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Posted 12/29/21

Happy New Year to our readers at Beacon Communications. It's incredible how fast the holidays always sneak up on us and how quick the season always seems to fly by. Like every year, late December is a time of reflection and I have spent the last few days

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Happy New Year to our readers at Beacon Communications. It’s incredible how fast the holidays always sneak up on us and how quick the season always seems to fly by.

Like every year, late December is a time of reflection and I have spent the last few days thinking about how great of a sports year 2021 was, despite us still clawing our way out from under the ongoing pandemic.

Here is a look at some of my favorite things from 2021:

I would say the best game that I covered had to be the football state championship between Hendricken and La Salle, and I am referring to the one back in November, not the spring.

The two teams were the clear cut best in the state and for the first time in awhile, the Rams were considered the favorite heading into the matchup.

Sure enough, the game delivered and the two clubs would need all four quarters to decide a winner in what ended up being the highest scoring state championship in state history. It was a thrilling, back and forth game from the get-go and Hendricken would run away with it in the final minutes to pull off the upset. The rivalry is as strong as ever and it was great to see another incredible chapter between the two teams.

In terms of my favorite teams, there are too many to narrow down to just one. I will go through the ones that stand out the most, starting with the more recent ones.

I have a ton of respect for what the Johnston football team accomplished this fall. After being steamrolled in the Division III championship in the spring, the Panthers returned in the fall without their best player in Tom Zednik who graduated, but would go on a late-season surge to reach the playoffs and take a game.

Although Johnston’s run ended at the hands of the eventual champion Narragansett, the Panthers went from being a second-tier team at midseason to becoming a legitimate contender by the playoffs. Then on Thanksgiving, they swooped in on two days' notice to replace Toll Gate in the Warwick Beacon Bowl and pulled off a big upset against Pilgrim.

Although Pilgrim fell in the semis, I do not think it would be a stretch to say it was the second best team in Division III. Johnston traveled to Warwick and made it look easy on Thanksgiving day. The Panthers were really a fun team to follow this fall.

Another team that impressed me was the Pilgrim girls tennis team. Heading into the playoffs, it looked like the Lady Pats would be one and done as they drew No. 2 Saint Ray’s in the opening round. Pilgrim pulled off the upset and would later beat Central in the semis.

Lincoln School wound up beating Pilgrim in the championship match, but Pilgrim really caught fire down the stretch and had a chance to get the job done.

I have spent a lot of time talking about the Cranston East girls basketball team from last winter, but I will have to give the group one more shout out here as well.

Last winter, with five games left on the regular season schedule, it looked as if the Lady Bolts would have to win four, maybe even all five of their final contests to qualify for the playoffs. They did just that, winning five straight then even picking up a postseason win.

This was one of the biggest surprises this year, as East entered the year looking like a low-end team with little hope of making the playoffs. Not only did the team earn a playoff berth, but it won at home and became a scary team in the process. It was one of those classic examples of the power of momentum late in the season.

I’d say the biggest upset of the year had to be the Cranston West baseball team beating Bishop Hendricken in the Division I playoffs.

West had a good team, no doubt, but Hendricken was the clear favorite to take it all and the Hawks were at home. I remember that day … I was covering the Pilgrim-Toll Gate opening round and as I was waiting to get my postgame interviews, I heard the parents start buzzing about how the Hawks were upset down the street.

I couldn’t believe it and even asked the coaches if they had heard the same thing which they did. One of those times when I was genuinely surprised, which does not happen often in high school sports. Anything can happen, but that one stunned me.

In terms of my favorite performances, I have narrowed it down to two.

The first, not in order necessarily, is Brandyn Durand in the spring football state championship.

Primarily a defensive lineman, the Hawks deployed the All-Stater as a running back which ultimately paid off as he was a force all afternoon. The Rams had no answer for him as he rushed for a touchdown. Meanwhile, he continued to dominate on the defensive line and would ice the game with a pick-six.

I’ll always remember that play because he ran right down the sidelines where I was standing and I was able to get the front page photo. One of those pictures that I will always remember.

The other performance that stands out to me is Pilgrim’s Alyssa Twomey in the softball playoffs.

Not only was Twomey lights out in the circle, but she came up huge at the plate including a game-sealing home run in the semifinals. Twomey was a force and carried Pilgrim in the playoffs.

I could go on and on about the good things we saw in 2021, but unfortunately, I must cut myself off here. We are still working our way back to normalcy and have a ways to go, but I am thankful that we got the sports that we did this year.

As we enter 2022, let’s continue to be safe, make good decisions, and take advantage of every opportunity that we have to enjoy athletics. Nothing brings people together like sports, and during these tough times, we need to be unified more than ever.

Thank you to the athletes, coaches and fans for making my job as fun as any job could be. I can’t wait to dive into the new year.

My Pitch, sports


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