The Spring Tourney Trail had some memorable twists and turns
There’s nothing like the Spring Tourney Trail.
It’s filled with twists and turns, upsets galore, ventures to far away places and some right in your own backyard.
In some ways, it was the tournament season we expected, with at least one local tennis team, the Souhegan boys, winning a title and Saber Matt Lapsley the state individual championship.
The surprise was in softball, with no locals making the finals. The trail started indoors at Nashua Swim and Tennis, and ended outdoors on the courts at Southern New Hampshire University. In between? Some drama and great performances.
Put on your walking shoes and here we go:
TUESDAY, MAY 22
Nashua Swim & Tennis:
The boys tennis team quarterfinals were all supposed to start on this day but rain washed them all out, except one – Hollis Brookline’s 9-0 win over Kennett. The Cavs had used the indoor facility all season, and the only way you are allowed to play indoors during the tourney is in case of inclement weather. Nic Vahe at No. 1 led a Cavalier cruise. The Kennett bus driver was outside reading the paper on his parked bus at the start of the match; he didn’t have to wait long.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 23
Nashua South High School tennis courts:
OK, the final score of this Divsion I girls tennis quarterfinal between Bishop Guertin and Nashua South was 8-1 Cardinals, as expected. But the No. 1 singles match between BG’s Claire Reynolds and Nashua South’s Kaitlyn Fitzgibbons. Reynolds won it 8-6 but Fitzgibbons was one point away from sending things to a tiebreaker before Reynolds won four straight points to break serve. This had all the parents and kids’ attention as it was the remaining singles match, and showed, since Reynolds won 8-0 duirng the regular season, just what could happen if this rivalry were allowed to develop. Great atmosphere.
“I was really proud of Kaitlyn,” Panthers coach Charles Gray said. “You want to stay focused and give yourself a chance to win. … We fought hard. This is the great thing. When you have a cross-town rivalry like this, people show up. Makes it more fun. As a player, it’s nice to have people who care about the outcome.”
The interesting thing about this was BG was actually the home team/higher seed, but Nashua athletic director Lisa Gingras suggested the match be moved to South because of six courts vs. BG’s three.
THURSDAY, MAY 24
Jasper Valley Tennis Club, Amherst:
The second leg of Souhegan’s march to boys tennis glory, as the Sabers downed Portsmouth 6-3 in the Division II semis with big wins at the lower part of the ladder, and that set up an all local final with Hollis Brookline. Saber Matt Lapsley texted his friend and rival, HB’s No. 1 Vahe, “See you Tuesday.” The toughest part for this scribe was leaving once it was over before Sabers coach John Kilgore had his Team Awards Cookout. Barbecue and cake. Ouch.
FRIDAY, MAY 25
Derryfield School, Manchester: Bishop Guertin needed a big singles win to advance to the Division I girls tennis finals. And, even more so than that singles match at South, the No. 6 match between BG’s Natalie Sheehy and Derryfield’s Ada Hu created an atmosphere like none other this season. Really, how many people watch the No. 6 matches on the ladder? But if Sheehy won, she’d clinch the Cards’ spot in the finals, otherwise they’d need to take a doubles match. And the drama, as she rallied down 6-2 to win in a tiebreaker. “It was,” Sheehy admitted, “a little nerve wracking.”
So was getting there. Traffic on the Everett Turnpike on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend was backed up heading north for a couple of miles, and the Cardinals – like yours truly — arrived a bit late for the scheduled 4 p.m. start, and were fortunate they didn’t have to suffer some kind of penalty. All’s well that ends well.
TUESDAY, MAY 29
Bedford High School tennis courts:
Once you find them in a neighborhood filled with lavish homes, you can catch a good tennis match, and the area’s first spring state title as the Souhegan boys wrapped up the Division II championship over Hollis Brookline. The match that drew the most attention in the Divsion II boys finals was Lapsley vs. Vahe, which Lapsley won 8-5. They’re apparently good friends as well as rivals – Vahe would later be on hand to cheer Lapsley on in the singles finals – but the Hollis Brookline sophomore had a great line when said, “Don’t worry, he’s gone next year.”
In any event, the Sabers were finally able to surround one of New England’s top players with enough ladder help to win a title. Don’t count out the Cavs next season,though.
But for now, it’s a Saber Spring. “We’ve been after it for three years,” Kilgore said. “It’s nice to finally do it.”
WEDNESDAY, MAY 30
Pinkerton Academy tennis courts:
Another great day for tennis, and another Bishop Guertin-Bedford tournament confrontation, this time in the Division I girls tennis finals. The Cards lost to the Bulldogs 6-3 a week or two earlier, but this time it wasn’t all that close, as they lost 7-2. Most of the matches were pretty decisive, and it was interesting because the Cards looked like a title team all season until they ran into Bedford.
“They played really well this year as young team, and we only have to go up,” Ndinya said. “I think the program is in a good spot, and next year we’ll be back.We’ll try to get them next year.”
Pinkerton has certainly grown in 30 years, as they have eight courts and will be home to a lot of these events for a long time. A far cry from three decades ago when the Astros played their matches at four town courts filled with cracks almost a mile away near Parkland Medical Center.
THURSDAY, MAY 31
Yes, the tennis tour – six matches in nine days – takes a detour to baseball, and it’s always fantastic when two locals are able to face off at Holman in a Division I tournament game, this time a prelim between upstart Nashua North (9-11 going in) and Bishop Guertin (14-6).
It was a rematch of a game just a couple of weeks earlier between Guertin sophomore ace Brett Anderson and North senior ace C.J. Barrett. In this case, could the sophomore beat the senior again? The odds never favor that, and North, a program through the years never really known for robust hitting, was all over Anderson en route to a 10-2 win. That drew very blunt and realistic comments from Cards coach Scott Painter: “They wanted it more, it was pretty clear. They came out and punched us in the mouth.”
It would be Barrett’s final Holman Stadium appearance of his North career and he left the mound in the seventh all smiles.
SATURDAY, JUNE 2
Noon, Pinkerton Academy Football/Lacrosse Field:
A pretty non-descript 17-7 boys Division I lacrosse quarterfinal (as many usually are), with the Astros dominating Nashua South as the game wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Two key things: A, this game was a sign that Pinkerton, was on top of its game as it would go on to win a state title. “One of the rare times, I told them at halftime, I didn’t have much to say,” Astros coach Brian O’Reilly said.
B, the final game as a Panther for a great student athlete, Sean Holland, who excelled at South on the field/court in three sports and in the classroom. Holland said the idea set in when he scored in the fourth quarter, and this was a sad day for his coach, Bill Monsen, who also was his QB coach in football and worked closely with the Fordham-bound senior throughout his athletic career.
“It sad, today I was choking up a little at the end,” Monsen said. “Sean is one in a million.” High school sports are very much about relationships and this coach-athlete combo is one that you can tell will last a long time.
Late afternoon, Concord’s Memorial Field:
The Nashua North baseball team fell 6-5 to Concord in painful fashion, as the Tide rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the seventh for a walk-off win. But if you want to bottle up a moment of how Titans coach Zach Harris is trying to build a competitive culture, take the fifth inning. North was down 3-0 and rallied for five runs, the key blow a two-run homer by Varun Lingadal. Not only did Lingadal put his team ahead but he had a five-inning relief stint that kept his team in the game before running out of gas at the start of the ill-fated seventh. He’s a 15-year-old junior (a year ahead) and may have given everyone a glimpse of next season. “It was the best I’ve ever seen him pitch,” North coach Zach Harris said. “I told him when I pulled him, we wouldn’t have been anywhere in this situation without you. … We’re changing the culture here.”
It was also one of if not the last official game for popular North trainer Matt Gilman, who is taking another job at a school out of the region. Both he and yours truly got a workout in with a long walk from Memorial Field to our parked cars. A bigger lot is definitely needed.
TUESDAY, JUNE 5
Hollis Brookline High School Gym: Don’t discount the popularity of high school boys volleyball. It was a good crowd for the Cavaliers for their 3-0 quarterfinal win over Goffstown despite the fact the HB girls lacrosse team was playing in the Division II title game vs. Portsmouth in Manchester at around the same time (HB always finds itself in that situation, doesn’t it?). It was almost like old times, with the Cavs duo of Jonathan Brackett and Matt Simco, so successful in hoop this past winter, dominating in volleyball. Alas, it was their final win as they fell 3-2 to Pinkerton in the semis. But a month earlier it didn’t look as if they’d get even this far. “They just believed in themselves and got better,” said Cavs coach Ed Leonard, who was the All-State Coach of the Year. “It turned our season around. … I tell you, I ask them to do stuff, and they just do it. That’s what got me that award.” HB is still the volleyball capital of New Hampshire.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6
Robbie Mills Park, Laconia:
Yours truly was itching all season to see Dave Finch’s Wilton-Lyndeborough squad and the three Brennan brothers: Sean, Troy and Neal, and this was their big moment in the Division IV semis. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way as they were down 9-1 after two innings to eventual champion Littleton. But the Warriors will be back. The interesting part of the day was seeing the venue, and it’s “Mini Monster” in left field. No one hit it in this game, though. Robbie Mills serves as the home of the Winnipesaukee Muskrats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Driving up, a local radio station was giving away tickets for the Muskrats season opener saying it was that night. What? Five minutes later, the deejay corrected himself, noting it was Thursday instead. Whew. Former longtime Nashua Silver Knight Ryan Sullivan was briefly a Muskrat (about a month) in 2014.
Best sound: A Frank Sinatra/big band version of Sweet Caroline playing over the sound system shortly after the Wilton game ened. A much better version, trust us.
SATURDAY, JUNE 9
Southern NH University tennis courts, Hooksett:
Final stop. Perhaps the most intriguing stop. Yours truly has covered New Hampshire sports for more than three decades but had never attended the NHIAA state tennis individual singles semis/finals. It’s an experience, because the quality of tennis can be incredible, as it was – despite serving problems for both – in the finals between Souhegan’s Lapsley and Bedford’s Rohitt Yerram. They set up bleachers along the center courts and fans can be right on top of things rather than viewing from a fence. The boys final was well along before the girls final between Bedford’s Carley Citron and Bishop Brady’s Sydney Herrington. Herrington was so good that match ended before Lapsley outlasted Yerram in a grinding, tense match to satisfy a personal dream before he leaves Souhegan. There’s also a bond with these tennis players; Citron beat BG’s Claire Reynolds in the semis and the two are friends and spent about 15 minutes talking afterward. Oh, and they were set to play each other in another tournament on that next day.
The title and runnerup medals were presented together for both genders afterward, and an NHIAA official then said, “With that, we will close the tournament.”
And the Spring Tourney Trail as well.
Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK.firstname.lastname@example.org