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It was all there, the impending New London-Ledyard championship game to decide the Eastern Connecticut Conference. This exercise Wednesday was a glorified formality, the semifinals. New London, which has won this thing since what feels like the time the American League went to the designated hitter, would dispose of Woodstock. Ledyard, with zero losses to ECC schools this season, would do the same to NFA.
New London-Ledyard. The game local sports fans have waited for. New London-Ledyard. This just in: They hate each other. We would have all the pregame fodder. They'd accuse each other of recruiting. Chasing players. We'd talk transfers, vo-ags, magnet schools, alums on the enemy bench.
As ESPN's Doris Burke is fond of saying, "A little animosity is fabulous."
And then the games happened. Our juicy storyline bought the farm. Thanks in part to, well, a man they call "Juice" and a bunch of self-described farmers. How fitting, really. Chris Guisti, Coach Juice to his players, and the NFA Wildcats take down Ledyard. The farmers from them, thar hills of Woodstock Academy beat New London.
So much for animosity. Now we have Mr. Nice Guys.
Which, if you spend some time meeting the dramatis personae, isn't so bad. Take the Woodstock guys for instance. They've embraced the whole farmer thing. They'd know the answer to the age old question: If a cow laughs too hard, will milk come out of her nose?
"We love the fact that nobody expects us to win even after we won the state championship last year," Woodstock senior Chris Lowry said. "We love being the farm boys coming down here and beating up on New London. They've beaten on us for the last 30 years. It's awesome.
"The whole New London vs. Ledyard thing made us want to win even more," Lowry said. "They've been taking it from us for so long. We'd like to take something from them for once."
They sure did. The farmers missed a month's worth of free throws in the fourth quarter, but figured out a way. Must be the toughness derived from shoveling out the stalls.
"We are a bunch of hicks," Woodstock coach Greg Smith said. "Watch the kids, wearing their Carhartts and their boots. We smell the country every day when we go into school."
Smith is loving this. It helps he has a sense of humor, too, unlike many of his brethren north of Norwich who sneer a lot and whine as habit, not reaction. He loves being the co-spoiler of The Game That Won't Happen.
"I might have said something about that," Smith said.
Lowry: "We're Woodstock Academy. Nobody cares about us. We just love that. Even if we lose (Friday), we're having so much fun. Everybody takes these games so seriously. We're just playing basketball."
Two hours later, it was Guisti's turn. Coach Juice engineered a beauty, all in front of former boss Neal Curland, whose smile after the game lit up the Francis X. Sweeney Fieldhouse. Coach Juice was also asked about being Friday's party pooper.
"It proves the ECC is good this year. Very good," he said. "Bacon Academy was a moment away from being (in the semifinals). So was Waterford. They were seconds away. There's quality basketball in this league. I hope people go out to the state tournament and watch all our teams play."
Meantime, though, there's Friday night. The state's defending Class L champion meets the league's hottest team. Chris Lowry, who will play Division III basketball next season vs. Marcus Outlow, the BC-bound football player who has taken over the basketball season.
Coach Juice vs. Farmer Brown.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.