Christmas Eve is a bit light on the local sports calendar. But no worries, we've been counting down the best games of the year over this holiday weekend. From buzzer beaters to walkoffs to double overtime thrillers, we've gone from 15 to 6, and now, it's time to reveal our picks for the top 5 games of 2017.
We start with the D-1 softball championship in Poultney in June, Mt. Anthony was seeking a third title in four years against Essex. The Hornets led 1-0 bottom one, but Catherine Worthington answered with a blast just fair to tie the game, and the Patriots took their first lead in the third on a no-doubter from Jamie Boyle to make it 5-3. Essex needed a pair down 6-4 in the 7th, and Sarah Knickerbocker delivered! A 2-run blast to tie the game. In the bottom half, Worthington thought she had it won with a bomb to left center, but Michelle Kent with maybe the play of the year to pull it back and force extras! Worthington got her revenge in the 8th with the diving stop to prevent the go-ahead run, and in the bottom of the 8th, a crazy sequence: Marleigh Greene with the base hit and Emilie O'Brien was awarded home on obstruction to give MAU it's 3rd title in 4 years!
At number 4, we head to Rutland for the D-1 football state title game, a rematch from last year with unbeaten St J facing defending champ Hartford. The Toppers led 13-0 before the Canes answered. State Player of the year Tyler Hamilton tucked and went 65 yards to the house to get Hartford on the board. But St. J had the answer, Jacob Cady airing it out to Nick Guckin, the Toppers took that touchdown right back. One score game in the third when St J got tricky, the lateral to Jimmy Hayes who rumbles in to score his only career touchdown. Hartford again cut into the lead in the third as Hamilton found Nick Porter through the air to get within a point, and after a stop the Canes had the chance to win it. They got down inside the 10 yard line but just ran out of time, St J holding on for the nailbiting 33-32 win to claim their first ever D-1 title.
Our final three games all come from the college ranks: Norwich men's hockey advanced to the Frozen Four in Utica in March, in search of their 4th national title. Adrian stood in the way in the semifinals, and this one was a doozy. The Cadets broke the ice in this one, Will Pelletier sniping the top right corner to make it 1-0 Norwich, Jake Erickson with 2 of his 3 on the season coming in this game! And Kevin Salvucci with a snipe of his own to give Norwich a 2-goal cushion. But down 4-2, Adrian rallied. Trevor Boyd and Joey Colatarci tallied just 90 seconds apart, and this game went to overtime tied at 4. Adrian probably had the better of the chances in sudden death, but Braeden Ostepchuk stood on his head to keep Norwich alive, and then 11 minutes in, Ian Williams scored the biggest goal of his life to push the Cadets into the championship game. The next night, they'd capture their fourth title since 2000.
Our other area hockey champ slides in at number two, also against the Adrian Bulldogs. The Plattsburgh Cardinals entered as the three time defending champ, but had to go to Michigan for the 4th. This game was tied at 2 a piece with just five minutes remaining in the third when the Cards appeared to suffer the ultimate heartbreak: Adrian's Sarah Shureb came down the right wing and snapped a wrister past Cammy Leonard to put the hosts in front 3-2 and left Plattsburgh needing a miracle. But that's exactly what they got. Down a goal and a skater, Julia Duquette came up with the loose puck in front of the Adrian net and beat the keeper with 20 seconds remaining to send this game to overtime. Plattsburgh was in control in the extra frame, and Erin Brand brought the puck in on net and slipped home the championship winner to stun the capacity crowd. Plattsburgh claimed its fourth straight NCAA crown with a 4-3 overtime win.
And at number one...it had been 5 long years since the UVM men's basketball team had qualified for the NCAA Tournament, but a perfect run through the America East schedule gave the Hoop Cats a home game for the championship. Old nemesis Albany stood in the way. Vermont started fast, Anthony Lamb and Payton Henson hit a pair of threes to open the game, but the Danes rallied to take the lead. UVM responded, Trae Bell Haynes the and-one, and they'd head to the break tied at 27. Albany caught fire early in the second, Travis Charles the hoop and the harm as the Cats trailed by nine and could sense it slipping away. But senior captain Kurt Steidl wasn't going out like that. A pair of threes bookended a run that tied the game at 48 with 4:25 to play. Lamb hit crucial free throws down the stretch, and tied at 52, Payton Henson scored the biggest bucket of the season with the foul to put Vermont up for good. The Cats came from behind to win our game of the year 56-53 and headed to the NCAA Tournament for just the 6th time in school history.