Haskell's Hot Stove

In-personal: One man's top 12 'live' sports events

By Mark Haskell | Sep 06, 2019

Well, here we are again.

Student-athletes have tried out, teams have been chosen and preseason — and soon to be regular-season — games are underway. The high school sports seasons are back in action.

Now in my 12th year covering Midcoast sports, I have, unquestionably, seen my share of "big" games and "big" moments at live sporting events, seeing, by and large, local children showcasing their talents and being given the task of telling their stories through my photos and words.

Sure, I have not seen as many local moments as other Midcoast sport media moguls such as Charlie Crockett, Don Shields and Ken Waltz, but I’ve witnessed a bevy of teams hoist plaques and trophies, hands being raised or simply fists being pumped after many a sporting event over the last 12 calendar years.

And, with that stated, with the another high school sports season about to begin, in honor of those 12 years, here are my top 12 sports moments I’ve seen, either as a fan or as a reporter:

12. Philadelphia Eagles versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFC championship game, 2003 — This one hurt, which is why it is so low on my list. It was the first NFL game I’d ever been to live and the final football game at Veterans Stadium. The Eagles scored the first touchdown of the game in a hurry on a 20-yard run by Duce Staley, and then for whatever reason, Andy Reid and the recently-returning-from-injury Donovan McNabb all but abandoned the run for the rest of the game, which essentially ended in the fourth quarter when Ronde Barber picked off a McNabb pass and went 92 yards the other way for the back-breaking touchdown. I figured out what Yuengling was that night, and had a lot of it. Tampa Bay, 27, Philly 10.

11. Portland Sea Dogs versus Reading Phillies, Hadlock Field, 2012 — This was a significant game in Portland Sea Dogs history as former Camden-Rockport High School graduate Mike MacDonald became the first Maine-born player to play for the Sea Dogs at Hadlock. He had made one unmemorable road start prior to this outing and, on this night, helped lead the Sea Dogs to a 7-0 shutout win over the Phillies. MacDonald spun seven innings of shutout baseball and, of note, was aided offensively with a solo home run by then prospect and now Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

10. Camden Hills versus Maranacook boys soccer and Camden Hills versus Leavitt girls soccer, KVAC Class B championships, 2010 — State titles were not on the line, but it was a good bit of fun for sure as both Windjammer teams secured 2-1, overtime wins over the Black Bears and Hornets to win their respective conference titles.

What made this interesting was both games were played on adjacent fields at the Capital Area Sports Complex in Augusta about 30 yards apart. Both Windjammers teams led 1-0 at halftime, while their opponents each scored a second half goal to ultimately send the game to overtime.

While taking photos at the boys game (bouncing back and forth between both games) and my back to the girls game, I heard a whistle on the far end of the girls field. It turned out to be Windjammer Melanie Vangel, about to take a penalty kick — which she buried — to win the game for Camden Hills.

After the girls collected their plaques, everyone went back to the boys game. And about 30 seconds after returning to the spot I had previously been taking photos, Windjammer Sam Predham “got a toenail” on the redirect near the net (perfect analogy from coach Ryan Hurley) as the ball trickled past the Black Bear goalie to the far post and in for the game-winner. It was hectic, but it was fun, and resulted in a couple notable wins for the Windjammers.

9. Belfast versus Foxcroft Academy field hockey, Class B North quarterfinals, 2011 — Honestly you could pick any game from Belfast’s playoff run in this particular season, which ended with a 2-1 win over York in the state Class B championship. The state final was exciting, as was the regional championship win over previously unbeaten, defending state champion and top-seeded Nokomis. But for my money, it was tough to beat the team’s 1-0 win over Foxcroft Academy in the quarterfinal round, which ended after two 30-minute halves, two eight-minute overtimes and a whopping 20 rounds of penalty corners before a winner could be decided.

8. UFC Fight Night 47, Cross Insurance Center, 2014 — It was the first time I’d seen a UFC fight live. And not too many people can say the were pressed firmly up against the cage, with blood, sweat or tears likely to to be flung off the bodies of combatants at any moment, for their first experience. Many of the fights were televised on FS1, as I would come to realize as I got several messages from friends and family saying “Is that you on TV?”

Yes, indeed it was. And I, like the 5,329 in attendance, I got to see Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch score a second-round knockout over Brad Tavares and the place came unglued as the Lincolnville native celebrated his come-from-behind win in front of his home state. Boetsch was busted open early, but after a break against the cage, floored Tavares with a left-to-right combination and quickly pounced on Tavares to finish the job.

The place went absolutely bonkers. The event’s press conference did not end until nearly 2 a.m. and I did not get home until 4 a.m. A long day at the office, but a memorable one for sure.

7. Camden Hills versus Maranacook boys basketball, KVAC championship, 2008 — The Black Bears were only a few weeks away from winning the state Class B championship, but the Windjammers were the lone team that could have something to say about it that year. In a throwback, gritty basketball game between two teams that flat out did not like each other (I still remember feeling vaguely unsafe taking photos between the two raucous student sections, which were honestly not as PC 11 years ago as we are now), the Windjammers earned a gritty, 79-73 overtime win over the Black Bears. Down two points with time winding down, Maranacook’s Ryan Martin was fouled shooting a three-pointer as time expired and went to the line with a chance to win the game with three made free throws. He made the first two to tie the game before Windjammer coach Jeff Hart called timeout. At the time, Hart said “I had one timeout left and I wasn’t going to go home with the last one in my pocket.” Martin clanged the last free throw and the game went to overtime.

6. Medomak Valley versus Fryeburg Academy softball, state Class B championship, 2009 — At the time, this was the biggest game I had covered as a cub sports reporter. It was a rematch of the previous year’s state final, won by Fryeburg. All the players were a year older and more seasoned, and the Panthers were loaded with Kayla Vannah in the pitching circle and the likes of Rachel Keefe, Tessa Dodge and Kayla Santheson, among others, having standout years both at the plate and in the field.

The game was tied 1-1 and went to extra innings and Fryeburg had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the eight inning with Fryeburg’s Ariel McConkey standing in the batter’s box with a 3-2 count.

What could Vannah do? A ball would walk in the championship-winning run. All she could do was lay one in there and trust her defense. McConkey’s hit essentially plopped down into the Bermuda Triangle — between second base, center field and right field — as Fryeburg Academy walked off with the win.

I never wanted to hug a student-athlete as badly as I did interviewing a teary Vannah after that game. She pitched her guts out. She went on to pitch for St. Joseph’s College — ironically, on the same field her high school career ended on that day — and is now the varsity softball coach for Poland High School.

5. Searsport versus Stearns baseball, Class D baseball championship, 2015 — I feel like this game, because of a later Searsport state title victory which you'll see later in this column, unjustly does not get the attention it deserves. I remember feeling jolted by how quickly it happened. Searsport led 3-0 and had all the momentum before Stearns tied the game with a three-run sixth. Then in the eighth, Mitchell Philbrook roped a single moved to second on a fielder's choice and freshman Liam MacMillan singled up the middle to plate Philbrook to give the Vikings the first of what would be three straight titles and four in five years. It was incredibly clutch. More from Philbrook later.

4. Medomak Valley versus Camden Hills boys basketball, 4 OT game, 2013 — This basketball game was nothing short of sensational to witness. I remember texting my wife after the second overtime and said “Good luck putting the kids to bed, I’ll be home late.” The two teams combined for nearly 200 points, six combined players fouled out and the teams combined to take 77 foul shots. But the thing that sticks out is then freshman Nicholas DePatsy for Medomak Valley sticking an off-balance three-pointer as time expired in the second overtime to send the game to a third. If there’s a video of this game that exists out there somewhere, I’d like to watch it again.

3. Rockland versus Gardiner boys basketball, preliminary playoff, 2008 — As a Rockland District High School graduate and being a sports reporter for less than a year, admittedly, I geeked out at this game. It was arguably the most exciting thing that had ever happened in that gymnasium. Gardiner was just down from Class A this year had just come off a state football championship months prior, with many of those hulking players in uniform in this game. Rockland trailed 55-54 with 0.8 seconds to go and inbounding the ball under its own basket. After his first scoring option Dylan Meklin was covered, Nick Baudanza lofted a high pass over the Gardiner defense to Anderson Murphy, who chucked up a shot from his hip that swished cleanly through the cylinder as the floor was mobbed with Rockland fans. The moment lives on in YouTube lore.

2. Vinalhaven versus Shead girls basketball, state Class D championship, 2017 — Little Vinalhaven. Rarely does their K-12 school have over 100 students enrolled there, let alone a collection of 12 players that can come together and do what this special group of players did — namely, winning the first state title in the history of the school — did that day against Shead of Eastport at the Bangor Auditorium.

That team had it all. Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes was the workhorse scorer, Déja Doughty was the gritty point guard that could essentially do it all. Paige Dennison was a consistent player off the ball, Ashlyn Littlfield was a star defender and Cheyenne Bickford was steady on both offense and defense. Toss in key reserve Hannah Newton spelling starters minutes and it was a recipe for a state title — which they won — 55-44 over the Tigers.

Had anyone wanted to rob someone on Vinalhaven, it would have been easy on that day as it seemed as if the entire island was in attendance to witness history. They were the right group of girls, led by the right coach (Sandy Nelson). And they made magic happen on the court nearly all season, especially at the end.

1. Searsport versus Bangor Christian baseball, state Class D championship, 2017 — This. The top of the list. Any kid who has dreamed of playing baseball dreams of doing what senior Mitchell Philbrook did in the bottom of the ninth inning — in a game scheduled for only seven frames no less — for their entire lives.

With the score tied 5-5 in the ninth, Philbrook grooved a 3-2 offering over the left field fence for a solo home run, which gave Searsport its third straight state title, this time over the Patriots.

A walk-off home run to win a state title? It doesn’t get much sweeter than that. And, twice in three years, MacMillan's cleat stomping the plate in a walk-off win.

What made it so much sweeter, and unlikely, is not only the fact that Searsport had not hit a home run all season long, but Philbrook had never hit one. Ever. In his life. Not in tee-ball, Little League, you name it. The kid picked his spot, and could not have done it at a better time.

I’ll never forget watching him round those bases, putting his hands on his head and on his face, almost in disbelief of what he had just done. It was a special moment and one I’ll definitely always remember.

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