© Republican-American & Register-Citizen, 6/8/2008
Junior Nick Johnston hit a gargantuan grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning in front of several thousand Thomaston fans, turning a one-run deficit into a three-run lead, and the Thomaston Bears hung on to defeat St. Bernard of Uncasville, 6-5, to capture the Class S Baseball Championship, the first in school history. Johnston , whose brother Mike plays for the Bethlehem Plowboys, had three hits on the day and drove in five runs. Future Plowboy David Fredlund took the win on the mound for Thomaston throwing all 7 innings, 4 earned runs, 6 hits, 3 strikeouts, and 1 walk. “Last week we had a meeting for an hour, which is about an hour more than they wanted to be there, and it wasn’t about baseball” stated head coach Bobby McMahon, who along with fellow Plowboys Jimmy Alberto, Tony Geraci and Dave Colevechio make up the Thomaston coaching staff. “It was about attitude and the way to approach the situation. This teams place is to be loose during games, not tight.”
Some teams, some fans, start to fade in the face of such early trouble as St. Bernard jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 1 inning. Not Thomaston fans. They saw Sacred Heart take twice that lead early in the semifinal game. And not Thomaston players. “We’re a come from behind team,” grinned Johnson. The budget was a big deal this week in Thomaston, but nothing was a bigger deal than the Thomaston Golden Bears advancing to the Class S Championship. The clocktowners came out in droves for the Bears’ battle for a first state title in searing mid-afternoon heat at Palmer Field. They filled up two-thirds of the stands, the best crowd of all the state championship games, said one CIAC official. The Little League moved up its games Saturday, schedules were rearranged, and the fire trucks were put on notice. “I can’t believe all the people here from Thomaston” stated assistant head coach Jim Alberto. There is no town like a small town when it comes to state championship games.
Down 2-0, the Bears avoided further damage in the first inning when third baseman Ben Yaffee fielded a slow roller toward the mound and managed to throw off balance to catcher Jordon Gomes and putout a St. Bernard runner trying to score. But this day belonged to Nick Johnston. He put the Bears on the board in the second inning with a one-hop double to the 380-foot sign scoring Fredlund (son of former Boston Red Sox major league pitcher Jay Fredlund) to cut the deficit to 2-1. The Saints made the deficit 3-1 before the Bears fifth inning magic. “I was just trying to find a pitch, get it, and hit it” said Johnston . “Lowery throws hard. I got the barrel of the bat on it and he supplied the power.” A 3-2 deficit now was a 6-3 lead for the Bears as the ball this time flew over the 380-foot sign in left center field for a grand slam. “We told the kids during the week that (Pat Lowery) was a hard thrower, and to just put the bat out there for him to hit it” said Coach McMahon. “Nick was one who chose to believe us.” Meanwhile, Fredlund, the batting hero in the semifinals in Bristol , was out of gas in the fourth on a sweltering hot day. Out of gas? Maybe? Giving up? Like his teammates and their fans, never. “In the sixth, I knew David (Fredlund) was done,” said McMahon. “I was going to let him go one runner in the seventh. So like the true competitor he is, he didn’t allow any runners.” “It seems to be the regular season was a tune-up for this,” coach McMahon half-kidded in response to a question about the Bears last-game dropout in a torrid three-way chase for the Berkshire league title and paid serious tribute to all the one-run games played in a tough league. The entire league, top to bottom, can take credit for some of Thomaston’s resilience.
The crowd roared “YES” as the final out was recorded. Little kids leaned over the railing at the field yelling “you did it guys” engulfed in a standing ovation given to their heroes. The first state baseball championship in Thomaston history. The last time around, in 1985, the Bears dropped a 7-3 decision to Putnam. There are links between the two. Bears SS Nick Russo is the son of Jim Russo, starting pitcher for the 85 Bears. “You didn’t do it in 85 but we did it” exclaimed Nick Russo. “Your right” replied a smiling Jimmy Russo. DH Gabe Russo is the son of 85 assistant coach Mike Russo. Police Chief Gene Torrence was in the house and he was the starting catcher for that 1985 team.
“Your part of this Thomaston baseball family too” stated Bobby McMahon to Ed Gadomski in an emotional victory hug after the game. Gadomski (who attended spring practices with the team), Torrence, Dennis Brown (son is first baseman DB Jr), and Thomaston legend Ken Yaffee (son is third baseman Ben Yaffee) were just a few in attendance who coached these champions up through little league and Connie Mack. Catcher Jordan Gomes is the son of former basketball coach Muffy Gomes who coached Thomaston boys basketball to Class S Championships in 1990 and 1991. Throw in the Russo’s, Hurlberts (Wayne and Johnny), and Fredlunds (Jay and Terry) and the champs were surrounded by ballplayers who knew how to play the game. Certainly none any better than the current crew of McMahon, Alberto, Geraci, and Colevechio. Nearly all the dads are former Tri-State ballplayers. Others who played on the 1985 team: Brian Grabherr, Keith Harkness, Jon Harlow, Jason Harlow, John Pettit, Bob McMahon, Chris Russano, Mike Wilson, Chris Wilson, Donny Aligrenni, and Greg Hunt.
In Thomaston, they do something special for their state championship teams, and it is a proud site to behold. The crowd finally left, but not to go home. First a pit stop by the team bus at the home of former 2007 baseball head coach (and Plowboy) Alex Sconziano, who was unable to attend. Next a motorcade led by three of the towns fire trucks plus police escorts, as a massive line of cars made it from the bottom of Plymouth hill back to Thomaston HS to honor its champions. Once a state champion, always a state champion and a source of pride. Thomaston was in its glory Saturday and it will last for a while.
SIDENOTE: Congrats also to Bethlehem Plowboy and Holy Cross HS starting second baseman Nick Chiovetti for reaching the Class L finals – coming up on the short end of a 5-4 game to Plainville .