Must-see baseball in championships
It couldn’t be any more fitting.
Bishop Guertin High School will try for its first baseball championship in 29 years on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. at Manchester’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
And the coach that led them to that last title, back in 1987, will be trying for his first in 12 years at 5 p.m. for Souhegan High School.
It’s a reunion of sorts. Bill Dod’s Cardinals, behind a pitcher named Walter Wrobleski, fought its way through the tournament at Gill Stadium back in 1987 to win it all. Wrobleski had actually tossed a no-hitter in one of those games. BG in the 1980s had cache; titles in 1982 and ’87 with a finals appearance in ’84.
Dod, of course, as the only baseball coach Souhegan has ever had, is now the winningest high school baseball coach in New Hampshire history. Back when he coached at BG, baseball was a pretty big deal on Lund Road.
But you got the feeling the last decade or so that it has become a secondary sport. Chris Cameron came along and turned lacrosse into a regional power, and just about every good male athlete who may be a standout in another sport plays lacrosse and has plans to go on play in college.
Guertin was last in the finals, getting there under Dod’s longtime successor, Mike Lozeau, back in 2006 but fell to Manchester Memorial 5-4. They haven’t had a sniff of a title since.
But these last 10 days its been different. Guertin baseball has come back, in a very surprising way. No one expected BG to even win a tournament game, as they were 7-12, a No. 15 seed, and had to travel to face No. 2 Exeter and ace pitcher, Cody Morissette, who had one-hit them earlier. No fear, a 7-2 BG win, and then wins over two other teams and pitchers who had beaten them for Salem and Alvirne. "We’ve gotten hot at the right time," Painter said.
When Dod coached at BG, he didn’t have lacrosse as an alternative for any prospective athletes.
Painter knew what he was getting into.
"Lacrosse and football, those are the two when people talk about BG," Guertin coach Scott Painter said. "Relevance in the state of New Hampshire, I think people view us as a relevant baseball program. I don’t think people view us as a team they’re going to roll over, and I think the school is starting to view us as a team. … We’re a relevant program in the school."
Painter had to come in from the outside and see if he could get that to happen. It hasn’t been easy, as the Cards hadn’t gotten past the quarterfinal round until last week.
"These kids are athletes," Painter said. "We’ve got kids who play football, who ran track. But they’re athletes, they want to be here."
When Painter came in, BG baseball was at its low point, having struggled under Lozeau’s successor, Mark Detering. Seniors weren’t coming out.
"Nowadays, we don’t lose any kids to lacrosse," Painter said. "I don’t think in our six years here we’ve lost one kid."
Meanwhile, Dod is having his second straight good season. The Sabers probably felt they should have gone further a year ago, losing in the quarterfinals. But this year’s team has been a powerhouse after an 0-2 start. Souhegan hasn’t lost in exactly two months ago Monday, and along the line handed finals opponent Portsmouth its only loss about a month ago.
It will still be tough for both Dod’s Sabers and Painter’s Cardinals to pull this off. Bedford is a powerhouse, but then again, BG lost to the Bulldogs just 3-2 in extra innings in the regular season. And after what they’ve done so far, who could bet against the Cards? And after the two months Souhegan has had, how can you be surprised if the Sabers pull it off?
The irony is if Guertin (10-12) wins the title, it will not finish the year with a winning record. Also, if this were a year from now, the Cards would have to sit home, as the tournament will go from 16 back to 12 teams. It was last that way just a couple of years after BG’s last title. And Painter agrees with the move. "I think 12 is enough," he said.
But for now, his Cardinals will enjoy the moment. So will Dod’s Sabers. The coach who made Guertin baseball shine in the 1980s and his former school going for their respective ultimate prizes.
It’s a must-see.
Tom King can be reached at 594-6468, email@example.com or @Telegraph_TomK.