Alex Cooper / Recorder Staff Fort Plain players celebrate after scoring the tying run during the Section II Class D final against Fort Ann on Saturday, May 28, at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
By ADAM SHINDER
Tonight, when the ball drops in Times Square, we’ll bid farewell to 2016 — and with it, to a wild, exciting year in local sports.
It was a year that featured classic games, record-setting athletes, sensational individual performances and emotional crescendoes galore. There were enough memorable moments in 2016 to fill several volumes, but we’ll stick to the top 10 of this brilliant year — and when it comes to No. 1, there’s no contest.
There were plenty of defining moments and stories, but none more than the Fort Plain High School baseball team’s New York state Class D championship win, which leads The Recorder’s list of the top 10 local sports stories from 2016:
1. Hilltoppers capture state title
Under head coach Craig Phillips, winning is a way of life in the Fort Plain High School baseball program. In more than four decades, the legendary coach has guided the Hilltoppers to more than 740 wins and 10 Section II titles.
This year, Fort Plain added a second state championship to their list of achievements with an inspired run to claim the Class D crown.
It started with an all-time classic of a Section II Class D final, a pitcher’s duel between the Hilltoppers’ Jesse Heroth and Fort Ann’s Tyler Mattison. Heroth went all eight innings with 14 strikeouts, and Fort Plain plated the eventual deciding run when pinch-hitter Cameron Dillenbeck was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Compared to that epic at Joe Bruno Stadium, the state playoffs were a breeze. Fort Plain scored 33 runs in three games to roll up wins over Heuvelton, Genesee Valley and West Canada Valley, the last of those games bringing home the title on a sun-drenched June day at Broome Community College.
“This is just amazing,” said Heroth, the winning pitcher in all three state playoff games. “I’ve always looked up to the ’07 (state championship) team, and I always wanted to play in this kind of game. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
“We’re here for a reason, and in order to win, we had to play all seven innings and all 21 outs,” said catcher Drew Fureno.
2. Mohawks return to top of PGCBL
After disappointment in 2015 when they were eliminated from the playoffs shy of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League championship series for the first time in the league’s history, the Amsterdam Mohawks wasted little time getting back to form this year.
Led by PGCBL Player of the Year Joe Genord — who established new league and franchise records for runs batted in during the season — along with the dynamite double play combination of Chris Givin and Tyler Frank, plus ace pitchers Cameron Enck, Austin Keen, Chase Haney and Tim Naughton, the Mohawks powered to yet another PGCBL East Division title, dispatched the Oneonta Outlaws and Albany Dutchmen to reach the league finals and brought home the title with a dominant two-game sweep of the Utica Blue Sox.
The only difference between the team’s five previous titles under head coach Keith Griffin? This time, Griffin wasn’t their in person for the title clincher, as he’d returned home to Florida before the playoffs to start a new job, leaving assistants Doug O’Brey, Anthony Spataro and A.J. Gaura in charge for the postseason.
It didn’t matter.
3. Fedullo smashes records
From the time she arrived on the varsity team as a highly-touted freshman in 2013, it was likely that Nina Fedullo would find her way into some prominent positions in the Amsterdam High School girls basketball record book by the time her career was over.
It didn’t even take until the end of her junior season.
Fedullo passed Amy Jo Stewart’s Amsterdam career scoring record of 954 points during a Feb. 1 game against Broadalbin-Perth, then three weeks later she became the first Amsterdam girl to score 1,000 points in her career when she hit that mark during a Section II Class A quarterfinal win over Mohonasen.
The 5-foot-11 wing player, who is bound for the College of Saint Rose next year on a full athletic scholarship, went on to lead the Lady Rams to their first Section II championship game appearance in 22 years (more on that later in this list) and recently passed her father Lou’s career scoring total of 1,098 points.
4. Extreme Makeover: Turf Edition at Fonda-Fultonville
After years of deteriorating grass and bleachers that fell into disrepair and eventual condemnation, Fonda-Fultonville High School finally got a new home for football when a capital project allowed the district to install an artificial turf field along with brand-new bleachers, a press box and a scoreboard at John G. Boshart Field.
Though the project went through several delays thanks to an icy winter, it was completed in time for the Braves’ football opener in early September. It took a little longer for the team to christen it with its first win, which wouldn’t come until a Week 8 crossover win over Ichabod Crane, but the new facility — which brought football and soccer under the lights for the first time at F-F — is a major point of pride for the district moving forward.
5. Lady Rams reach sectional final
It didn’t end with the Amsterdam Lady Rams receiving the plaque they wanted, but Amsterdam’s trip to the Section II Class A girls basketball championship game against Averill Park was the program’s first sectional final appearance since 1994.
Led by Nina Fedullo, Brady Santiago, Giuliana Pritchard, Maria Lomanto, Kaitlyn Devine, Lucia Liverio and Autumn Duemler, head coach Eric Duemler’s Lady Rams posted tournament wins over Mohonasen and Troy before pushing Averill Park to the limit and coming closer than any team before of becoming the first-ever Amsterdam team to win a Section II championship in any girls sport.
Amsterdam led 61-59 late in the fourth quarter thanks to 18 points from Fedullo, 13 from Pritchard and 12 from Lucia Liverio, but Averill Park’s pressure-heavy defense sparked a late 7-0 run that helped the Warriors snatch a 68-63 win and a third straight sectional title.
After getting a taste of championship competition in 2016, don’t be surprised if the Lady Rams do something to get a little higher up this list in 2017.
6. Local teams make inspired runs
Amsterdam girls basketball wasn’t the only area team to reach the cusp of sectional championship glory in 2016.
On the very same day the Lady Rams played Averill Park at Hudson Valley Community College, the OESJ boys basketball team played Argyle for the Section II Class D title, coming up just short against Kobe Lufkin and the hot-shooting Scots after reaching the final with a dramatic overtime win over Germantown at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
The Mayfield boys soccer team earned three straight shutout wins over Greenwich, Cambridge and Galway to reach the Section II Class C final, where the Panthers dueled with Maple Hill in one of the wildest games of the year. After 70 scoreless minutes, Maple Hill broke the ice, before Mayfield’s Brendan Gifford tied the game on a gorgeous free kick. However, Maple Hill’s Bryan Kern scored on a deflected shot with three minutes left, earning the Wildcats the title and ending Mayfield’s brilliant season with a touch of disappointment.
The Broadalbin-Perth girls volleyball team stepped up to Class B after a pair of Section II Class C titles and once again reached the sectional final, but this time a young Lady Patriots team couldn’t match up to a Hudson Falls squad that earned its third consecutive sectional title.
Two area teams did win sectional crowns in the fall. The Galway volleyball team won Class C and advanced to the state final four, finishing fourth, while the Canajoharie-Fort Plain girls cross country team ran to the Section II Class C title.
7. Sturdivant soars to national title
Omahri Sturdivant had smashed every Amsterdam High School record in the triple jump over a stellar track and field career, but soared more than ever in March during his trip to the New Balance Nationals Indoor championships at the Armory in New York.
Sturdivant claimed the Emerging Elite national title in the triple jump, posting a huge personal-best jump — indoor or outdoor — of 48 feet, 0.5 inches on his final attempt. That tied him with Di’joun Huitt of North Carolina for the longest jump of the competition — and the longest jump in the history of the meet — with Sturdivant winning via tiebreaker by having the longer second-best jump.
It was a year of big performances from Sturdivant, who earned medals at both the indoor and outdoor state track and field championships before continuing his jumping career for the University at Albany.
8. Brown makes an impact at Rutgers
When Izaiah Brown arrived at Rutgers University, the former Amsterdam superstar sprinter immediately clued the rest of the NCAA track and field scene in on what observers in this area had known since he first took the track as a high school freshman: Give him 400 meters to run, and he’s apt to make some magic happen.
Brown broke the Rutgers school record for the indoor 400-meter dash in his first collegiate meet, and that set the tone for a sensational freshman year. He won the Big Ten championship in the 400 meters both indoors and outdoors, setting school records both times. For his efforts, he was named the Big Ten Indoor Track Athlete and Freshman of the Year.
Brown qualified but did not participate in the NCAA indoor championships, and missed out on qualifying for the 400-meter individual race inthe outdoor championships, but made up for that with a huge 44.2-second relay split to earn Rutgers a spot in the national championships in the 4×400-meter relay, where he and the Scarlet Knights earned second-team All-American status. His personal-best 45.27-second effort in the 400 meters met the standard to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials, though he opted not to run.
9. Post 701 wins district title
The John J. Wyszomirski Post 701 American Legion baseball team won three straight elimination games, including two in a row against the Schenectady County Indians, to capture its first New York District 3 senior championship in August.
Head coach Bill Agresta’s team, led by players from Amsterdam, Fonda-Fultonville and Broadalbin-Perth high schools, got brilliant efforts from the likes of tournament most valuable player Pat Hart, Logan DeNeuville, Connor Pingitore, Brett Flint, Kyle Agresta and Jake Rodecker to win the title, coming back from a four-run deficit to beat Schenectady County, 8-5, in the deciding game.
Post 701 went on to the state tournament, where it won its opening game behind a big pitching performance from Dale Stanavich before being eliminated after two straight losses.
10. Tough end for Henry, B-P soccer
For their first 18 games this season, the only thing stopping the Broadalbin-Perth boys soccer team from perfection was one tiny blip, a draw with Queensbury in the Foothills Council championship game.
Other than that, the Patriots were essentially flawless, dominating their opposition — they outscored opponents 79-8 on the season — and earning the top ranking in the New York State Sportswriters Association’s statewide Class B poll. However, B-P’s brilliant year was cut short with a heartbreaking late loss to Voorheesville in the sectional finals, denying them a chance of competing for the program’s second state title.
It also proved to be the final act in the coaching career of Brian Henry, who announced he was stepping down after 15 seasons, 182 wins, two sectional titles and the 2012 state Class B title.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Amsterdam boys basketball team became the first Section II squad to beat Scotia-Glenville in nearly four years with an overtime win in January. Two weeks later, the Running Rams beat the Tartans again. … Along with Sturdivant, Amsterdam’s Kevon Boucaud also qualified for states in both indoor and outdoor track as both a long jumper and sprinter. Broadalbin-Perth’s Jeff Derwin medaled in the shot put and discus at the outdoor state meet, while Fonda-Fultonville’s Brittany Castelluccio and the Canajoharie duo of Mike Hartlieb and Kenny Sullivan also reached states. … Mayfield eighth-grader Madison Relyea finished third in the Section II Class D cross country championships to earn a spot in the state meet, where she finished sixth. … Brian Mazza stepped down as athletic director of the Greater Amsterdam School District at the end of October to take a job with HFM BOCES. The district hired Stephen Nolan, formerly of Carthage High School, to take over earlier this month. … Fonda-Fultonville boys basketball coach Eric Wilson joined the 200-win club earlier this month when the Braves beat Fort Plain. … Amsterdam’s Chris Garrison and Galway’s Dillan Palaszewski both earned berths to the state wrestling tournament. … The Amsterdam and Canajoharie football teams were both denied trips to Section II championship games with semifinal losses determined by a touchdown.
Contact ADAM SHINDER at [email protected]