By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — Decisions, decisions.
Whether to choose a group of athletes who accomplished a season-long goal in dramatic fashion or a singular athlete with area roots who came within seconds of an Olympic medal.
The Daily Star’s sports department opted for Oneonta High’s baseball team over former Cooperstown resident Sarah Groff for its top story of 2012.
OHS’ baseball team completed a 24-2 season with a 2-0 victory over Section One’s Briarcliff in the Class B state final, becoming the fourth team in Yellowjackets history to win a New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship.
Class B State Player of the Year Ben Moxley threw a four-hitter at Binghamton’s Conlon Field and Mike Calkins contributed a home run in the fourth inning to give the Yellowjackets a 1-0 lead in the state final.
“It’s the deepest team I’ve had and it’s the best team in Oneonta High baseball history,” 28th-year OHS coach Joe Hughes – the state’s Class B Coach of the Year – said following the victory over Briarcliff.
Groff, who spent her formative years in Cooperstown, placed fourth in the Olympic Triathlon in August at London. She finished 12 seconds behind the winner and 10 seconds out of a medal.
Events also cracking our top 10 list were:
The return of Serge Corbin to the General Clinton Canoe Regatta and the Canadian’s first loss at the event came in third; Milford native Paul Wolfe helping Brad Keselowski to a Sprint Cup title as his crew chief was fourth; longtime Davenport girls basketball Ray Preston winning his 600th game came in fifth; the Hall of Fame induction of Barry Larkin and the late Ron Santo finished sixth; locals Josh Edmonds and Amanda LoPiccolo winning the Pit Run took seventh; Oneonta High’s girls sports team having a year to remember was eighth; Cooperstown’s boys basketball team reaching the Class C state semifinals was ninth; and local college athletes, past and present, having a memorable year rounded out the list.
The following is a closer look at The Daily Star’s top sports stories of 2012.
1, OHS baseball
Oneonta’s path to the school’s first state baseball championship started at the end of a 20-2 season in 2011.
The Yellowjackets lost, 10-2, to Chenango Valley in the 2011 Section Four Class B final but had a host of returnees this past spring. CV went on to win the 2011 Class B state title and also brought back several key players.
Oneonta and CV went 2-2 against each other in 2011 and both teams finished the season with two losses.
The Yellowjackets went 2-0 against CV during the 2012 regular season en route to their second straight Southern Tier Athletic Conference title.
Then the rivals met for the second straight year in the sectional final and through four innings, it looked like a rerun of the 2011 sectional final. The Warriors held a 7-1 lead and if a comeback was to come, it would be against CV standout left-hander Austin Lewis, who shut down the Yellowjackets in 2011 sectional final.
But Oneonta scored four times in the fifth on one hit against a tiring Lewis and two more in the sixth on a two-run single by Moxley to tie the score at 7.
CV then rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh.
Then the Yellowjackets answered with four in the bottom of the inning off of two CV relievers. The big blow was a three-run homer to right by Calkins that tied the score at 10. Four batters later, Chris Pindar’s single to left scored David Wright with the winning run.
OHS then knocked off 2009 and 2010 Class B state champion Westhill, 4-1, in a state quarterfinal behind a three-hitter by Moxley.
The state semifinals and final were held back at Conlon Field, which in 2012 seemed more like Calkins Field.
Calkins earned the pitching victory in the Yellowjackets’ 8-4 semifinal win over Section Five’s Wayland-Cohocton and then hit the go-ahead homer in the fourth inning against 2011 state runner-up Briarcliff in the state final. Moxley, The Daily Star’s Player of the Year, capped his 8-0 season with a four-hitter in the state final.
Seniors Moxley, Calkins, Wright, Sean Getman, Conor Youngs, Zach Pidgeon, Ben Payton and Mark Giallanzo, and junior Pindar all played key roles for OHS, which ended its memorable season with 16 straight victories.
2, Sarah Groff
With about 500 meters left, Groff and three others were in the lead pack for an Olympic medal.
But Groff’s medal hopes were dashed when Switzerland’s Nicole Spirig, Sweden’s Lisa Norden and Australia’s Erin Densham took off in a near sprint to the finish in London.
“If you don’t have a kick, you don’t have a kick,” former Cooperstown Central student Groff told the Los Angeles Times following the Aug. 4 event. “I didn’t have it. There’s nothing I could do at that point.”
Spirig earned the gold medal in a photo finish over Norden. Densham finished 2 seconds later, and Groff was 10 seconds behind Densham.
Groff, who resides in New Hampshire, completed the 0.93-mile swim, the 26.7-mile bike ride and the 6.2-mile run in 2 hours flat.
“Fourth is the worst position to be in,” said the 30-year-old Groff, who attended Cooperstown Central until her junior year of high school. “But at the end of the day, I’m an Olympian. Obviously, I came here to try to get a medal. And I didn’t.
Following the race, Groff hinted that she’ll try again in the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janiero.
3, Serge Corbin
Seven years removed from his final victory in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, the 55-year-old Corbin returned to the Susquehanna River in search of his 29th C-2 pro win in as many tries.
Quebec resident Corbin was part of the regatta’s inaugural Hall of Fame induction class, so he decided to compete in the 50th annual 70-mile race from Cooperstown to Bainbridge.
But Corbin and partner Steve Corlew were no match for Andy Triebold and Steve Lajoie, who won for the fifth straight year. Triebold and Lajoie defeated runners-up Corbin and Corlew by 11 minutes, 44 seconds, marking the seventh straight year Triebold has been in the winning boat – a streak that started following Corbin’s last triumph.
“Today, we didn’t have the power,” Corbin said following the race. “It’s harder when you get older. With years, you just go down.”
Corbin’s first Clinton win came in 1974 with brother Claude, also part of the first Hall of Fame class. He’d win 27 more times over the next 31 years without a loss.
“It’s an honor,” Triebold, 35 of Grayling, Mich., said of handing Corbin his first Clinton defeat. “It feels great. We’re the only ones who have been able to do it. Me and Matthew (Rimer) came close (in 2005). He’s had some close finishes here, but he’s always come out on top. But this year, we got him.”
4, Paul Wolfe
Milford native Wolfe helped steer Brad Keselowski to the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, serving as the No. 2 Miller Lite Penske Racing Dodge’s crew chief.
The 1995 Milford graduate, in his third year as the 28-year-old Keselowski’s crew chief, oversaw five victories this season, including two in the closing 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Keselowski sealed his first Sprint Cup title – and the first for owner Roger Penske – with a 15th-place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami. He won by 39 points over runner-up Clint Bowyer and was 40 points ahead of third-place Jimmie Johnson, the owner of five Sprint Cup titles.
Wolfe, 35, got his start in NASCAR driving in the Busch North regional racing series in 2000 before moving to the second-tier series, then known as the Busch Series, from 2003-2005.
He started as a crew chief in lower NASCAR series and graduated to the second-tier Nationwide Series in 2008. Wolfe joined Penske in 2010. That year, he and Keselowski won Penske’s first national series championship.
The following year, Wolfe teamed with Keselowski in the top-tier series, winning three races and finishing fifth in the point standings.
5, Ray Preston
Preston became the second girls basketball coach in New York state history to amass 600 victories when the Wildcats defeated Andes, 58-33, on Jan. 24.
Wildcats senior Laura Hotaling scored a game-high 11 games in an otherwise ho-hum victory at Andes’ cramped gymnasium.
Preston achieved the milestone in his 33rd season. Along the way, Preston’s teams won 25 Delaware League division titles, 11 league championships and eight Section Four Class D crowns. The Wildcats also made four appearances in the state final four and two trips to the Class D state final.
The lone girls basketball coach with more victories than Preston is Red Hook’s John Kuhn, who retired following the 2009-10 season with 619 wins.
“God has blessed me with kids who want to work and this is part of the result,” Preston said following his 600th victory. “It’s what the kids want to get out of it. How hard do you want to work? How good do you want to be? I expect you to work and they know they’re supposed to be working.”
Following a 10-9 record a season ago, Preston had a 604-161 record coming into this season.
Preston, 63, is also one of four girls soccer coaches in the state’s 400-win club.
6, Induction Ceremony
An estimated 18,000 fans turned out at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown on a warm July 22 to witness the inductions of Larkin and Santo into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Larkin, a shortstop, spent all 19 of his big-league seasons in Cincinnati, the city where he grew up. In his third year on the ballot, Larkin garnered 86.4 percent of the vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Seventy-five percent is necessary for election.
His resume includes three Gold Gloves, 12 All-Star games and the National League MVP award in 1995, when he hit .319 with 15 homers, 98 runs, 66 RBIs and 51 steals.
When Larkin’s career ended in 2004, he had 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs, 198 home runs, 960 RBIs and 379 stolen bases.
“You know, every player wants to be successful, every player wants to win, every player wants to feel appreciated and looks for validation,” Larkin said during his induction speech. “Well, my inclusion in the Hall of Fame is the ultimate validation and I want to thank you all for helping me along the way.”
Santo, who died in 2010 at the age of 70, played all 15 of his seasons in Chicago, the first 14 with the Cubs. He earned election via a Golden Era Committee vote.
Santo finished with 342 home runs and 1,331 RBIs. Four times, he hit 30 home runs or more and drove in more than 100 in four seasons. The third baseman also won five Gold Gloves and appeared in nine All-Star games.
Santo’s widow, Vicki, spoke on his behalf and talked about her husband’s 51-year battle with diabetes.
“Looking back, he believed he was given the gift of talent as well as the challenge of diabetes so that through his hardship, he could shed light on a cause that he could help others through his story,” Vicki said. “And I think he would say that’s why he’s now been given the greatest honor any athlete could ever hope for from a sport, to be included among the greatest players who have ever set foot on earth.”
7, Pit Run
Cooperstown graduate Josh Edmonds and Unatego graduate Amanda LoPiccolo provided some local flavor to the 19th annual Pit Run.
They swept the 10-kilometer titles through the streets of Oneonta on Oct. 7. With no international runners on hand, former Division I Liberty College standout Edmonds became the first local man to win the Pit Run since 1995, crossing in 31 minutes, 57 seconds. Gary Toombs of Oneonta won the 1995 Pit Run.
LoPiccolo earned her second 10K title in three years. She finished in 37:51.
“It is great to see,” LoPiccolo said of the area sweep. “It is great for the local runners.”
Eli Townsend of Delhi and Julie Hilson of Bovina Center completed the local sweep by winning the 5K championships.
Townsend crossed in 18:09 and Hilson finished in 21:22.
Nearly 900 runners competed, including 448 who completed the 10K.
The event is in honor of Oneonta native Ricky Parisian, a New York State Trooper who died in 1994 while trying to prevent an armed robbery.
8, OHS girls
From the girls soccer team reaching the Class B state title game, to the girls basketball team winning its record fifth straight sectional title last season and beginning this season 7-0, to the softball and volleyball teams enjoying standout seasons, to the Yellowjackets sending six athletes to the state meet in track, it was a memorable 2012.
Most recently, the Yellowjackets soccer team came oh, so close to the program’s first state championship in November. OHS held a 1-0 lead over Section Five’s Greece Odyssey in the state final with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation.
On a sunny but cool day at SUNY Cortland, Taryn More staked the Jackets to a 1-0 lead, scoring on a rebound 10:53 before halftime.
Despite constant second-half pressure by Greece Odyssey, the Yellowjackets clung to the lead until 8:49 remained in regulation, when the Leopards’ Rachael Walsh scored on a perfectly-placed shot to the upper-right corner.
With 2:22 left in the first overtime, Liz Dohr scored the winner after receiving a pass from Jessica Marlowe following a rare defensive breakdown by the Yellowjackets.
Marlowe then ended the Yellowjackets’ hopes by scoring on a long shot with less than two minutes left in the second overtime.
During Oneonta’s 18-3-1 season, it earned its second straight Southern Tier Athletic Conference and Section Four Class B titles, the latter a 4-0 overtime win over Seton Catholic Central.
The Yellowjackets followed that win with a stirring shootout victory over Section One’s Bronxville in a state quarterfinal at Greene after the teams played to a 1-1 tie through regulation and four overtimes. OHS senior goalie Emmalee Sloman made the last save in the shootout before scoring decisive goal as the Yellowjackets avenged a 1-0 loss to Bronxville in last season’s sectional quarterfinal.
Shelby Cleaveland and Dani Nicosia then teamed up to score a goal in the Yellowjackets’ 1-0 win over Section Eight’s Cold Spring Harbor in the state semifinal at Tompkins Cortland CC. Nicosia scored with 33:12 left off a long pass from Cleaveland.
“We enjoyed the journey, but it’s an engulfing pressure,” OHS coach Jerry Mackey said after the final. “We always put internal pressure on ourselves to excel anyway, but these last 21/2 weeks have been on-the-edge-of-your-seat type stuff.”
On the basketball court, the Yellowjackets’ 17-5 season ended with a 47-39 loss to South Jefferson in a Class B state quarterfinal at Binghamton High.
Daily Star Player of the Year Mariah Ruff helped OHS become the first basketball team in Section Four history to win five straight sectional titles. She scored 21 points in Oneonta’s 41-36 win over Norwich in the Class B sectional final.
OHS also nearly pulled a huge upset in the STAC final, falling, 51-50, to unbeaten Binghamton.
Ruff, a junior point guard, has led OHS to an 7-0 start this season.
In the spring, Oneonta’s softball team put together one of its best seasons, going 14-7 and advancing to the Section Four Class B semifinals before losing, 4-3, to Susquehanna Valley.
Daily Star Player of the Year Seneca Baldwin led the Yellowjackets in the circle and at the plate.
Also in the spring, the Yellowjackets track team sent the 3,200-meter relay squad of Kim Scofield, Taylor Hitchcock, Missy Emilio and Fable Booker to the state meet, along with high jumpers Brittney Herrick and Natalie Vanderlaan-Meyering.
Oneonta High’s volleyball team advanced to the Southern Tier Athletic Conference and Section Four Class B championship games, too, falling both times to Owego. Led by Fourth Team all-state selection Herrick, Oneonta volleyball went 14-5. Four of its losses came against Owego, including a five-game setback in the STAC final.
9, Cooperstown boys
If you’re a fan of up-tempo basketball and you missed Cooperstown’s boys last season, you missed a lot.
The Redskins took their trapping, pressing, baseline-to-baseline game all the way Glens Falls before falling in overtime in a controversial Class C state semifinal March 16.
OTC Middle College of Buffalo received a pair of free throws from Cordell Torres with one second left in the first overtime to beat the Redskins, 58-57. Torres was a good 30 feet from the basket when Cooperstown’s Clinton Harris was whistled for the foul.
Harris gave Cooperstown a 57-56 lead on a driving layup along the right baseline with nine seconds left in overtime.
Middle College lost to Tuckahoe in the state final the following day.
The Redskins finished with a 21-2 record that included a 72-58 win over Beaver River in the Section Three Class C final at the Carrier Dome – Cooperstown’s first sectional title since the 2002-03 season, when it advanced to the state final – and a 63-49 win over Section Four’s Elmira Notre Dame in a Class C state quarterfinal.
Daily Star Player of the Year Jay Davine, Michael Moakler, Jeremiah Ford, Michael Rowley, Sam Bowen, Jeff Flynn and Harris led the way for the Redskins.
“We’ve been playing basketball together forever,” Harris said following the state semifinal loss. “We’ve grown together. We came together very well and we played team basketball.”
10, Local colleges
Former Hartwick College students produced three Olympians and two bronze medals, O-State sprinter Sean Bernstein blazed to an NCAA Division III championship in the 200 meters and four area teams qualified for NCAA D-III tournaments.
Bronwen Knox and Sophie Smith were teammates at Hartwick in 2005. This past summer in London, they helped Australia to a bronze medal in women’s water polo in the Summer Olympics.
Knox, who played for Hartwick in 2005 and 2006, earned her second Olympic. She also helped Australia to a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics. Knox scored four goals for the Aussies, who beat Hungary, 13-11, in the bronze medal game Aug. 9.
Australia went 5-1 in the Olympics, its lone loss by an 11-9 count in the semifinals to the United States, which went on to win its first gold medal in water polo.
Lisa Gibson, who played for Hartwick in 2008, suited up for the host country in water polo. England failed to win a game in the Olympics.
Two days before Corbin returned to the Clinton Regatta, Oneonta State junior Sean Bernstein made big news in California during the NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships. Bernstein set a meet record in becoming the first O-State male athlete to win a national championship in track. At Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in California, Bernstein won the 200 meters in a blazing 20.80 seconds, beating runner-up Thurgood Dennis of Wisconsin Eau Claire by one-tenth of a second.
Had Bernstein run the same time in the 200 at the 2012 Division I outdoor championships at Drake University, he would have finished fourth. Bernstein also placed second in the 100 at nationals, crossing in a school-record 10.44.
It was a big year for area college basketball teams as well. Both of Hartwick College’s basketball teams qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament, as did Oneonta State’s women.
Hartwick’s men qualified for the tournament for the second straight year. They lost in the first round, 98-88, in overtime to visiting Farmingdale. Sophomore standout Jared Suderley had 40 points and 17 rebounds in the loss, which ended Hartwick’s season at 23-4.
The Hawks’ women went 22-6, earning a program record for wins in a season. They also lost in the first round, 68-61, to Emmanuel College at Providence, R.I. Sophomore Maria Foglia led Hartwick with 18 points and nine rebounds.
O-State’s 19-9 season ended with a 54-42 loss to King’s College in the NCAA tournament. Madison Slagle and Samantha Szkotak scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, for the Red Dragons, who won the SUNY Athletic Conference title.
Also, the O-State men’s soccer team made the NCAA Division III tournament for the second straight year. The Red Dragons advanced to the national semifinals the previous year, but this time, they were knocked off in a penalty-kick shootout, 4-3, by visiting Montclair State after the teams played to a 2-2 tie through regulation and overtime.
O-State finished the season at 14-5-2.
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.