Silver Knights were simply dominant

NASHUA – Moments after the final out was recorded, Nashua Silver Knights outfielder Jon Minucci hugged team VPs Tim Bawmann and Jon Goode.

“Thanks for the best two summers of my life,” he said.

And there you have it. The Silver Knights’ domination of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League has really been a two-year deal, but there’s no doubt the 2012 version was one of the best teams, amateur or professional, to ever call Holman Stadium home.

And they loved it there, winning 23 of 27 regular season/playoff games, including a 16-game streak as well as their final seven.

The ball club was the first franchise entity to win a
championship on the hallowed historic ground, which turns 75 next month, producing an amazing scene on Wednesday night. The Nashua Dodgers won three Governor’s Cups on the road and the Nashua Pride titles, Atlantic League and Can-Am, were won in Bridgewater, N.J. and Lynn,Mass., respectively.

Unlike the Silver Knights, those were professional minor league teams, but this club has certainly been owned and operated like one.

All of that just adds to the atmosphere and two-year franchise success story. Announced attendance for two playoff games totaled 2,233.

“It was a lot of fun, a lot of heart,” Minucci, the FCBL Finals MVP said. “I don’t know, man, we felt we’d been playing together our whole lives. Everybody was close-knit. We were a family, we stick together through thick and thin. We all bonded really well and we bonded with the fans. … The fans were unbelieveable. What did we have, three losses (at home) this year? Unbelieveable.”

Even in the playoff games, other than the 11-9 slugfest in the playoff opener in Brockton, the formula was the same.

“We knew that if we had a chance to win this game, we had to put up a couple of runs in the first couple of innings,” Minucci said, “and let our pitching do the rest.”

No one in the league had the pitching depth that Nashua had this year or perhaps the last two years. And the organization made sure it had coaches with winning track records helping all that out. Silver Knights manager B.J. Neverett was a consistent winner at Nashua and Nashua High School South, his Panther team in 2005 becoming the last Nashua club to celebrate a major title at Holman. Pitching coach J.P. Pyne now has three rings – he was a coach on the Keene Swamp Bats that won the New England Collegiate Baseball League crown eight years ago, and his Daniel Webster College team won the New England Collegiate Conference and became the first baseball team in school history to go to the NCAA tournament.

“They wanted it bad,” Neverett said. “This is an incredible group of kids, they’re all winners. People in Nashua that came to watch these guys play, they know they saw a lot of great ball.”

But why? It’s been so clear that over two years, it’s Nashua and the rest of the FCBL. The 2011 title was minimized a bit because it was a fledgling, four-team league. But this year, the league expanded to nine teams, with some franchises, such as runner-up North Shore, semifinal opponent Brockton, and Pittsfield, Mass. with strong ownership groups and similarly great resources.

But in the end, the Silver Knights not only prevailed, they owned the league.

“When you play here, it’s a winning atmosphere,” Neverett said. “The people in the front office from Tim Bawmann down, they understand the home field advantage in this league, there really is (one). I don’t think (visiting) teams like playing here.”

Neverett deserves a lot of the on-field credit as he has done the bulk of the work in putting the roster together, something he says is a year-round venture. And this year, the pressure was increased.

“The league stepped up and got better,” Neverett said. “But we stepped up and got better too. We had some unknowns. Nobody knew how Chris Shaw (the Boston College-bound Lexington High School grad who had league best 44 RBI) was going to be. He was great. And we made some key acquisitions during the season, and they all worked out well.”

Neverett admits he, his coaches and management are looking for certain types of players.

“We brought in guys that are the kind of kids that are Silver Knight kids,” he said. “We talk about it as a team – you have to be a certain way to play here. These guys answered the call, they’ve been great.”

Again, it was pitching. Nashua had no problem sending out four starters – Nick Poore, Chris Good, Alek Morency and Lamarre Rey – who had earned run averages under two. And in the last three games, the Silver Knights closed with three different relievers – Cole Warren, Matt Olsen and Cody Rocha.

“Our pitching was way better this year,” Neverett said. “Our bullpen in these last two games really shut it down.”

Now, in another week, Neverett will focus on next year’s club, which will be even more challenging to put together because the core of this year’s team are entering their senior years and will be ineligible to play next summer, including middle of the order guys such as Minucci and James Kastiroubas, second baseman Logan Gillis, and Shaw, who came in already committed as a top pro prospect to the Cape Cod League for next summer.

Neverett did announce prior to Wednesday’s clincher that the club has gotten official commitments from seven players already – outfielders Sean and Connor Lyons (the latter the FCBL Defensive Player of the Year), Morency and four other key relievers.

“They’ll be fine next year,” Minucci said. “Coach Neverett, Coach J.P., they do a good job recruiting.”

But it’ll be tough to duplicate 43-13, and 23-4 at home.

“We were such a good team,” Minucci said. “We really killed it this year. We really did.”