Recorder Greatest Teams: Final 4 set: Turners (two), Frontier and Pioneer

  • Greenfield’s Kyle Boston (87) tries to run over Westfield’s Greg Popielarcyzk during the 1987 Division 1 Super at Springfield College’s Benedum Field. Boston and the Green Wave saw an undefeated season come to a close with a 35-14 loss. FILE PHOTO

  • Despite rushing for 160 yards, Greenfield quarterback Ken Suhl (12) was unable to end his career with a victory as the 1987 Wave fell to Westfield, 35-14, in the Division 1 Super Bowl. FILE PHOTO

  • The Frontier volleyball team carries its trophy after winning the 2010 Division 3 state title following a sweep of Joseph Case High School. Holding the trophy are captains Kendra Ouimette and Cassidy Stankowski. Frontier, which went 25-0 that season, was dealt its first loss ever by the ’87 Frontier boys basketball team. FILE PHOTO

  • Frontier’s Katy Daniels rises for a spike during the 2010 season where the Red Hawks went undefeated and won the Division 3 state crown. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/27/2019 9:49:21 PM

There’s something about this time of year.

As the world refocuses on the NCAA Tournament with Sweet 16 games returning to our televisions this evening, our bracket in the Recorder’s Greatest Teams Tournament rolls on, another step ahead. We’re down to the Elite 8 here — eight teams certainly worthy of the highest honors possible for their outstanding and certainly memorable seasons. Six of the eight remaining teams won state championships, five of them going undefeated in the process. And much like this year’s NCAA Tournament, high-seeded teams have been successful in marching through the competition.

That continued to a certain extent in today’s Elite 8 matchups. Three of the four No. 1 seeds made it through, with just one “upset” — if you can even call anything an upset at this point.

Without further ado, here we go...

Vi Goodnow Region

No. 1 Turners Falls baseball (1942) def. No. 3 Greenfield baseball (1984)

An all-diamond regional final saw the Greenfield-Turners rivalry renewed, with the 1942 Turners Falls baseball team locking up with 1984 Greenfield squad in the Vi Goodnow Region title game.

Undefeated Turners Falls (14-0) again relied on its championship pedigree to punch a ticket in the Final 4. The Powertowners won the area’s first-ever state championship when they came from behind to knock off Arlington, 5-4, in a wild Division 1 state final played in the hallowed walls of Fenway Park.

Turners’ state title wasn’t just a big deal for Franklin County, it was THE big deal at the time.

“There was gas rationing then, but there were more people in the stands from Turners that day than there were from Arlington,” Harvey “Henic” Welcome told Recorder sportswriter Jim Fox back in 1957.

Turners’ win came at the expense of the ’84 Greenfield team. The state runners-up in the Division 2 field, the Green Wave team fell victim to a lack of available pitching in the Elite 8 showdown after a grueling Sweet 16 win over the 1978 Frontier baseball team. Apparently, the Vi Goodnow Region was baseball-overload, with some of the best teams in the history of the area duking it out for a spot in the Final 4.

Gary Mullins Region

No. 1 Turners Falls softball (2005) def. No. 3 Greenfield football (1987)

The first undefeated season in the Turners Falls dynasty was arguably the most impressive. That’s at least how we deemed it in our bracket, placing the 2005 squad as a No. 1 seed in what was appropriately dubbed the Gary Mullins Region.

Turners’ 2-0 win in the state championship over Amesbury 14 years ago was a milestone victory all the way around. Not only was it the program’s first undefeated season that resulted in the Division 2 state title, but it also marked the 400th career victory for Coach Mullins. Fast-forward over a decade, and Mullins is still racking up the wins as he is set to begin his 40th season at the helm of the best softball program in the state of Massachusetts.

That Powertown team had everything. An ace pitcher in junior Julie Girard, who racked up her 500th career strikeout that season with plenty of innings remaining before graduation. There was leadership, in the form of boisterous Katie Kidder, as well as rock-steady first baseman Kellie Brown. Mix in a flashy shortstop, Shelby Landeck, and a reliable catcher, Kim Lastowski, and a 25-0 season was the perfect ending.

Greenfield’s 1987 football team sees its run come to a close as a result. Dubbed, at the time, “The greatest football season in GHS history” by the Recorder following the team’s 35-14 loss to Westfield in the Division 1 Super Bowl, that ’87 squad certainly brought fans from the Emerald City together. In the Super Bowl, some 4,000 fans were in attendance at Springfield College’s Benedum Field to watch the Green Wave tangle with the Bombers. An article about the surrounding festivities in the Recorder mentioned that “former GHS quarterback Mike Kuchieski, now a senior at Springfield College, was an unofficial host at a tailgating party.” Indeed, the parking lots for the game were full an hour before kickoff, with fans decked in green and white enjoying a few pops ahead of the Super Bowl.

The game itself? Well, Recorder sportswriter Chip Ainsworth penned afterward that “the game was as one-sided as the Alamo.” Down 21-0 at halftime, quarterback Ken Suhl did everything he could to rally the Wave — finishing with 160 rushing yards and 71 passing yards to go with a touchdown. Suhl finished his season with 2,452 total yards, but Greenfield was never able to crawl back against the powerhouse Bombers.

That loss did not deter what was an undefeated season up until that time for Greenfield (10-0). Said head coach Mike Duprey to his troops afterward, “It’s not going to be a long ride, and it’s not going to be a quiet ride. It’s been a great year. It’ll be one helluva group that comes along and beats your record.”

Tom Suchanek Region

No. 1 Pioneer boys hoop (1996) def. No. 2 Greenfield field hockey (1989)

It wasn’t easy, but Adam Harrington and his teammates have navigated their way into our Final 4.

The 1996 Pioneer boys basketball team will carry the torch for North County with an Elite 8 win. Perhaps the best-ever team to come out of the Northfield school, the Panthers cut down the nets in the Tom Suchanek Region as the third No. 1 seed to win their region.

Greenfield’s magical 1989 field hockey season comes to the end of its road in the Elite 8.

While the school’s field hockey program has long been a powerhouse, this was truly where all the success began. The school had never won a WMass title in the sport, much less a state title, but that’s exactly what happened. Melanie Conant jumped on a loose ball and fed a pass to Tara Jelley, who potted the game-winning goal 3:51 into overtime to lift the Wave to a 2-1 victory over Danvers in the state final.

“I was praying Tara would be able to stop it and put it in,” Conant told the Recorder following the game-winner, which gave GHS its first sectional title since the cross country team captured the 1964 crown.

The impressive thing about that ’89 team was that despite making history with the WMass championship win over Frontier, the Wave were not satisfied.

“After we beat Frontier, I asked them, ‘Do you want a Chevrolet (WMass title) or would you rather a Porsche (state title),” Greenfield coach Donna Woodcock said.

While the team’s stars — Jelley, Ann Brissette, Conant, etc. — received much of the acclaim, Woodcock lauded the play of goalkeeper Cheryl Canuel, as well as halfbacks Erin Suchanek, Meghan Kelley and Alia Mitchell, for their contributions in the title run.

Joe Chadwick Region

No. 2 Frontier boys basketball (1987) def. No. 1 Frontier volleyball (2010)

The only non-No. 1 seed to reach the Final 4, the 1987 Frontier boys basketball team is anything but a Cinderella story.

In an all-Frontier showdown, the ’87 team rode its defensive intensity to a victory over the top-seeded 2010 volleyball team, earning a Final 4 berth where it will play the ’96 Pioneer hoop team in a battle for the ages.

Frontier could win in a variety of ways. Such was the case in the state semifinal victory, when it overcame a shaky start, extended its 1-3-1 defense to snag a 46-29 victory over Littleton.

“They’re quick for such a big team,” the Littleton coach offered of Frontier to the Recorder afterward.

We unfortunately say goodbye to the 2010 Frontier volleyball team as a result. As mentioned in this space previously, that year’s club was downright dominant. With four All-State players in the lineup, there was nowhere to turn for teams seeking a weakness. All season, the Red Hawks dropped just three sets. Two of those came in a five-set win over eastern Mass. foe and eventual Division 1 state champion Barnstable, while the other came in a 3-1 win over Division 2 foe Amherst.

“It used to be that teams (in the east) thought that whoever won the west (sectional) was a bye to the state finals,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said of the Barnstable win. “I feel like western Mass. volleyball has come a long way, and not just us.”


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