For the third time, the Empire State Games took a trip to Binghamton and the Southern Tier. And for the host Central region, it proved to be a welcome sight.
Central teams, shut out of gold medals in recent years, had vast improvement on that front, winning a pair of team championships -- one in open men's soccer, the other in scholastic men's ice hockey. It also earned a heavy dose of silver and bronze medals in sports ranging from tennis to lacrosse.
And on an individual basis, there was even more reason to smile. Local athletes left golden marks on the track, in the swimming pool and atop the wrestling mat, and several places in between.
Much was made, before this 31st edition of the ESG, about the fact that the Central men's scholastic team's title in Rochester in 2006 was the lone team crown gained by anyone in Central's light blue colors in the last three years. Each of the 74 other titles went to the other five regions -- Western, Adirondack, Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island.
It took just three days of activity in Binghamton for that to change, thanks to a strong Central men's hockey team that started fast and never got beat in five outings as it dethroned long-time power Western in a round-robin format at Broome County Community College.
Central beat Long Island 4-2, blanked Adirondack 4-0, won 2-1 over Hudson and ripped New York City 4-1. By Saturday night, everyone else, including Western, had lost twice, clinching Central's gold.
But still, Central added an exclamation point on Sunday, topping Western 3-2 on Mike Montagna's goal with 12 seconds left. Great work by Skaneateles' Keith Buehler (he had a point in every game) and Ithaca-area goaltender Andy Iles helped pace Central's winning run.