Daniel Webster College baseball program turns corner

J.P. Pyne had already started reflecting on just how monumental a spring it’s been Daniel Webster College baseball, a program he built from scratch.

“It’s tough now but eventually you have to take a step back and look at everything,” Pyne said a little while after his team was eliminated from its first-ever NCAA regional. “I was talking with my staff the night before the game, and you think about it. We’ve come a long way from 2-8 and 0-3 (in the New England Collegiate Conference).

“In everything we were doing, our team really matured. We started to get more focused and determined to play our game.”

Now that they actually have game, the Eagles and Pyne need to have success breed more success.

“I don’t want to be here five years from now as the head baseball coach at Daniel Webster and be saying, ‘Hey, remember that 2012 season, wasn’t that fun.”

Some small school programs can fall into that trap, get a good core of recruits who stick it out, blossom as seniors and have their good, or great, year. Pyne, as long as he stays at DWC – with his accomplishments he’s sure to get feelers from elsewhere – wants this NCAA tournament thing to be a regular occurrence.

“What we need to do,” he said, “is be a better program for the experience of 2012, and not go back to square one and say we’re starting over. We’ll add some talented kids and use this year as a selling point.”

The Eagles have sent cross country, men’s soccer, women’s basketball and now baseball to NCAA tourney appearances, and that’s thanks to their move a few years ago to become a charter member of the New England Collegiate Conference. The NECC went through growing pains but now just completed its second year of automatic NCAA berths. It’s more of a competitive situation for the Eagles, who left behind local rival Rivier and the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC).

As a result, a kid like current junior Elliot Kilgore of Milford can now say he’s played in NCAA tourneys in two sports (baseball, men’s soccer). Pyne loses just three seniors, although one is his top starting pitcher (Goffstown’s Kory Kiro), but he’s built a strong base with a lot of New Hampshire players.

So now he’s got to continue the push. “We’ll probably do some things in the next few days to celebrate the year we had,” he said, “but that’ll be it. If we’re just satisfied with that than that’s all it’ll be.”

That’s why Pyne will start to plan for next year now. He feels the two games that the Eagles lost in the Mid-Atlantic Regional shows them where they would need to be. Pyne is hoping that losing two games by a combined 13-run total despite pounding out 24 hits will serve as a motivating force for a strong junior group that will have one last chance as seniors next year.

“This should motivate them to lift weights and play in the summer, motivate them to put the time in in the fall (program), and be ready next year,” he said. “Even if we had shocked the world and won a game or two, this was going to end. There was a lot of emotion, and that tells me we’re doing things the right way. I asked a lot of them every day, and they delivered.”

What you wonder is if this Eagle program can take this to another level. Only Rivier College men’s and women’s volleyball, and Riv softball, of the two local schools, have multiple NCAA or national tourney appearances (men’s volleyball was under its own governing body until this year).

There are several obstacles to repeat conference titles; you need successive good recruiting classes. You need luck. You need coaches to stay put. In baseball’s case, you need pitching depth, which is tough to build in the Northeast with all the doubleheaders.

Pyne’s run will make him eventually a hot commodity, if he’s not already, but you’ll never see him tooting his own horn. Two years ago he had the Eagles stealing enough bases for lifetime imprisonment, but that was just his way of trying to win games with limited or inexperienced talent. Last year they fell short in the conference semis and this year hit the jackpot. What college athletic director seeking a coach would turn the other way from that resume with a couple of minor league coaching stints (Pride, Defenders, Fisher Cats, Gulf Coast Blue Jays) attached? That’s why the Eagles would be smart to make a preemptive move.

“It’s hard not to sit there and think about the days when you came to the ballpark and the mentality was ‘Let’s not lose by 15 runs, let’s keep it under two touchdowns.’”

Pyne was so exasperated during one of first couple of his five seasons at the helm he had to be hospitalized for four days. This, he says, should be the beginning, not the end.

“We just have to keep saying ‘Let’s bring in as many good players as we can get’,” he said. “Tell them ‘This is where we are, we want you to be a part of it. This is what we can do now.’”

And hope to again. Check back in five years and we’ll see where DWC baseball – and Pyne – are.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com. Follow him on Twitter (@Telegraph_TomK).