Recorder Greatest Teams: 1976 Frontier FH survives, 1987 and 1979 Greenfield football teams both advance

  • Mahar quarterback Bruce Burnett barks out signals during the 1976 Senators’ 26-20 win over Grafton in the WMass/CMass Division 3 Super Bowl at Springfield College. At left is fullback Ricky Schmidt, while halfback Everett Ricketts is on the right. Sixth-seeded Mahar moved on in the Gary Mullins Region of our Recorder’s Greatest Teams bracket with a win over No. 11 Turners Falls volleyball (1978). FILE PHOTO

  • The 1976 Mohawk girls cross country team shows off its state championship plague after edging Falmouth by one point to pick up a state crown. The Warriors, seeded 14th in the Mullins Region, were knocked out of the Recorder’s Greatest Teams competition by No. 3 Greenfield football (1987). FILE PHOTO

  • Athol’s EJ McLean, right, looks to make a block on Greenfield’s Aaron Campbell during the 1992 WMass Division 2 title game at the Springfield Civic Center. The Red Raiders won the game and reached the state final before falling in overtime to East Boston, 59-51. No. 10 Athol was knocked out of the Recorder’s Greatest Teams bracket by No. 7 Frontier field hockey (1976) in the opening round of the Gary Mullins Region. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2019 9:24:09 PM

One region down, three to go.

After the opening round of games were bracketed in the Vi Goodnow Region (see Monday’s paper), we now turn our focus to the Gary Mullins Region for first-round contests in The Recorder’s ‘Greatest Teams’ bracket. Eight more games, marching along as we try and identify the greatest team in the history of our local area.

The upset bug did not hit the Mullins Region. Chalk was more or less the name of the game, as the teams expected to take care of business did exactly that. We’ll continue our look at opening-round games throughout the week, paring the field down to 32 teams by the end of the week.

Here’s a closer look at the eight games and how they played out:

No. 1 Turners Falls softball (2005) def. No. 16 Mohawk football (1973)

The top-seeded Powertown got its tournament run off to a fine start.

Behind a 3-for-3 outing at the dish by senior third baseman Katie Kidder, the 2005 Turners Falls softball team punched its ticket to the Round of 32 with a victory over the 1973 Mohawk football team.

“Pressure to us is like ice cream. We love it,” Kidder said of her crew, which won the Division 2 state final in 2005 that extended the program’s winning streak to 31 straight. The squad capped its season a perfect 25-0, giving Coach Mullins his 400th career win in the process.

The loss ended the run for the 16th-seeded Warriors, which put together a memorable 1973 campaign. Mohawk rode the momentum of a 20-12 win over Frontier on Veterans Day to earn a spot in the WMass-CMass Division 3 Super Bowl. That team dropped a 31-12 decision to Oakmont in the Big Game.

No. 9 Athol football (1962) def. No. 8 Greenfield ice hockey (2008)

This one came down to the wire.

Behind a gritty effort from Chris O’Brien, the undefeated Red Raiders set up a Round of 32 matchup against the aforementioned 2005 Turners softball team with a nail-biter over No. 8 2008 Greenfield ice hockey.

O’Brien would not let his team be denied. The upstart Honorable Mention 1962 North Worcester County All-Star, whose team capped a perfect season with a 50-0 thumping of Mahar on Thanksgiving, helped Athol maintain its unblemished mark against the Green Wave. O’Brien, who died of his wounds while serving in combat with the U.S. Marine Corps on July 9, 1967 in the Republic of South Vietnam, eventually had his name involved in a Turkey Day award in the North Quabbin rivalry.

Greenfield gave Athol everything it could handle, with goaltender Austin Urkiel keeping the Wave within striking distance. Sniper Tym Dore notched two goals for his team, which went 20-1-2 overall and won the inaugural WMass Division 3A tourney in 2008 thanks to a wild 7-6 victory Agawam at the MassMutual Center.

In its previous 36 years of existence, Greenfield hockey had been to the finals and lost three times, most recently in 1994, when the Wave dropped a 7-4 decision to Amherst Regional High School. Before that, the Wave had fallen 7-6 in double-overtime to Ludlow High School in 1982 and 2-0 to Amherst in 1972.

No. 4 Greenfield football (1979) def. No. 13 Mohawk boys cross country (2000)

Behind the dominant defensive line work of tackles Don Day and Mike Grant, the 1979 Greenfield football team made its way through to the Round of 32.

Day and Grant were in the backfield all day, helping the No. 4 Green Wave snag a win over 13th-seeded 2000 Mohawk boys XC team.

QB Bill Decker hit Dave DeNofrio for a pair of touchdowns in the victory for ‘79 Greenfield, which is in the running for best Green Wave football team of all time. That team rode a dominant defensive effort to the tune of just 6.3 points per game allowed to go along with four shutouts. The Wave went 9-1 in the regular season with its lone loss coming to East Longmeadow, 14-7. That included a dominant 35-7 win over Turners on Thanksgiving, elevating them into the Division 1 Super Bowl. That’s where the run met its end however, as Holyoke High School claimed a 14-7 win in the Big Game played at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.

The 2000 Mohawk effort was paced by team MVP Neal Graves. The individual state champion some 19 years ago, Graves ran ragged in defeat during this opening-round game. In lifting the Warriors to that team state title, it marked the first time in history that a WMass team won back-to-back state crowns. It was also gave Graves’ second straight individual crown.

No. 5 Frontier boys basketball (2008) def. No. 12 Turners Falls football (1971)

To win a basketball state championship as a Franklin County school is a rarity, indeed.

The 2008 Frontier boys basketball team was one of the few to accomplish that feat.

The fifth-seeded Red Hawks stayed hot in their first action since that state title appearance some 11 years ago, with twins Dan and Brian Clark combining for 31 points en route to the win over No. 12 Turners Falls football from 1971.

While the Clark twins did what they do, it was a coming out party for Jamie Bell. After missing most of the Division 3 state final against Scituate (a 79-65 victory) due to an injury, Bell got some redemption in the victory over Turners Falls in our opening round. Bell scored 21 points, going 8-for-13 from the floor, to send Frontier into the Round of 32 where it will face 1979 Greenfield football.

The loss for No. 12 Turners was unchartered territory. After posting an undefeated season in ’71, the Powertown were buoyed by the play of Buster Martin and Fran Togneri against Frontier. But unlike the 22-14 Thanksgiving victory over Greenfield (a game postponed until Saturday due to snow), Turners was unable to seal the deal. The 1971 season was the program’s first undefeated team in 31 years (1938).

No. 3 Greenfield football (1987) def. No. 14 Mohawk girls cross country (1976)

Plenty of Ken Suhl, coupled with a late interception from sophomore Kyle Phelps, lifted the 1987 Greenfield football team into the win column.

The third-seeded Wave, which rolled to a 10-1 record and throttled Turners 35-0 on Turkey Day, suffered their lone loss of the 1987 campaign in a Division 1 Super Bowl defeat to Westfield, 35-14. The formula for success that season continued in our opening-round game against the 1976 Mohawk girls cross country team. Suhl, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound quarterback who was Kyler Murray before Kyler Murray was Kyler Murray, threw for nearly 30 touchdown passes and ran for over 1,000 yards that fall.

Greenfield needed everything its star could provide against the hard-charging Mohawk XC squad. That team, fresh off a runner-up peformance at the state championship, exorcised those demons and edged Falmouth by a single point to take home the 1976 state crown.

“I think the girls know they’ve done something unusual,” Mohawk coach Connie Putnam said after the state title win. “I certainly do.”

Priscilla Wilson, Maryanna Barratt, Ellis Abbott, Cathie Semanie, Kara Rillings and company would not be denied that day, and that effort was again on display in their fight to advance in our bracket.

No. 6 Mahar football (1976) def. No. 11 Turners Falls volleyball (1978)

The first-ever Super Bowl victory in program history provided a winning culture for the 1976 Mahar football team. That culture was again on display in the opening round, as the sixth-seeded Senators carried on through with a win over the 1978 Turners Falls volleyball team.

Mahar, which beat Grafton, 26-20, to claim the WMass/CMass Division 3 title on the campus of Springfield College a mere 43 years ago, got a touchdown pass from QB Bruce Burnett and some timely first down runs from Peter Spadafora and Ricky Schmidt. Coach Joe Spadafora was able to get his team into victory formation for the final minute-plus.

The 1978 Turners volleyball team dug itself an early hole, but never relented. That was indeed the motto throughout the WMass Division 1 title-winning season, when the Powertown beat Amherst in the finals of a three-team round-robin tournament to advance to the state championship. In that state-wide event in Waltham, Turners took second in the B Pool with a 2-4 record, as coach Deb Loomer’s team wound up as the No. 2 school in that field behind Brookline High School. Bonny Thompson’s serving was a sight to behold in Turners’ tussle with Mahar football.

No. 7 Frontier field hockey (1976) def. No. 10 Athol boys basketball (1992)

Dominance versus Hoosiers.

Such was the theme when these two teams locked horns in a first-round Mullins Region game. On one side, you had the 1976 Frontier field hockey juggernaut — a team that won its fourth straight WMass crown and capped it with a second consecutive Division 1 state title. On the other end was a 1992 Athol boys basketball team that sprung an upset win over top-seeded Greenfield in the WMass Division 2 title game and found its way into the state final against powerhouse East Boston.

Talk about a thrilling first-round game.

But in the end, Frontier’s tandem of Laurie Farrick and Mary Pike proved to be too much. Farrick, the team’s leading scorer in 1976 with 36 goals, netted the game-winner, set up by Pike, and the Red and White rolled into the Round of 32 with ever-growing aspirations.

Frontier beat Smith Academy, 4-0, to win that WMass title, and took care of business in a 2-1 state final win over Nashoba in a game played at Mt. Holyoke College that was not as close as the final score indicated.

Athol — the area’s version of Hoosiers during its 1992 run to the state final against big city East Boston — played one of the most memorable championship games in state history. Trailing 51-40 with 1:38 remaining, the Red Raiders stormed back. Behind a combination of made 3-pointers and missed East Boston free throws, Athol got within striking distance in the waning seconds. That’s when point guard Derek Patria rose to the occasion, drilling a game-tying 3 with just two seconds remaining to force overtime.

That would be all she wrote, however, as East Boston outscored Athol by an 8-0 margin in the three-minute extra session, capturing a 59-51 win.

The sizable East Boston team had a front line featuring 6-foot-7 Jeichael Henderson and 6-5 Jamal Jackson. There was also a familiar face in future New England Patriots tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who scored 8 points in his team’s win, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 in the final minute of regulation that left the door open for an Athol comeback.

Greg Gauvin, who scored 23 points in the loss to East Boston, teamed with Patria to keep Athol close against Frontier’s field hockey team, while big man Scott Laasko blocked two shots defensively.

No. 2 Pioneer boys basketball (1997) def. No. 15 Frontier softball (1996)

The first of Pioneer’s two state championship teams opened Recorder tournament play Monday, as the 1997 Panthers claimed a win over the 1996 Frontier softball team.

No. 2 Pioneer, led by senior co-captain Kota Denton’s triple-double, made its way into the Round of 32. Adam Harrington and Kyle VanNatta recorded double-doubles, and the Panthers continued the momentum from their 50-game winning streak that saw them finish the ’97 campaign with a 68-56 win over Bishop Stang High School of Dartmouth in the Division 3 state finals at the Worcester Centrum.

The Panthers, which became just the second team in Franklin County history to win back-to-back state titles after only the aforementioned Frontier field hockey team (1975 and 1976), will now get their chance to play that very same 1976 Frontier team in the Round of 32.

Fifteenth-seeded Frontier got a quality start in the pitching circle from Meggan Weston in defeat. The squad, which beat Hopkins 8-2 to win the WMass Division 3 tourney before falling to Ashland, 6-4, in the state final, tied the Pioneer boys hoop team briefly in the early frames thanks to a Julia Wojciechowski two-run home run that plated Kim Wolfram (double).

The ’96 team, which went 21-2 overall, was part of an outstanding run for the Frontier softball program. The squad went to the state finals in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999 under coach Jack Zabek.

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