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Itâ€™s two days into 2012. The past year is now a distance memory. Time sure does fly. It seems like just a short time ago that the winter season was wrapping up, one that included an extraordinary performance by the Tolman High boysâ€™ basketball team in the Division II quarterfinals. The summer, as it always does, went by quickly. But not before a group of young 12-year-old kids from the Cumberland American earned their way to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.
There have certainly been other events and athletes that have made the last 365 days a memorable one.
Hereâ€™s what I consider the best of the best that I have witnessed:
Tolman falls to North Providence,67-64, in OT quarterfinal thriller
Thatâ€™s not a typo. It was a loss, but itâ€™s easily the highlight of the 100-plus events that I covered the last year.
The difference between a good team and a great team is how they respond when the pressure is at its highest level. On this night, at a very loud Cougar gymnasium, Tolman showed just how big a heart it had against a highly-favored North Providence team.
The Tigers were an eighth seed entering the contest. To most of the Cougar fans and perhaps some of the Tolman contingent that made the trip to N.P., this one had potential to be a blowout win for the hometown squad.
It sure looked that way at the beginning as the Cougarsâ€™ fast-paced offense raced out to a 13-5 lead and 25-13 advantage by the midway point of the opening half. But after looking as though it had no answer for the Cougars in the early goings, Tolman got right back into the game with a 16-0 spurt.
The rest of the contest was an edge-of-your-seat affair.
Coming through with clutch shot after clutch shot, the Tigersâ€™ Jeremy Graca scored a game-high 32 points in the contest, including six big 3-pointers. Juan Velez was another of many stars for Tolman that night. The then-junior had 13 points and showed plenty of poise by sinking two huge free throws with just under 11 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime.
Tolman made this game my all-time favorite for 2011 by never giving up and showing the heart of a champion despite the odds against them. The Cougars would later earn the Div. II state crown and finish fourth for the overall championship, proving just how talented it was.
My guess is the Tolman matchup was the toughest during their playoff stretch and certainly one they will never forget.
I only had the chance to witness this Cumberland High senior once during this past fall season, but once was enough to know why she will be honing her talents at Div. I program Connecticut the next school year.
In a game against previously-unbeaten East Greenwich in late September, Ribeiro was unstoppable, taking care of all the offense in a 3-1 upset victory over the Avengers.
Ribeiroâ€™s three goals werenâ€™t just your standard, everyday goals. Each time the multiple all-stater scored she had blanket coverage by the Avengers, something she has grown accustomed to in her stellar career at Cumberland.
The most impressive of her tallies was her third when she corralled the ball near the left sideline and then booted it over a defendersâ€™ head, regained control of the ball and then avoided more pressure from the Avenger defense and blasted a shot to the right corner of the net.
Ribeiro always seemed to be in the right place at the right time during the game, demonstrating her uncanny awareness of the action around her. She never appeared fazed by the Avengers throughout the afternoon, and according to her peers, doesnâ€™t seem to get fazed no matter who she faces.
CALL captures R.I., New England titles
When I first saw the Cumberland American Little Leaguers play in the District IV Tournament, I figured they had talent enough to win the championship. I also assumed thatâ€™s where it would end.
Manager Dave Belisle and his 13 players proved me wrong.
CALL not only earned the district crown, but it advanced all the way to the Little League World Series by taking the state and New England titles, too.
Cumberland American was most recognizable by its power at the plate. It stormed through play in Rhode Island with a 9-0 mark. The local teens out-scored their opposition in the districts, 52-8, and in the three games of the state tourney picked it up a notch, beating their rivals by a combined 45-8 margin, including a 17-5 victory over Central Coventry in the finals.
While its hitting was not questioned, there were more than a few critics that doubted CALLâ€™s often-inconsistent pitching, wondering if it would be enough to overpower the much-stronger squads in Bristol, Conn., at the New England Championships.
Again, Cumberland American overcame the odds. CALL earned its way into the title game and defeated Andover National, 13-7, in the title game to become the first local team since Lincoln in 2004 to make it to the World Series.
Jack Casey turns heads at Arnold Mills race
This one goes under the double-take category. I was situated at the mile mark of the popular four-mile race in Cumberland and this young kid, about half the height of the pack of runners he was with, goes by me at a seven-minute pace.
About 23 minutes later, the eight-year-old Cumberland tyke came across the finish line. He didnâ€™t slow up much, covering the course at 29:29 â€“ a 7:22 per-mile clip.
Iâ€™ve seen some great performances over the years at Arnold Mills and this one ranks right up there. The future looks bright for young Jack. Heâ€™s got some great genes, too. His father, John, was an all-state cross-country runner for the Clippers in the early 1990s. His mother, Sharon, was a star runner at Bishop Feehan.
The fact that his parents are running people, Jack will probably get the proper nurturing in his progression if running continues to interest him.
Longtime Cumberland track and cross-country coach Tom Kenwood, the race director of the four-miler, has to be looking forward to the possibility of this 39-pound runner eventually wearing Clipper blue in another six years.
Woonsocket girlsâ€™ indoor track team wins league title
Over the years, particularly over the last few decades, the thought of the Villa Novans earning a division title was relatively non-existence. It was partly due to lack of depth with consistently low numbers to the program.
During last yearâ€™s indoor track season, Woonsocket had 40 athletes with a good portion playing key roles in the Villa Novans finishing the dual-meet season in the Dwyer Division with a perfect 8-0 mark and then capturing their second straight league title, defeating second-place Portsmouth with a convincing 157-86 win. The undefeated league season was the first for Woonsocket since fielding its inaugural indoor squad in 1996-97.
Credit has to go to the Villa Novansâ€™ dedicated staff, led by head coach Dan Richard. Richard, who works at the school in the ROTC program, recruited a good portion of his squad, including all-state high jumper Kaylnn Pitts and sprinter Latoya Dythe.