THP #13: The Burg

February 5, 2020 – Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Fitchburg State vs MCLA
Women’s Basketball

Fitchburg is the kind of town that’s easy to drive through. With Route 2 running directly through the city, thousands of people drive through Fitchburg very day.

But the City by the River is a charmer. With a population of 40,000 it’s like many mill towns in Northern Massachusetts. It’s worn and cramped by the centuries of time. It creaks with the stories of people long past.

Downtown Fitchburg

The Good Eats

In a town like Fitchburg it just made sense to go where the townies go. And that took me to Slattery’s. Located on a corner, the bar/restaurant could easily be described as rustic. Low ceilings. Low lights even in the afternoon. It was a place I knew I could get a good meal and disappear into a booth.

The classics are classic for a reason and the veal parm was a classic. I don’t ask for much from most restaurants. Just give me good, solid food that isn’t the bare minimum. Fresh meat. Al dente pasta. Great stuff.

Around Town

When I travel to these places I’m always trying to find good bakeries. If I could figure out all the best places to find a good cookie or cannoli I’d love it.

And Fitchburg has a great spot in the Dutch Kitchen Bake Shop. Located in a strip mall, the Dutch Kitchen has case upon case of delicious treats.

I got myself a chocolate chip cookie. It was good. I got the fiance a lemon square. It was great. Definitely pull off Route 2 and grab a pastry.

To top it off, Fitchburg had an art museum and I wasn’t about to say no to a little bit of culture in my trip to Central Mass.

The Fitchburg Art Museum is located on a hidden little side street. Established in 1925 at the bequest of Eleanor Norcross, a famous artist and collector born in the city. Norcross was the first American artist to have her works showcased at the Louvre in Paris.

After her death in 1923 she left many of her works and a sizable amount of money to establish an arts and cultural center in her hometown.

On this day there was a whole room dedicated to works by my favorite American Artist, Winslow Homer. Before he painted his famous landscapes in Maine, he was a magazine illustrator and the exhibit went back through his career with the pen.

Exhibitions of African art and Egyptian relics filled the museum and gave it a worldwide feel. For less than $10 it’s definitely worth an hour of your time when you come to Fitchburg.

 

A replica of one of King Tut’s thrones
American Domestic by Willie Cole

The Game

The Recreation Center at Fitchburg State is just that. It’s a place for students all over campus to workout or run a game of pickup. The Falcons’ basketball and volleyball teams call the venue home.

Small, smelling of wood lacquer, and worn in by the years, it’s a perfectly serviceable place to play and watch basketball.

On this night it is the Falcons women’s team taking on the Trailblazers of MCLA (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), and it was all Falcons from the jump.

Fitchburg took the lead early and grew it to six by halftime.

Fitchburg grew the lead to 11 after three quarters and would go on to pick up the 56-41 win.

The top performer was Fitchburg senior Angelina Marazzi. Marazzi had 23 points and nine boards for the Falcons.

The most notable thing about the game though was its length. From start to finish the game took exactly 80 minutes. I don’t know if I’ll ever see a full 40-minute game that fast ever again.

. . .

Sharing a wall with the bakery was Disc Golf 978, a store dedicated exclusively to disc golf. It was a festival for the eyes upon walking in.

I got to talking with the man behind the counter, Adam. He was so passionate about disc golf. He was explaining to me the difference between a driver and a putting disc. The differences in materials. The prevalence of courses throughout Massachusetts.

I love passionate people. They do the three important things: show up, give a shit, try. If you do those three you’ll be doing okay in life and Adam certainly was.

I asked him how people view the university and the school’s athletic teams around town. He said there were two types of people: the ones who were ambivalent and the ones who took great pride in having a university in town. I’d rather get to know the latter.

Fitchburg. Nice town.

THP #12: The Best of The Best

January 31, 2020 -Kingston, Rhode Island
Virginia Commonwealth v Rhode Island
Men’s Basketball

We’re Rhode Island born
And we’re Rhode Island bred
And when we die we’ll be Rhode Island dead
So go go Rhode Island island
Go go Rhode Island island
Go Rhode Island
U-R-I

I’ve made it home. The alma mater. The single best place to watch college basketball in all of New England. I love it here.

This is the University of Rhode Island, where I graduated from in 2013. The flagship university in one of the most hoops-crazy states in the union. I love it here.

Looking out at the quad.

Established in 1892 as the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, URI has grown to a sprawling university with 17,000 students across four campuses. The flagship sits in Kingston, a small village of South Kingstown.

Kingston isn’t known for much outside the university. The most important historical event there was The Great Swamp Fight in 1675, a battle between Colonial/Pequot forces and the Narragansett tribe that resulted in nearly 1,500 dead and proved to be the beginning of the end of King Philip’s War.

Looking toward Carothers Library

Academically, URI has grown into a top science and research institution. With a well-renowned pharmacy program, and heavy investment in the sciences over the last decade, URI has set itself in a good position heading into the next decade.

Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic, also works at the university as the director for the Graduate School of Oceanography.

The history and the future blend together across the campus’ more than 1,200 acres.

Something old: Lippitt Hall (1897) sits 10 yards away from…
Something New: The Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering (2019) is a gleaming glass monument to modernity

The Good Eats

Tilly’s didn’t exist when I was in school. It was just an empty lot that I’d drive by on my way to the train station or the liquor store. Today, it’s one of the best restaurants I regularly go to in New England and it would have destroyed my wallet and waistline if I was still a student.

Tilly’s serves cheesesteaks, fries, and shakes. And they are damn good. A small spot that sits maybe four dozen, it brings it with the quality in a major way.

And sticking with the low-fi aesthetic they don’t take your name when you order. They give you a card. A playing card.

The cheesesteak is amazing. The french fries are amazing. The homemade pickles tie it all together. 12/10. Absolutely take the short drive down route 138 and grab yourself a sandwich before the game.

The Game

The Ryan Center opened in 2002 and replaced the historic and cramped Keaney Gym, which now is the home for the volleyball team.

Sitting just over 7,600 people, the Ryan Center feels bigger than it is and truly has no bad seat in the building. If there was a concern it would be that there is no center-hung scoreboard, but other than that it truly is a perfect building.

I spent 3.5 years covering the team for the school paper and loved every second of it. This place really is a home for me when it comes to sports in New England. Even as an alum I still make sure to get a miniplan every year so I can get back.

And on this night it was a Ram family reunion with VCU in town for a massive A-10 tilt. The Ryan Center can get real damn loud when it’s half full. Tonight it was sold out.

And Rhody delivered in a huge way, jumping VCU early and blowing the roof off the place. The Rams never trailed and kept rolling it up.

The lead grew from 10 to 15 to 20 and eventually capped at 29 in the second half. VCU cut it back in the final 10 minutes but never got it back into single figures.

Fatts Russell was dynamic with 30 points. Tyrese Martin continued growing into the future star that he’s sure to be as an upperclassman with 18 points. Jeff Dowtin, the captain, had 17.

And Cyril Langevine teased a double-double, putting in 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He also left the Ryan Center with one for the road.

Rhode Island 87, Virginia Commonwealth 75. Final.

Before the game I was in the Rhody Pub mixing and mingling and saw a guy in an old Rhode Island jersey trimmed in gold. Rhody hasn’t had gold in their jerseys since the 80s.

His name was Alan. I asked him where he found it. It wasn’t found. It was his old jersey from his club lacrosse days as a student back in 1983. He was the game with his friend John. Alan comes once a year back to campus with John to rekindle old times and keep his personal connection with the school alive.

I asked him why keep coming back. Simply put, it’s the alumni pull. It’s the desire to return to school and breathe in the air of being a student for just a few hours.

And as I shook his hand to go on my way he noticed my Alpha Epsilon Pi bracelet. His son is in the chapter at UConn.

College basketball. Small world.

 

THP #9: Green Mountain

January 17, 2020 – Middlebury, Vermont
Middlebury College vs Colby College
Men’s Basketball

Vermont is a self-contained universe of small towns. It’s largest city, Burlington, is the smallest largest city in the country with a population just a shade over 42,000. The second-largest city, South Burlington, has just under 18,000 people.

Today the road took me to Middlebury, a town of just 8,500, and the ride took me through tiny towns like Bethel, a place that has less people than my high school.

Downtown Bethel, VT

What Vermont lacks in megacities it makes up for in its charm, and Middlebury is the perfect kind of charming. It’s a town straight out of central casting. A snowy hamlet in the mountains wrapped around an elite university with the history to match.

John Deere, yes, that John Deere, went to college here. Robert Frost taught at the school for more than four decades. That’s just the kind of place that Middlebury College, and the town itself, is.

Middlebury

It’s a bear to get to as it’s an hour off I-89 through land so remote that there is no connectivity of any type. However, once you get there it is a truly wonderful little town.

Local Eats

The Fire and Ice resturant (not connected to the chain) is a local treasure. Opened in 1974, the restaurant is a landmark in town and has the food to back it up. A quirky mishmash of trinkets and stained glass inside, Fire and Ice is a delight.

Every entree comes with a complimentary all-you-can-eat salad bar. The bar has every salad staple along with chickpeas, sushi, and pasta salad among its options.

There is also a well-manicured boat in the middle of the salad room.

The boat.

The dining rooms were exactly what you would think from a cozy, family-owned New England restaurant. Soft lighting, stained glass, books set upon the walls.

What made the night even better was that I was meeting my friend Clayton, A native Vermonter, Clayton is one of many groovy people I’ve met in my sports travels. An author, a traveler, and a member of SABR, Clayton’ the kind of guy who loves his state and loves the theatricality of sports.

He was also picking up dinner that night, and I’m never one to say a negative thing about someone like that.

If you had told me the best cheesesteak I’d ever have would be in Northwest Vermont I’d have said there’s no way. But that sandwich could compete with any of Philly’s best.

The Campus

Middlebury has just 2,500 students but just a shade over $1 billion in its endowment. With that comes resources unavailable to most D3 schools, or for that fact many D1 institutions.

It shows the most with the main athletic building on campus. Enclosed within is the indoor track, pool, ice arena, and the gym. There could very well be more but that’s just what I walked by on my way to the game.

Middlebury’s indoor track complex
Kenyon Ice Arena can hold 2,600 people
The Natatorium

The Game

Pepin Gymnasium is nice and cozy. Sitting a compact 1,200 people, the room is no-frills in the best possible way.

Pepin Gymnasium

One quirk of the room is its baseline. Due to the gym being housed in a Quonset hut-esque building, it means that pillars extend a little too close to the court on the baseline which creates one of the more unique padding setups in college basketball.

The contest was a massive one in Division III. It was 12th-ranked and unbeaten Colby traveling west to play the fifth-ranked Panthers.

The game had an added energy due to Noah Tyson. A native of nearby Castleton, the sophomore had a large and vocal cheering section right behind the Colby bench.

Tyson finished with 11 points and six rebounds. Check out a nifty layup from Tyson late in the first half.

The game was an excellent one. Colby led by 10 in the first half but couldn’t shake the Panthers. Middlebury eventually took the lead, 71-69 with 5:52 left but Colby took the lead back for good less than a minute later and put it away with this three:

Colby 89, Middlebury 82. Final.

Top performer for Colby: Alex Dorion -23 points
Top performer for Middlebury: Jack Farrell – 20 points, six rebounds

Time of game – 1:30

 

THP #7: The Edge

January 11, 2020 – Medford, Massachusetts
Lesley vs UMass-Boston
Men’s Basketball

Welcome to the edge. Take one step further and you fall down the abyss. This is the farthest reaches of college basketball. The Kuiper Belt. This is a place where most do not think to tread.

This is Lesley University’s men’s basketball facility. This is the gym at Medford High School.

To understand how I found myself walking around a brutalist concrete building in the northern suburbs of Boston on a hot January afternoon we must first understand the unique identity of Lesley.

Lesley University is located in Cambridge and has roughly 7,400 students but only 2,600 undergraduates. Among its academic offerings, there are programs in specific areas such as expressive therapies, counseling, and fine arts. It isn’t a school driven by its athletic teams.

The school is also located four miles from Medford High, and getting through the Boston traffic can make that drive take almost 40 minutes. Add all these variables into the pot together and you get a team that is winless and a program that has two winning seasons in the last 14.

I chatted with the school’s custodian on my way out of the gym and he told me that Lesley paid to put down a full hardwood court to keep in line with NCAA guidelines as MHS had a rubber court. The track surrounding the court is still rubber.

But at least there’s a Lesley logo on the court.

Getting In

One would think that the best way into a high school would be through the front door. Not today. There was some type of weekend school program so I was told to walk around to the back of the school.

So I did. I walk to the door and went in only to be met by a locked door in the inner vestibule.

Back out I went. It was up a 43-step staircase and through the loading dock before I found a door propped open by a chair and heard the ever-familiar noise of Jordans squeaking on hardwood. I had finally made it.

The Game

There was a curtain drawn midway through the gym and a youth league playing on the other side.

About 10 minutes before tipoff a ref walks over to me as I sit courtside at the midline and jokingly asks how I was able to afford these seats. I responded, laughed, stayed for the first few minutes and moved to the top row. I found $2 under the bleachers so at least the expedition netted me a future Fresca.

There were 25 people in the stands at tipoff.

Lesley basketball is not good. The men’s program is winless this season and won nine or fewer games seven times last decade. The Lynx lost their first two games of the season by nine and 11 points, respectively and have lost the ensuing games by an average of 35.5 points.

And this game went to script. UMass-Boston showed why it’s one of the top teams in the Little East this year. The Beacons jumped out early and never let up. A 10-point lead ballooned to 15 and to 20. UMass Boston won 90-64.

Dasan Cinelli finished with 30 points while Malik Lorquet had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying by the Lynx either. Chase Howard had 27 points on 8-13 shooting. Kostas Tatsis had 14 points and 10 boards in 23 minutes off the bench. But being minus-15 on the glass and shooting 19-66 will do in anyone.

Time of game: 1:42

THP #6: 4.2 Miles

January 9, 2020 – Beverly, Massachusetts
Endicott v Gordon
WBB/MBB

Sometimes you love your neighbors. Sometimes you want to constantly express your displeasure at their existence.

For Endicott College and Gordon College, close quarters does not make for a pleasant relationship. Located a 12-minute drive apart up Route 127 and through Pride’s Landing and Beverly Farms, it’s exclusively mutual disdain and contempt between the Gulls and the Fighting Scots.

It’s made more intense by the recent success of the two programs. On the men’s side, one of the two schools has made every conference title game since 2012. Gordon also won the league in 2010.

On the women’s side, Endicott was the league runner up in 2019.

Even though the students were away on break, the games drew a nice crowd. This year had the added touch of featuring some of the greatest players either school had ever seen.

The Venue

Located in Beverly, Mass., Endicott College was founded in 1939 and has since grown to be a school of just more than 5,000 people.

Today the school hangs its hat on its internship program as every Endicott student is required to put in thee internships, which means they are learning experientially almost immediately after getting to campus.

Fun fact: Beverly Hills is named after Beverly Farms, the neighborhood where Endicott is located, as it was a favorite vacation spot for then-president William Howard Taft.

The Gulls basketball teams today play at the Post Center. As with many Division III schools, the Post Center is an athletics venue and a student rec center as well as a place for classes and meetings.

A neat quirk of Endicott athletics is that club sports are outwardly treated just as prominently as varsity sports. The club teams get their own tabs on the athletic site just like the varsity teams.

Club teams even get banners in the gym after winning championships.

The Women’s Game

As many Division III schools do in New England, the basketball teams play doubleheaders as a way to cut down on travel costs.

Tonight, the women led off and Gordon was led by Meghan Foley. The day this game was played she was the leading female scorer in all of Division III and the third-leading scorer across the entire NCAA.

As of this writing she has dropped to second and fourth in those categories, but 25.1 points a game is nothing to sneeze at. The native of Malden, Mass. is going to finish as the program’s second-leading scorer.

Meghan Foley (in blue)

And on this night she was a machine. Foley went for 19 points in the first half as the Fighting Scots raced to a 14-point lead.

 

Endicott made it exciting in the second half and even cut it to a one-score game, but they didn’t have Meghan Foley. Foley finished with 33. It was her third-best scoring performance of the season.

Gordon 90, Endicott 82. Final
Time of game – 1:30

The Men’s Game

When it comes to the best scorers in men’s college basketball, the name that instantly comes up is Markus Howard. The Marquette senior has been a scoring machine in his time in Milwaukee and, as of this writing, leads Division I in scoring with 27.3 points a game.

Gordon senior Eric Demers is averaging 33.6 a game. He is currently the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,974 points with 10 games left in the season. And he’s not even the only all-time leading scorer in the game.

Endicott senior Keith Brown has been a ridiculous scorer his whole career. A two-time state champion at Pelham High in Pelham, NH, Brown can reasonably hit a shot from anywhere inside the halfcourt line.

Averaging 21 points a game, as of this writing, Brown sits less than 100 points away from breaking Kamahl Walker’s school record of 1894 and is also an excellent facilitator.

Brown grew from a bench player his freshman year on a Sweet 16 team to a star. He’s scoring less as a senior than as a sophomore, but those dimes are adding up into dollars for the Gulls.

And both players stepped up in what turned out to be a ridiculous game. Brown flashed his court vision and cashed in some dimes.

Gordon led 39-36 at half. Demers had a rough first half with 12 points on 5-14 shooting. Brown had 15.

Now, once the teams flipped ends Demers put the game in his pocket. His second half was 16 points on 5-11 shooting and 4-8 from three. Just look at the nonsense he was pulling out of universe.

It was ridiculous. Forty minutes couldn’t contain the game. Tied at 76, five more was put on the board.

The OT was as nip/tuck as regulation. In the final minute, Endicott found themselves up 86-83 and then this happened.

With the game tied at 86, Endicott was unable to score the ball and gave Gordon a chance to escape Post with a win, and it appeared they did with a layup at the horn by Parker Omslaer.

However, a foul was called. Two made free throws by Endicott with a second left did the trick. Endicott 88, Gordon 86. Final.

Do you think it was a foul?

Eric Demers: 31 points
Keith Brown: 28 pts, 6 rbd, 5 ast, 7 stl

Time of game – 1:44

THP #2: The Downeast Queen

November 3, 2019 – Bangor, Maine
University of Maine vs McGill men’s basketball

Almost the exact halfway point between Boston and Quebec City, Bangor sits in the heart of Central Maine with the Penobscot River running right through town

The Queen City of the East is gorgeous. Even on a chilly New England fall day, downtown Bangor stood out.

The third-largest city in the state of Maine, Bangor was once the lumber capital of the east coast. In the 1860s, Bangor was the world’s largest lumber port with more than 3,000 ships passing through the docks each year.

The glory of the lumber years is long past but the city still stands bright today thanks in part to being home to Husson College and the nearby University of Maine.

Most importantly, it’s pronounced bain-gore and not banger.

Come take a ride with me through downtown Bangor.

Things to Eat

Bangor is a sneaky good food town. With the two colleges nearby, there are bound to be good food stops and they do not disappoint.

I had dinner at Dysart’s. Wow. It’s like an IHOP type of restaurant but 10/10. Quality ingredients. Homemade soups and breads. You can tell it’s a place that take’s pride in the food that comes out of the kitchen.

One thing you’ll notice about the food reviews in these blogs are the three C’s: Clubs, Caesars, and Cookies. I’m on a quest to find the best Caesar salad in New England and a cookie and a club sandwich can say so much more about the quality of a restaurant than a fancy dish can.

With that said, you’re going to have a tough time trying to find a better cookie in New England than at Fork & Spoon in the heart of Bangor. The size of a small car tire, they satisfy in a way that Chips Ahoy could only dream of.

Homemade vegetable soup at Dysart’s
Turkey Club with the goodies at Dysart’s
Dysart’s blueberry pie. Yes, homemade.
The birthday cake cookie from Fork & Spoon

The University

The University of Maine is the flagship of the state’s university system and is located in Orono which is about 20 minutes north of Bangor. With an enrollment of roughly 11,000, U-Maine is also the state’s lone Division I athletics program.

Academically, the University of Maine is one of a select number of space grant universities that get federal grants to study and research the cosmos. Additionally, Maine is home to one of the nation’s oldest honors college and is the birthplace of the Phi Kappa Phi honors society.

When it comes to athletics, Maine is mostly known for its men’s hockey team. The Black Bears won national titles in 1993 and 1999, with the former considered the greatest college hockey team of all time after racking up a 41-1-2 record en route to the title.

Games at Alfond Arena are fun, loud, and usually draw the biggest regular season crowds for Maine sporting events.

Alfond Arena

The Game

Cross Insurance Center

When it comes to basketball in Maine, Bangor is home. The Bangor Auditorium stood for 57 years and hosted packed houses pushing 6,000 people for the high school state finals.

Closed in 2013, the new Cross Insurance Center opened to replace it. Not to be confused with the Cross Insurance Arena two hours south in Portland, the CIC opened as the new home for basketball in Maine.

The high school finals take place there and both men’s and women’s teams from the University left their on-campus home, the cozy Memorial Gym, and set up shop in Bangor.

However, when it comes to University of Maine basketball, the real success has come on the women’s side. With nine NCAA tournament appearances, including bids in 2018 and 2019 thanks to a pair of America East titles, the women’s team has quietly built itself into one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the Northeast.

Throughout the arena, there are wall hangings and memorabilia from basketball greatness long past.

A small portion of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame

And the arena itself is a real gem. With a seating capacity of 5,500, the CIC has all the amenities of other midsize modern arenas. Spacious concourses, a variety of food options, and good sightlines make this a real hidden gem in New England.

Oh, and did I mention that there’s a casino across the street?

The Seating Bowl
The concourse

The game itself was a fun one. Despite it being an exhibition, both teams came to play. The Black Bears opened up a seven-point lead at intermission and held it through the second half to claim a 70-63 win.

Time of game – 1:42
Price for a bottle of water: $3
Attendance – 320
Top Performer – Andrew Fleming (Maine): 22 pts, 9 reb, 5 ast, 4 blk, 2 stl

Thanks Bangor it was fun. Looking forward to coming back one more time.

Up Next: Blue Devil Mania