Top 10 of 2016; remembering the best of year in local sports
Every year has its own special moments; some carry over, some don’t. Some stand out right away; some you have to discover in the memory vault.
Trying to isolate 10 top local sports moments for any January-to-December period is almost impossible, but we attempt it every year.
Remember, these are just the events that were significant to one person’s travels and observations. There are always things overlooked, always things that could go in or be in a different order. There are events more significant to others; there are events listed here that some of you could have cared less about. But let’s at least celebrate some of the memorable sports moments of 2016 with this list and go from there:
1. Silver Knights win FCBL title and thrive off field
This really wasn’t supposed to happen, although the Nashua Silver Knights were definitely better on the field this summer than the previous two seasons. But first, they were supposed to have been sold by August, and secondly, as the No. 3 seed a title was going to be difficult, especially with most of the starting rotation hurt or having to leave early.
But the job that was done, the moments they provided – the comeback win over Worcester in Game 1 of the finals keyed by Merrimack native Mickey Gasper’s two-out walk and Ryan Sullivan’s game-tying bomb over the left-field wall – will go down in Holman Stadium lore.
2. DWC’s final athletic march led by men’s soccer
The news broke that Daniel Webster College was teetering on the edge of closing, and then came the word while soccer, volleyball and field hockey players were competing that after Southern New Hampshire University’s bailout, the school and its athletic programs would cease to exist after the academic/athletic year ends in May. All the Eagles men’s soccer team did was use that a rallying cry with the biggest accomplishment in its history – an NCAA tournament win. And women’s volleyball made it to the NECC finals with its best season ever as well. There’ll be more in 2017, but hard to top the emotion of the conference title soccer win over Regis on a mid-November Sunday.
3. Souhegan baseball title run, Bill Dod’s state win record
What a run the Sabers enjoyed, not losing a game since early in the season, sailing all the way to the Division II title (2-1 win over Portsmouth) and making their longtime leader, Bill Dod, the winningest high school baseball coach in New Hampshire history as he picked up win No. 519 in May. An incredible milestone that you can believe takes Dod back to his Sanborn and Bishop Guertin days. But that championship win was amazing, as this was really a team in his mold, one that when you reached first base, you never ended the inning there.
4. Merrimack’s Tim Schaller becomes a Boston Bruin
When does this ever happen? When does a local product put on the Black and Gold? Or become a player for a Boston professional sports team? Not often. It happened once before in yours truly’s tenure here when the Patriots scooped up Nashua’s Kole Ayi back in 2001 and he ended up with a Super Bowl ring. Schaller, when he heard of the Bruins’ interest, made sure his agent got a deal done. But that was just half the story. The other half is that, after being left off the roster at the end of camp, he took advantage of a call-up right before the season opener and has played his way into a solid, usually fourth line, role. He was determined to avoid the Providence shuttle and so far, so good. Good for him.
5. The Bishop Guertin-Bedford championship rivalry
A lot gets lumped in here. First, the Cardinals’ big Division I girls basketball championship 35-31 win, followed by Bedford’s 4-3 triumph in the Divsion I hockey finals. And it takes us to the awful Bedford 22-4 win over Guertin in the Division I baseball title game, just a few hours after Souhegan’s historic win. With a deep bench and no threat of losing, the Bulldogs for some reason poured it on with their starters in their final at-bat. You be the judge.
6. Grassini’s incredible season highlights high school football
Grassini made history, even though the Tomahawks couldn’t quite reach the Divsion I title game, as he set the state single-season touchdown passing record with 43. But it was a memorable season with Nashua North, South, Bishop Guertin and the Tomahawks all making the D-I playoffs, then memorable ending when South stopped Levi Gosselin on fourth-and-goal in the first ever Turkey Eve Bowl. That change also is part of the year top 10. A fun football season.
7. The loss of Bishop Guertin icon Dick Piwowarski
Piwowarski was a name synonymous with sports in the city of Nashua for the better part of six decades. Dick Piwowarski represented a sports era that was so important to the city, as he built the football program at Bishop Guertin and things evolved from there. A tough loss for the community, for sure.
8. Nashua North golfer
Brandon Gillis recaptures title
Gillis stands out in this mind because of the fact he was so determined to own his final fall high school golf season. One of the state’s top golfers at any age level, Gillis won the Division I title going away and will be taking his talents to Wake Forest University. It just seems fitting to include his accomplishments in this top 10.
9. Milford girls supply many championship moments
Lumping a lot into this general heading, but when you look at it, you have a school that took home three state girls titles – a Division II indoor and outdoor track sweep, as well as a Division II softball crown. Now, throw in the fact that an alum, Morgan Andrews, scored a goal to help her USC women’s soccer team win the Division I national title, and you’ve got a town that had a lot to celebrate this past year.
10. Merrimack’s tough loss in D-I boys basketball finals
There are other championships that probably could be listed here, but the Tomahawks were part of perhaps the most memorable boys hoop title game in recent years, falling 60-58 to Manchester Central in overtime. The ‘Hawks thought they had it won in overtime with Noah Beygelman’s 3-pointer at the buzzer, but the shot was waved off as being a split second too late. A memorable moment that has to be included.
Have to start with Bishop Guertin’s 9-8 win over rival Pinkerton in boys lacrosse, certainly Top 10 worthy, as is Hollis Brookline’s boy-girl volleyball title sweep.
How about Nashuan Kendall Reyes’ signing with Washington and then ending up with the Kansas City Chiefs?
Souhegan’s Madeleine Hunt paced the Sabers to the Division II and Meet of Champions girls cross country titles, winning the D-II meet individually, and the Sabers’ boys outdoor track title. Also, Campbell’s Division III boys wrestling crown.
Several other athletic achievements occurred as well, we just can’t list them all. Let’s hope for another big year in 2017.
Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, email@example.com or @Telegraph_TomK.