1. Two different teams from two different schools felt a sense of loss during the fall sports season.

Not only did Winthrop and Messalonskee high schools rally around their teams, so did their communities, and so did people from other parts of the state who were moved to help those grieving the loss of Kelsey Stoneton or Cassidy Charette. That spirit of community is why this is the Morning Sentinel’s top sports story of 2014.

Stoneton, a 17-year-old standout student and athlete at Winthrop High School, died from a pulmonary embolism on Aug. 2 at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Supporters gathered for a candlelight vigil and a memorial of flowers, cards and stuffed animals outside of Stoneton’s home. Within 10 days, supporters had raised thousands of dollars to help the family pay for funeral expenses and set up a schoarship in Kelsey’s name.

Stoneton’s death came just two weeks before the start of the fall sports season. She was a captain and one of the best players on the field hockey team, and players and teams from other schools expressed their support with cards, flowers and donations.

Before their season opener, the field hockey team retired Kelsey’s number 8 and unveiled a corner of the scoreboard dedicated to her memory.

“Kelsey is still very much a part of this team,” Winthrop coach Jessica Merrill said. “We will use her spirtit to guide us through whatever hurdles are in our path.”

On Oct. 11, Charette, an outstanding student and soccer player from Oakland, was killed in a hayride accident in Mechanic Falls. Community members, including Charette’s friends and teammates, gathered at Messalonskee High School the following day to console each other, then held a candlelight vigil at the Red Barn in Augusta and raised thousands of dollars to help other victims of the accident and start a scholarship in Charette’s name.

Charette’s team returned to the field three days later for their game against Bangor. Players from the visiting team handed out roses to each member of the team and coaching staff. That night, another candlelight vigil in Waterville drew over 100 attendees.

“We believe in Messalonskee, and our community has certainly lived up to the moniker ‘Messalonskee Strong,’ these past few weeks,” Messalonskee principal Jon Moody said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our staff, our kids, our parents and our community.”

2. John Winkin dies.

John Winkin taught generations how to play baseball. While coaching at Colby College, the University of Maine and Husson University, Winkin won more than 1,000 games. When Winkin died on July 19 at age 94, his legacy as the father of Maine baseball was well cemented.

At his memorial service in August at Colby’s Lorimer Chapel, Winkin’s influence as a friend and mentor was emphasized, and dozens of friends, family and former players took turns telling stories of Winkin.

“He was by far the smartest man I ever came in contact with in my life,” former Colby men’s basketball coach Dick Whitmore said, adding that Winkin was the greatest coach in the history of Maine.

Stump Merrill was an assistant coach under Winkin at Maine before joining the New York Yankees organization. Merrill managed the Yankees in 1990 and 1991, and credited Winkin with helping him advance in his baseball career.

“Without John Winkin, I question whether this would have happened,” Merrill said.

Winkin’s influence will be felt in Maine baseball for years. Husson’s baseball and football facility, the Winkin Complex, bears his name. Each year, the state’s top high school baseball player is given the Winkin Award.

3. Maranacook boys soccer defends state title

Bear hunting wasn’t just a hotly-debated referendum issue last fall. It was the mission of every team that crossed paths with the Maranacook Black Bears.

Virtually from the day they won the 2013 Class C state championship, the Black Bears didn’t shy away from being the hunted. They even wore black T-shirts with a yellow bull’s eye on them to entice anyone who wanted to take a shot at them.

“We’re the defending champs, so come and get us,” coach Don Beckwith said before the season.

Many tried, but none bagged a bear. Maranacook steamrolled through the Class B teams in the KVAC North, posting 10 shutouts in 14 games while outscoring opponents, 76-6.

Despite his team’s dominance, Beckwith made a key adjustment to his lineup, moving senior Matt DuBois from sweeper to striker to add more scoring punch in the playoffs to an already formidable offense featuring Kodey Solmitz and Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B Player of the Year Kent Mohlar. DuBois scored two goals in each of the Bears’ first two playoff wins, over Sacopee Valley and Waynflete, then netted the game-winner with 5:23 remaining in the 1-0 regional final win over Hall-Dale.

Zack Godbout joined DuBois in the scoring column and sophomore goalkeeper Justin Freeman posted his third tournament shutout in the 2-0 state championship win over Orono. The victory capped a nearly unparalleled two-year reign in which Maranacook went 34-0-2 and became the first Class C team to repeat since North Yarmouth Academy won three straight state titles from 1998-2000.

4. Oak Hill defends Class D state football title

It was a great performance by Alex Mace in a career filled with plenty of them that helped Oak Hill claim its second straight Gold Ball with a 41-21 win over Maine Central Institute in the Class D championship at Fitzpatrick Stadium on Nov. 22.

Mace finished the game with 342 all-purpose yards, including a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown with 4:55 remaining in the third quarter that allowed the Raiders to distance themselves from their opponents.

“I knew it was my last game, I just wanted to make the best of it,” Mace said after the game. “I didn’t want to go down easy.

“I’m happy. I gave it 110 percent. I knew everyone else did so this is something I’ll never forget.”

Mace and fellow senior running back Kyle Flaherty formed one of the best one-two punches in the state this past season, and will go down as one of the best tandems in school history.

For their careers, the duo combined for 8,908 yards and 99 touchdowns — the bulk of which came in the past two state championship-winning seasons.

5. Richmond wins Class D softball title

Who said state championships are reserved for upperclassmen?

The Bobcats certainly proved that notion wrong last spring when they defeated Limestone 11-5 to win their second straight Class D championship.

The remarkable thing was, Richmond did so starting just one junior — Kelsie Obi — and zero seniors.

A big part of their success was due to the team’s all-freshmen battery of pitcher Meranda Martin and catcher Camryn Hurley. Limestone coach Andrew Kirby, for one, came away impressed with the freshman pitcher’s ability after the state championship game.

“She’s the best pitcher we’ve seen all season,” Kirby told the Kennebec Journal following the game. “We don’t typically see speed like that. She can mix up her pitches, and we’re not used to that, either. We knew she was going to be fast, and the girls like to hit off faster pitchers, but that speed is something that we haven’t seen all season at all.”

The scary thing is the Bobcats should only be better this spring, as they return all of their starters.

6. Richmond boys soccer win Class D state title

Peter Gardner, who built a legendary coaching career at Brunswick with 463 wins and six Class A state championships, came out of retirement to lead a talented Richmond team. Following his command to play consistently strong defense, the Bobcats dominated during the regular season. Once the offense started clicking on all cylinders, their balance made them tough to beat as they outscored opponents 70-6 en route to a 14-0 record.

They scored 11 goals in the first two rounds of the playoffs against Greenville and Greater Portland Christian, Next up for the Western D title was Buckfield, which had battled the Bobcats in a pair of regular-season contests decided by one goal. Brothers Brendan and Cameron Emmons hooked up on a corner kick for the game’s only goal with 2:22 left in regulation.

As expected, five-time defending Class D champion Bangor Christian, which had beaten Richmond in three of the last five state title games, awaited in the final. The Patriots hadn’t allowed a goal in a dozen games, but senior Marcus Blake struck less than three minutes into the contest. Blake added another and Cody Tribbet also scored, and the Bobcats, bent on redemption, won their first Gold Ball since 2007.

“We were ready for this game. We wanted revenge,” Blake said.

7. Messalonskee wins Class B ice hockey state championship.

Like the Winslow football team, the Messalonskee High School ice hockey team entered the season as a two-time state runner-up. On March 8, the Eagles kicked aside two years of being close with a 6-1 win over Gorham in the Class B state championship game at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

“We talked about losing the last two (state games) this week,” Messalonskee senior Chase Cunningham said after the state game win. “We tried to forget them, but it’s hard to forget.”

It was the first ice hockey state championship for Messalonskee, and the argument could be made that the Eagles were the top team in the state, regardless of class. Messalonskee went 21-0-0 and took a 7-2 regular-season win over eventual Class A champ Famouth.

The Eagles outscored their playoff opponents, 22-5, including a 9-3 win over Presque Isle in the regional finals.

Cunningham completed an outstanding career, scoring 82 points for the season, to finish with a school record 251 career points, 100 goals and 151 assists.

8. Gardiner field hockey wins Eastern B title

Even with long-time assistant Sharon Gallant taking over for Maine Field Hockey Association Hall of Famer Moe McNally, the Tigers still managed to live up to the high standard set by their former coach.

The crowning achievement for Gardiner came in the Eastern B championship, as freshman Hailee Lovely set up sister Nickyia, a junior, for the game-winning goal with 2:22 remaining in overtime for a 1-0 win over Belfast at the Weatherbee Complex.

“My sister actually deflected it after she hit the ball,” Nickyia Lovely told the Kennebec Journal after the game. “It came out to me and I was like, ‘OK, I might as well just shoot it.’ It went in, and the adrenaline was so awesome.”

While it was still another great season for Gardiner, it was one in which it fell just a bit short of the ultimate goal.

The upset-minded Tigers gave York all it could handle in the Class B championship, but a late goal from Kayla Kelley sealed the win for the Wildcats.

9. UMaine-Augusta women’s basketball makes first national tournament

The Moose reached a couple of program milestones in 2014. First, they played in their first Yankee Small College Conference tournament championship game. Despite bowing to Central Maine Community College for the conference title, the Moose earned one of five at-large bids for the United State Collegiate Athletic Association Division II women’s basketball tournament, the first national tournament appearance in their history.

It was more than their 15-10 record and conference tournament run that impressed the selection committee. UMA was ranked 10th in the USCAA before the tournament and boasted three of the YSCC’s top five scorers — Arreonte Lee (20.8 ppg), Richmond graduate Jamie Plummer (19.4 ppg) and Monmouth grad Jennifer Lola ( 18.4 ppg). Lee was a first-team USCAA All-American who is now playing Division I basketball at Bethune-Cookman.

“We set a goal at the beginning of the season to make it to Nationals,” UMA head coach Jennifer Laney said on the team’s web site. “All year long, our motto has been ‘Whatever it takes.'”

The Moose entered the eight-team, single-elimination tournament in Uniontown, Pa. as the No. 7 seed and faced No. 2 University of Cincinnati-Clermont in the tournament opener. Despite 16 points from Lee and 10 rebounds by Plummer, they couldn’t overcome 29 percent shooting from the floor and lost, 74-45.

10. Julia Clukey inducted into Maine Sports Hall of Fame

This summer Clukey was one of nine stars to be inducted into the state’s hall of fame in a ceremony held at the Augusta Civic Center.

A member of the 2010 Olympic luge team, Clukey credited the dedication of her parents as to why she has had the opportunity to enjoy the success she has at the international level.

“At 13 I was packing up to head to Europe for the junior luge Olympics,” she told the Kennebec Journal at the time. “I realize what a sacrifice it was to send me out into the world.”

It is a world Clukey is still sorting her way through. A few weeks after her enshrinement, Clukey announced that she would continue to compete internationally for at least another year.

There was speculation amongst the media in the state about whether or not the Augusta native would continue to compete after failing to qualify for the 2014 Olympics by 13 thousandths of a second.

“I think a lot of people thought that, but she’s not like that,” Cheryl Clukey, Julia’s mother, told the Kennebec Journal shortly after the announcement. “Julia’s really private and she took a long time to make this decision. I think she’s happy with herself.”

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