Boys track and field: Shelton captures SCC East Sectional crown

Flash back to two weeks ago.

The Shelton 4x400 relay team gathered around injured teammate Jason Lorent where he fell. Faces hid their disappointment, athletes supported one another, and fans applauded as Lorent was helped into the medical cart. The Gaels had lost the Housatonic Division championship in what Coach Mike Gambardella described as “the most heartbreaking defeat of his coaching career.”

With a 20-meter lead on Amity and a 3-point differential on the scoreboard, the Gaels lost the meet during the last straightaway in the final leg of the closing race. Hillhouse won that relay, but Amity clinched the division title by defeating Shelton.

Flash forward to Tuesday Night at Bowen Field on the Hillhouse High School campus.

In a reversal of fortune, the Amity Spartans sat in a distant third place while Shelton held a narrow lead on Hillhouse for the SCC East Sectional title. Once again, the 4x400 would decide a championship.

Shelton started the day as underdogs. The Hand Tigers, Amity Spartans and Hillhouse Academics each took turns leading the contest. But it was the Gaels who opened the strongest. The 4x100 relay team of sophomore Rafael Gomez, senior captain Camerin Gumbs, junior Michael Rodia and senior Nicholas Andrade set new school and meet records with their one lap sprint of 42.79, a time also qualifying them for a trip to Nationals in North Carolina this June.

Rodia would follow up this race with a victory in the 100-meter dash, Andrade taking 7th. Gumbs, Rodia, and Gomez took 5th, 6th, and 7th place finishes in the 200m, and senior Martin Kovachev took sixth-place points in the 400.

The Gaels were expected to score high in the sprints, but what they didn’t expect was their domination in the distance events. “My cross-country guys really came through for us today,” Gambardella said after they filled up the score sheet.

Senior captain Robert Dillon had an injury plagued finish to his indoor track career, but Shelton’s distance team had yet to be challenged during the outdoor regular season. That was, until Amity bested them in two of the three open events at Finn Stadium.

Dillon won the two-mile to keep his team alive for that final heartbreaking race, but on this day coach Michael Gamby's distance runners were determined to take care of their own business at East Sectionals.

In perhaps the most aggressive pace of his career, Dillon spent nearly the entire mile over the shoulder of Amity standout Connor Visnic. The two separated themselves far out front of the rest of the pack with a 2:08 in their first two laps and a scorching 2:11 to close out the 1600. Visnic was known for having perhaps the fastest kick in the state, but Dillon’s was stronger on this day. He won the 1600 with a 4:19.51, another school and meet record.

Senior captain Joshua Sacoto also had a different look about him at East. He lost to Visnic in the 800 in their contest with Amity a few weeks ago. But Sacoto refused to lose this 800 as he pulled away to win the event with a career best 1:59.60 in a narrow win against Cheshire standout Ryan Farrell.

Sacoto also anchored the Gaels 4x800 relay of seniors Matthew Richard, Samuel Kocurek, and junior Brandon Fulton to a second-place finish. He passed four other teams in his last lap to get his group those much needed eight points.

After all these improbable wins, the Gaels still needed major points in the two-mile race to stay alive this Tuesday. Once again, Dillon took his perch over the shoulder of Amity’s Visnic. But this time, he wasn’t alone. Cheshire’s Farrell, and three Shelton cross country standouts also worked to keep up behind the leaders. Seniors John DeRosa, Matthew Richard and Tyler Pineau knew their team required a bevy of points, and they did not disappoint, finishing the race at 4th, 5th, and 6th. Those points would prove decisive for the Gaels.

But once again, the race came down to a sprinting finish between Dillon and Visnic. In fact, it didn’t look like a two mile at all, more like a 400. After taking an opposite strategy of a slower paced opening, Dillon had plenty left in the tank to keep pace with Visnic’s kick, and the Gaels captain sprinted his way to a narrow victory at 9:41.10 over Visnic’s 9:41.43.

Shelton field eventers did their part as well.

Senior Stephen Ibekwe also kept the Gaels hopes alive with a win of the triple jump at 41-06.75 with his teammate Kyle Figol in eighth. All underclassmen, long Jumpers Rafael Gomez and Steven Gamble took 6th & 7th, and high jumpers Gamble and Jack Bocchino finished in sixth and eighth.

What the Gaels couldn’t expect were points in the throws. But more underclassmen stepped up. Junior Kyle Corby secured a much-needed sixth place with sophomore Andrew Mysirlidis in fifth to get the Gaels what turned out to be a necessary seven points in the shot put.

So, Shelton had another chance to secure a championship in the final race of another meet, the 4x400.

The Gaels would be without Lorent, but they were determined to run their best.

Gumbs led the team out in a 51-second first split and fellow captain Sacoto finished his magnificent day with a 53-second lap of his own. Newcomer to the team, Thompson ran a season-best 53 second lap in the third leg, and Kovachev brought the race home with a second 52-second 400 of his day to beat a fast-closing Hillhouse team.

The Gaels took a 2nd overall in the event, ironically with Amity winning the race and pacing Shelton to the finish line. The group finished with a season best 3:30, and Shelton won its third SCC East Sectional Championship in as many years.