It was a big year on the local sports scene. The Auburn Doubledays hired a new general manager with past ties to the ball club. Skaneateles had four state champions. An Auburn native made his Major League Baseball debut. A new playing surface was unveiled at Holland Stadium in Auburn. And the Moravia boys basketball team overcame adversity to win a state a championship.
Here are the top 5 Cayuga County-area sports stories of 2017.
1. Moravia boys basketball overcomes adversity en route to state title
Looking to make amends after falling in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinal for the third time in 2016, the Blue Devils cruised to the Section IV, Class C title with wins over Spencer-Van Etten, Sidney and Elmira Notre Dame to begin another state title run.
Life wasn't so easy in the state regional against Section III champion Cooperstown — Moravia allowed the first 14 points of the game and trailed 23-2 in the first quarter, but the Blue Devils roared back and took their first lead of the game with 2:35 left in the third quarter. Moravia never relinquished that lead, eliminating the Hawkeyes for the second straight year, 66-59, to move on to its fourth state final four.
Facing the Section XI champion from Stony Brook in the state semifinal, the Blue Devils had to withstand a role reversal. Moravia led by as many as 21 points, but the Bears stormed back to force a two-point game in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils survived, however, when Stony Brook's Brandon Providence missed two free-throw attempts in the final seconds to send Moravia to its first state championship game.
“It feels unbelievable and it feels so surreal right now,” Moravia coach Todd Mulvaney said after the game. “I just can’t believe it happened, and I’m so proud of these kids and proud for the community. This means a lot to everybody and it’s more than just basketball.”
Senior center Gabe Short was named the state tournament's most valuable player and was later recognized as the Class C Co-Player of the Year along with Cooperstown's Tyler Bertram.
The 2016-17 season wasn't without its obstacles off the court — senior Dustin Mondics was injured in a car crash on Dec. 27 and was confined to a wheelchair for the entirety of Moravia's playoff run. With teammates and the coaching staff by his side, Mondics accepted his championship medal at center court following the final victory.
“When Dustin started coming around to practice again and was with the guys every day, I think that’s when we started to see our team gel," Mulvaney said. "It showed we could handle anything. We were in deficits during games and it didn’t bother us. We had that built in toughness from everything that we went through this year.”
2. Skaneateles earns state titles in football, girls hockey, girls lacrosse, and track and field
It was a banner year for the Lakers' sports programs led by the football team, which rode a record-setting season from quarterback Patrick Hackler to capture its first state banner in November.
The Lakers showed off a flair for the dramatic throughout their run. In the state regional against defending Class C champion Newark Valley, Skaneateles denied a would-be game-winning two-point conversion on the final play of the game.
In the state semifinal, Skaneateles topped Cleveland Hill 63-56 with Hackler accounting for nine touchdowns. The two teams combined for 119 points, an all-time high for a New York state playoff game.
“It came down to little things,” Skaneateles coach Joe Sindoni said. “It came down to making extra points and stuff that we do every day, and I’m just really happy for the kids. I’m numb right now and still in a little bit of disbelief. At the same time I see these smiling faces of these kids and these parents and that makes me happy.”
Hackler, a junior, finished the season with a state record 53 passing touchdowns to break the previous record of 45 set by CBA's Greg Paulus in 2002.
The Skaneateles girls hockey team started the year with a dominant season going a perfect 19-0 en route to the state championship. The Lakers never trailed in any game.
Skaneateles capped their season with a 5-1 win over Orchard Park in Canton in February. The Lakers last won the title in 2014, when they shared the honor with Potsdam after multiple overtimes failed to decide a winner.
The Skaneateles girls lacrosse team followed with another state championship in the spring. Kyla Sears, who missed her entire junior season with a knee injury, capped her comeback season with an overtime goal to lift the Lakers over Bronxville, 12-11, in June.
“It’s more than happiness right now. I’m ecstatic,” Sears, who earned player of the game honors, said following the game. “We wanted this so bad, and we said losing wasn’t an option because we wanted it so bad. I know it’s special for me coming back from last year’s injury, but we had injuries early in the season and others get hurt. This was a team win that our community needed.”
The Lakers had another state champion in the spring. Raenah Campbell sprinted to first place in the NYSPHSAA Division II 400m hurdles with a time of 1:03.63 at Union-Endicott High School in June.
3. Auburn native Tim Locastro called up to major leagues by Los Angeles Dodgers
Locastro began the season in Double-A and was one of nine Tulsa players chosen to play in the Texas League All-Star Game, but earned a promotion to Triple-A before the June 27 event. The Ithaca College product batted .388 with 10 doubles, two homers and 12 stolen bases in 31 games with Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Locastro returned home to Auburn after the season. After a phone call from the Los Angeles Dodgers' director of player development, Locastro was soon on his way to meet with the team in Colorado.
"He called me earlier in the day and we were talking about the off-season ... then later he asked me if I had any plans this weekend," Locastro said of his conversation with Gabe Kapler. "Now I'm meeting them in Colorado."
Promoted for his speed, Locastro got into three games and had one at-bat and one stolen base. Locastro was left off Los Angeles' playoff roster as the Dodgers lost to Houston in the World Series in seven games.
Locastro was thankful for his first taste of the majors.
"It was unconventional to call me back out when I was home for three weeks," Locastro said. "But it's happening and that's all that matters."
4. Holland Stadium debuts new turf field
While the complex has underwent a handful of renovations since its opening in 1936, few processes have been as extensive and debated on as the one involving the installation of an artificial turf surface. Proposals in both 2006, 2008 and 2012 were all passed on for various reasons, but Auburn Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo and Athletic Director Tamela Ray revisited the idea in 2014.
Pirozzolo and Ray suggested that a new turf field would benefit Auburn's athletic programs and the community as a whole. The project was approved on Jan. 13, 2016 and 20 months later Holland Stadium debuted its new turf.
"It's total enjoyment. I'm so happy for our children and our community to have a complex like Holland Stadium," Pirozzolo said. "I think it's the best in the state. There's no structure like this and adding turf just enhances the beauty of this stadium. It's a jewel of central New York."
5. Winslow rehired as Doubledays' general manager
A familiar face was handed the reins for Auburn's minor-league baseball team.
Adam Winslow, who was the Doubledays' general manager from September 2011 to May 2013, returned to the position in January after the departure of Mike Voutsinas.
"He has prior experience, extensive sports experience, sales experience and more important than anything now for this team is that he's a local guy who you might see in the grocery store or out to dinner," Dygert said in a January press conference. "He has a local connection. He grew up here. We don't think he's got any plans to move away anytime soon. He has a love and passion for the Doubledays."
Winslow, who is from Auburn, added two assistant general managers — Shane Truman and Andy Collier — with local ties to the front office in February. The trio focused on ways to bring people back to the park and ways to give back in the community.
"We're asking the community to come be a part of what we're doing here and to come enjoy what we're offering," Truman said. "We also want that voice and presence in the community to get out and help, and do things to be a part of the community all year long and not just during the season."
"106,400 — and everyone has heard that story — isn't just a number, it's a mentality," Winslow said in July. "Am I striving to that number every day? Without question."
The trio is now in their first full offseason together and has been busy preparing for the 2018 season, which includes earlier start times, a restructuring of the seating and more perks for season ticket holders.
"This is the real test for this current management team here," Winslow said. "This is our season. There's no having to inherit things from previous management. There's none of that. It's going to be a long, fast road to June 15 for sure.
"Everybody has their feet wet and everybody's been in the water, so now we're comfortable enough to where I think we have a good stroke and a lot of swim so to speak."