goals. The fear of a possible winless season riddled with lopsided losses never happened.

Hardly.

The co-op team confounded the so-called experts and reached the Division 2 state semifinals.

Scaring a superpower

Central Catholic basketball fans can be impossible to please. Cover 16 straight games and they wonder where in the world you were for the 17th game.

The Eagle-Tribune couldn’t make it to the late-December game vs. St. Anthony’s of Jersey City at Emmanuel College, but we didn’t figure it was a big deal as St. A’s would likely win by 20-30 points.

This was St. Anthony’s with coach Bob Hurley Sr. with 1,000-plus wins and one of three high school coaches in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. The Friars were defending MaxPrep national champions.

The Raiders stayed close, but it was early. But the Friars just couldn’t shake the locals as Nick Cambio (15 points on 7-of-10 shooting), defensive ace Lucas Hammel and Tyler Nelson (12 points, 5 assists) led the way.

Central trailed just 45-44 late in the game and fell 54-50 to the then No. 6 team in the country.

It may have been a loss, but it was one of the great performances in the program’s proud history.

Windham’s King James

With Eagle-Tribune All-Stars Andrew Pesci and Chris Ulbrich and a talent-laden roster, Windham soccer was primed to upset top-seed Hollis-Brookline in the Division 2 state final.

Who among Windham’s cavalcade of stars would be the hero in the overtime shootout? Remarkably, James Baiguy.

Windham led 3-2 in the shootout when Baiguy, a junior reserve, was pressed into action. The native of Costa Rica had never even attempted a penalty shot since coming to the States five years ago.

But with standout David Carbonello out with an ankle injury, Baiguy got his big chance and delivered.

A goal, a win and a state title.

“I did it for all the seniors,” he said.

Most Valuable Trainer

Scoring machine Matt Bauchman is almost always Methuen’s hockey MVP. But there was no doubt who the MVP was on Jan. 14.

It wasn’t a player, but trainer Janielle Martin-Monbleau.

It was a scary scene when Methuen junior Brady Barron had an artery, 12 tendons and several nerves severed when a Gloucester hockey player’s skate accidentally cut his left wrist.

But Martin-Monbleau couldn’t afford to be scared. Barron’s life depended on her knowledge and professionalism.

She rushed onto the ice even before the play was blown dead. Barron was rushed to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where doctors said quick action by Monbleau, trainer Al Delano and the Fire Department’s emergency medical staff saved his life.

Later in the winter she was honored at a Bruins game for her heroism.

Whittier crashes the party

Vocational schools aren’t supposed to win the big titles. Those are generally reserved for the well-to-do towns and the Catholic schools.

But Whittier Tech baseball won and won big this spring like it has the last four years.

With a terrific senior class featuring All-CAC Upper Division standouts Andrew Wells (EMass Division 3 MVP, 11-1, 1.27 ERA), Nathan Frongillo (.356, 25 runs), Anthony Licciardello (.442, 25 RBIs) and Devan Doucette (7-3, 2.41 ERA), the Wildcats won the Division 3 North title.

Talent, experience and magic was the winning formula. The magic, thankfully, appeared in Whittier’s tourney opener. This in the form of a four-run rally capped off by Ralph Francesconi’s walk-off sac fly in the eighth inning.

The magic continued for the Cardiac Cats as Frongillo’s walk-off single clinched the Division 3 North title.

Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.