By MICHAEL LETENDRE
The time to announce the Bristol Observer 2016-17 Male Athlete of the Year is long overdue and frankly, there wasn’t too much – in terms of debate – as to the individual to nominate this year.
Sure, the Mum City had several worthy candidates but this year’s award winner is Bristol Eastern’s Zach Marquis – an extreme athlete who earned himself, and his school, championship accolades by the time his scholastic career was completed.
In both wrestling and baseball this year, Marquis put himself into the Lancers’ record books.
And in terms of the athlete that he turned out to be, Marquis a perfect clone of former National Wrestling Alliance/World Championship Wrestling great, “Enforcer” Arn Anderson.
Marquis wasn’t flashy but he also didn’t wear a white hat either.
You knew once he hit the wrestling mats, heads were going to roll.
In workman like fashion, Marquis went about his job every day to be the best he could be – and that ability was at a championship caliber level.
His attitude and commitment to excellence epitomized what the Bristol Eastern wrestling team was working so hard to strive for: professionalism, working hard, and leaving the program in a better place than you found it.
Basically, do your job, raise the bar and get out with as many accolades as possible.
By the time he was through with the sport this past winter, Marquis attained a ton of individual and team accolades.
And hey, this guy wasn’t some giant on the mats or on the baseball diamond.
When I’d tell people – like during baseball season for instance – that Marquis won the Class L championship at 182 pounds, the looks I got from people who didn’t know a thing about him were priceless.
That guy is 182 pounds? He won the Class L wrestling championship at what weight?
And then when he’d pitch, or run after a ball, or toss around an opponent on the mats, and those same questions were quickly answered.
Put simply, Marquis was the real deal, folks.
And any time you win over 100 matches in a Bristol Eastern singlet, you’ve done something very special.
He didn’t exactly have a quiet 2016-2017 campaign on the mats this past winter.
Marquis was a state champion, his squad was the league champion – getting a little revenge over Middletown who snuck out the CCC South crown the previous season – and his team hoisted its first state title banner since 1996.
Yes, wrestling is an individual sport but Marquis is the ultimate teammate and you don’t get better as a squad if you don’t have outstanding individuals on your squad.
It does help when you have a 19-2 regular season as Marquis was more than geared to make a splash in the state title round.
And then the ultimate came true: an individual title at 182 pounds and a Class L championship behind a 231-230 thriller – holding off state power New Milford – to claim the title.
That’s nothing less than impressive.
The next question is how many years was Marquis an All-Conference selection in wrestling? How about every season he’s competed in?
That’s four years of excellence on the mats.
From 2013-2014 as a freshman to this past winter, it was four years on the mats and four All Conference, Southern Division honors.
In terms that Bristol Eastern wrestling head coach Bryant Lishness could understand, Zach Marquis was “the man” and to be the man, you had to beat the man.
Few grapplers could beat the man over 2016-17 and at the Class L championships from Bristol Central high school, no one made that claim in that competitive 182 weight bracket.
He simply went out and squashed all the competition.
As the number one overall seed, he earned a first-round bye then pinned his second round opponent in just fifty-five seconds.
He then battled Bristol Central’s Damian Mahaffy to a 13-4 major decision in the quarters and in the semifinals, Marquis pinned Fairfield Ludlowe’s Dom Mastro in 4:57.
Finally, it was a clash in the finals against Isaiah Rivera from Edwin O. Smith and in the end, it was a 9-4 decision for the championship as Marquis got his arm raised in victory.
How much better can you wrap up a scholastic career when you can take both an individual and team championship back home to the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium?
And then on the baseball field, under head coach Mike Giovinazzo, Marquis was a standout again, leading the Lancers to the state tournament – a consecutive postseason streak that has dated back to 1999.
But he did something different this year, something no one has ever accomplished in Eastern program history.
He didn’t just pitch a no-hitter but threw a perfect game.
The history of Bristol Eastern baseball started in 1960 and, while there have been many clutch pitching performances, no-hitters, title clinching wins, a perfect game was something new to the records books for the Lancers.
And over the years, there have been some amazing pitching performances for the ages.
One pitcher, Mike Whitcomb, had to throw 15 innings for the Lancers under the first coach in program history, Clem J. Roy – resulting in a 7-7 stalemate at Windham on May 17, 1972 that went down in program lore.
Another pitcher, Adam Peters, chucked a no-hitter at Bulkeley on April 9, 1990, in an amazing showing that resulted in an 11-0 triumph.
And Gary Simard, in 1975, had an amazing 22 strikeout game at Southington on April 18 that saw the Lancers rack up a 5-0 win.
Those were three tremendous performances among so many other fantastic efforts but on May 15, 2017, Marquis separated himself from any of those other history making efforts as he threw the contest of a lifetime: a perfect game against Rocky Hill from Muzzy Field in Bristol.
And it was truly fitting the contest was played from that historic venue.
It was a 13-0 victory and Marquis didn’t allow a hit, a walk, anything in terms of baserunners, and let the defense behind him do a little work that day as well.
The victory was right up his alley, a team effort that helped Marquis accomplish that feat.
He was All-Conference in 2017, as he was in 2016, and excelled on the mound and in the outfield.
Don’t forget, his fingerprints were all over the 2016 team that went tallied a school record 21 wins, a CCC South championship, and had the squad on the cusp of a state championship final.
And I know he wanted to play a little more on the American Legion baseball level over the past couple seasons but he just showed up to every game, was ready to play even when his number wasn’t called, and – just like his relief appearance in Post 2’s victory over Berlin in state tournament play (Bristol won 2-1) on Saturday, July 15 – Marquis was a primetime performer.
He’s going to be another one of those athletes that can bring his future children into the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium and point to several banners he helped Eastern hang on the walls.
This guy was the ultimate competitor, a model teammate, and Western Connecticut State University is going to be getting another good one from the Mum City.
Bristol Observer Male AOF – Zach Marquis
*Threw only 70 pitches in his perfect game against Rocky Hill, tallying five strikeouts in the 5-0 romp back on May 17, 2017.
*Went 5-2 on the mound for BE this year, allowing just 10 earned runs while posting 45 strikeouts to 12 walks and a 1.49 ERA.
*Batted .254 with 15 hits and six RBI; smacked out the squad’s only home run of the season in the 3-1 win at East Catholic, breaking a 1-1 tie for the game-winning hit.
*Class L state champ at 182 pounds this year.
*Helped the Lancers maintain a top-3 ranking in the Connecticut in most state polls this past season. BE was undefeated in wrestling (19-0)
*19-2 regular season on the mats; No. 1 seed overall at the Class L championships at 182.
*Won over 100 matches for his career, joining a group of just slightly over half-a-dozen wrestlers to accomplish that feat at BE.
*Best quote on Marquis this season from BE head coach Bryant Lishness after he destroyed another opponent: “Marquis is an animal!”