This spring’s Tourney Trail had some unexpected turns
When you reach the end of the Spring Tourney Trail, there’s a sense of finality.
Why? Because that’s a wrap for the 2018-19 high school year. The spring season for coaches and programs means saying good-bye to seniors, many of whom have played three sports this year.
But when the winning run crossed the plate late Monday afternoon for Bow to top Hollis in the Division II championship baseball game at Manchester’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, it marked the end of the road for local teams. Not just for the spring, but for the whole school year.
So here’s a look back at one scribe’s tournament journey, starting with the team tennis tourney the third week in May all the way through to the second week in June:
TUESDAY, MAY 21
Jasper Valley Tennis Club, Amherst
The defending champion Souhegan Sabers boys tennis team was beginning defense of its 2018 Division II championship, and did so in fine fashion, topping ConVal 8-1 in the quarterfinals. It was over quick, as it needed to be because a few of the seniors had to hustle back down Boston Post Road to the high school for an awards function. It was a key match for No. 1 Saber Sam Goddard, who was returning from a leg injury.
“It felt – what’s the right word – unacustomed to pushing off,” Goddard said. “But it seemed to work.”
Goddard won his next singles match at Portsmouth, but the Sabers managed just one more ladder win in a 7-2 semifinal loss two days later.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 22
Nashua High School South
This was one of the best team tennis matches of the season, as the Nashua South girls team edged Manchester Central 5-4 in the Division I quarterfinals.
The Panthers looked to be in major trouble, perhaps losing four of six singles, with a possible need to sweep doubles to advance. But Meghana Avvaru to the rescue. The senior, playing at No. 2, fought off a couple of match points to rally from 5-2 and 7-4 down to pull off a win over Central’s Tamsin Weissberg, 9-7, with the entire crowd watching. Then it came down to No. 3 doubles, as Kavya Phadke and freshman Abby Finchum teamed up for an 8-4 win.
But the maddening thing about that match was a near 10 minute discussion about what the score of one of the games was. The players figured it out – coaches Charles Gray (South) and Bill Cannon couldn’t interfere. But Avvaru ruled the day. “I just focused on the ball, and mentally cut out everything,” she said.
Now the Panthers were beaten 9-0 by Bedford easily in the semis, as expected, but this was huge step for Gray’s program. “Meghana woudn’t give up,” Gray said. “We made progress.”
The Panthers were rewarded for their big win – the first tourney win in the Gray coaching era – with a post-match outdoor pizza party.
THURSDAY, MAY 23
Manchester West High School
Welcome to the Division II boys semis, in which unbeaten Hollis Brookline manhandled Windham, 8-1. The Cavaliers had been dominant all season, but this one came down to three close singles matches, with HB winning those three, including super sub Cole Lorig, filling in at No. 6 and getting the match clincher. “This,” the happy Lorig said, “was a cool moment.”
HB played at West for its home outdoor playoff matches (quarters and semis) as the NHIAA would rather teams play outdoors (the Cavs had used Longfellow Tennis and Swim in Nashua indoors all season).
But upon arriving at West, parking spaces were at a premium as there was a huge track meet – presumably unified, since the state division meets were slated for the next day. Now, here was a nifty move. One driver got out of a truck he had backed out of a space, left it blocking traffic in the lot, moved another car into the space, taking forever for the switch. Intersting parking lot strategy.
During the match it began to rain lightly, and radar didn’t look good. HB coach Jim McCann was on the phone making arrangements to move doubles possibly to Longfellow, but luckily the rain held off. On to the finals for the Cavs for the second straight year. Meanwhile, it was fun to see former Merrimack athlete – and athletic director – Jon Hall, who coaches the Jaguars. He doesn’t miss AD work, that’s for sure.
FRIDAY, MAY 24
Southern New Hampshire University
For the second year in a row, the Bishop Guertin and Derryfield School girls tennis teams would clash in the Division I semis. A year ago the Cards prevailed, at Derryfield, but this year the match had to be moved to SNHU as Derryfield is undergoing outdoor renovations. Wherever they played, the Cougars would have had the edge, as they throttled the Cards 8-1. This match’s interesting moment occurred at No. 2 singles, when BG’s No. 2 Katelyn Nichols double faulted during a tough 9-7 loss to the Cougars’ Emma Place. The second served – players make the calls on the honor system – looked in but was ruled out, so the coaches watched the rest of the match to make sure there were no problems. It certainly seems once you reach the semis and finals the players need more supervision, anyway.
It was tough for the Cardinals, who had lost to Bedford in the finals the year before and were hoping to get there again. But they were without No. 1 singles player Claire Reynolds (back) all season, and the dynamic changed. Derryfield ended up losing to Bedford in the finals.
“We’re definitely going to work harder for next year and get back to the finals,” Nichols said.
THURSDAY, MAY 30
Bedford High School courts
The fifth tennis match for yours truly in the last nine days, but the most important one – the Division II boys finals between the Cavaliers and very worthy contender Portsmouth. The Cavs had edged the Clippers 5-4 waaay back in early April, in Portsmouth. But the Clippers hadn’t lost since, had some lineup changes, and lo and behold, they dominated HB 8-1. Frustrating for the Cavs to lose in the finals for the second straight year.
HB coach Jim McCann knew something was amiss. His players were losing close points they had won during the regular season, but three matches went to tiebreakers and HB lost all three.
“They played well, but they didn’t quite look the way I’m used to seeing,” he said.
The Cavs lose only No. 3 player David Cherkassky to graduation, so could they be back in the finals again? They’ve had their young nucleus for three years, so consider next year the last one before that window potentially closes.
FRIDAY, MAY 31
Souhegan High School gym
Ah, a beautiful day to end the month of May, but the main event is indoors, as the Sabers are hosting their first boys volleyball tournament prelim for the first time.
They manhandled the Cardinals from Bishop Guertin in straight sets (3-0), the closest being the second, 25-21. The Sabers were 1-15 two years ago, so they had come a long way. “I’d never played in a playoff game, never even won one,” Saber senior Seth Facey said. They had one more playoff left, but fell to Windham in the quarters, 3-0. Still, a solid Saber season. Saber coach Andrew Gordon saw the win – and the season as a whole – as a way to get more athletes to come out for volleyball. A lot of coaches feel boys volleyball isn’t taken seriously enough, but Bishop Guertin and Hollis have been fairly established locally and now Souhegan hopes to make it three.
SATURDAY, JUNE 1
Holman Stadium, Nashua
Bishop Guertin vs. Bedford in the Division I baseball quarterfinals. This was the most talked about event of the post season, and not in a good way on a sun-splashed Saturday.
Here’ what happened: There was a delay in getting Bishop Guertin’s lineup, and in the dugout Cardinal senior catcher Alex George didn’t have his uniform on yet, and was in a semi-loud voice mentioning the Bedford 22-4 Division I title game win over Guertin back in 2016. The teams have played every year since, but not in the postseason.
The Cardinal coaches were talking back and forth about being shorthanded, what subsitutions could they make, etc. It was clear a player wasn’t going to be in the lineup that they were counting on.
That player was George. Cards coach Scott Painter, once he gave the lineup to the media, didn’t hide it – George was not in the lineup because he opted not to play once he found out he would be the DH and not the starting catcher, that job going to Sam Boudreau. The two reportedly split time during the season.
“Alex gives us a ton with his bat,” Painter said. “You’ve got to play with the kids you’ve got.”
George would’ve batted fifth, Painter said, and would’ve been up twice with runners in scoring position. Guertin managed just five hits and didn’t get a run after two in the first while allowing three unearned runs in the third. The Cards thought they had a team that was built to get to the finals.
“We thought so, too,” Painter said. “Tough without a four-year kid in the lineup.”
George wasn’t around to explain his side afterward, but the word later was he had played in the finals in 2016 and wanted badly to be behind the plate in this one. But the optics were bad, as he spent the game in the bullpen and could have certainly helped his team – had he chosen to do so.
It’s that time of the year for double duty on a weekend, so from Holman it was off to Stellos for the Division II girls semis, Hollis Brookline vs. Winnacunnet.
Lacrosse is a very interesting game, whether it be boys or girls, because leads can evaporate quickly and possession is 10/10ths of the law. Hollis Brookline was up 7-2, but the Warriors outscored the Cavs 13-2 the rest of the way en route to a 15-9 win. During the latter part game Cavs coach Jim Maxwell was none too happy with the officiating, feeling his players got roughed up a little and the Warriors should have been a player down at times. Didn’t happen. He didn’t hide his frustration afterward.
“There’s a lot of things we worked on this season, even the last few weeks, that got overlooked today,” he said. “And that’s what it came down to.
“Momentum started to change, calls started to change; I felt – you could hear me screaming. There were numerous times where, I mean, we got checked in the face and there was a ref standing right there, looking at it.
“I’m not blaming the refs, but just saying they’ve got to make the calls on both sides, and we didn’t get the calls today.”
Just not a good day locally all around, right? Yikes.
TUESDAY, JUNE 4
Concord’s Memorial Field Complex
Warren Doane Field
Finally, a day without rain. And that allowed a superb high school baseball game to be played, perhaps the highlight of the tournament season as Hollis Brookline topped John Stark 8-6 in the Division II semifinals.
Prior to the game, in getting the Stark lineup, Generals coach Dennis Pelletier reminded this humble scribe that yours truly had mentioned a big hit he had in a tournement game playing for Nashua back in the early 1990s. You never know, right?
The big hit written about this time was a two-run RBI double by Joe Messina in the bottom of the sixth to produce the win for the Cavs. The game also featured a near triple play, but catcher Kyle Hsu and third baseman Nik Direnzo couldn’t connect on a throw that would have completed the play after first baseman Ryan Coutu snared a hot shot off the bat of Stark’s Carter Pike, thrown home for an out and then the errante throw to third skipped by the runner and a run scored. So close.
But no matter, the Cavs were in the finals thanks to Messina, their leader.
“I was just trying to get a pitch I liked,” Messina said. “It is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
MONDAY, JUNE 10
Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, Manchester
From the high of a clutch semifinal win to the low of a tough, walkoff loss for Messina and the Cavaliers.
HB was quite a story. They had had a few lean years, and Jay Sartell was their third coach in the last four seasons. But he had coached every kid in the system at one sub varsity level or another, and the Cavaliers, who had lost a ton of close games the previous two seasons, turned those into wins this year.
But not this time. It was a back and forth affair, just like the semis with Stark. The Cavliers, with sophomore reliever Brandon Hsu on the mound, got the first out of the bottom of the seventh up 4-3. But you probably know what happened by now as the Falcons had the bases loaded and eventually won on Riley Elliott’s3-2 liner into the right field corner scoring the tying and winning run.
It would have been great for the Hsu brothers to have embraced on the mound as champions in their final game together, but it wasn’t meant to be. It was also tough seeing Messina, in what would be his final at-bat ever, getting robbed of a base hit on a good play by Bow infielder Kyle Martin. It was an indication of things to come, evidently.
What could the Cavs have done differently? Finished as the top seed instead of No. 2, as a 2-0 regular season loss to the Falcons ended up giving Bow last ups, as the say.
In fact, the Falcons used that top seed to for an incredible three walk-off tourney wins for the title.
“The No. 1 seed ended up being great for us, because we were ‘home’ the whole way,” Bow coach Ben Forbes said, “and we needed it.”
Same time next year? We’ll see where the tourney trail takes us.
Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, email@example.com., or @Telegraph_TomK.