Playoff ouster typified long, tough Silver Knights season
NASHUA – The frustration finally got to Nashua Silver Knights manager B.J. Neverett with two outs to go in what would be his team’s final game of the 2018 season.
He was enraged that hitter Teddy Beaudet’s safe call at first base after he had struck out was overruled, umpires surprisingly calling Beaudet out for allegedly nterfering with Brockton catcher Jack Arend’s clear line to throw to the bag. Beaudet was out not because of any bad throw but because first baseman Dan Marano missed the bag with his foot.
“The kid’s running down the line, and you’re going to call that in that game? I’m sorry, I just couldn’t hold it back any longer,” Neverett said. “I did not want to get ejected.”
Nashua had Luke Tyree, who led the inning off with a walk and advanced to third on a stolen base/errant throw, with nobody out. It’s a situation where they should have scored the tying run, down 6-5, but were unable to.
There’s your answer to why the Silver Knights won’t be enjoying an improbable road to glory the way they did last year, or survive a gauntlet of tough games on the road en route to a title the way they did two years ago.
No, this team’s performance was more like the only other Silver Knight team to not make the Futures Collegiate League’s Final Four. That team in 2014 showed some fight but lost a play-in at Torrington in extra innings. It made too many miscues and left too many runners in scoring position.
Sure, there are some differences. Neverett loved this group’s character and competitive makeup. And, ironically, it had perhaps the best starting pitching set for the playoffs than it’s had in recent years, certainly better than a year ago.
Almost three years ago, Nashua looked like it would miss the FCBL playoffs for the first time in its history. But an 8-2 run vaulted them past North Shore and the Silver Knights, despite a 21-32 record, finished in the same spot as a year ago.
But that team had a group of veterans, like Ryan Sullivan and Cam Cook, who were in their final years of summer college eligibility. They knew how to win tight games. Nashua’s loss at Brockton Monday night was its 15th one-run losing decision.
Other games got away from them early, either because of a starting pitcher who was too young (such as Boston College bound Mason Pelio out of San Diego or Bedford’s Geoff Mosseau) or a defense that threw the ball around. Nashua couldn’t nail down that fifth spot right away as it made eight errors in last Saturday’s nightcap, one when the ball thrown back to the mound after a pitch got completely way. Ugly.
“Unfortunately, some days we don’t know when it’s going to happen, it just happens,” Neverett said. “I start every game hoping I don’t see that and once in a while it’s like, ‘Oh no, there it goes.’
“That’s because they’re young. And a lot of it is they’re trying so hard, too.”
Neverett spoke all season on how he liked this group. But he realized during the team’s 3-12 start that, as he said much of the rest of the way, the team was too young. He needed to replace veterans who were no longer eligible, and found himself with an inexperienced roster with the max number of recent high school players (five) allowed.
Part of the problem was Neverett took some high school players who weren’t able to join the team right away. “I figured we’d get through it,” he said. “It wasn’t a good move on my part.”
Neverett will take some time to decompress after what has been an emotional, different season, sadly marked by the sudden death of his father, Bill Neverett, a Holman Stadium institution, late last month.
Then there were a couple of league rulings, surprise rainouts, etc.
But while the team’s play down the stretch was memorable, its start wasn’t. And neither was his initial attempt at a fix.
He realized in the first couple of games that University of Houston redshirt Tyler Littlefield wasn’t the answer at shortstop defensively. He made a splash with the signing of local product and University of Texas bound Bryce Reagan, but he struggled as well. Then Exter grad and incoming Boston College freshman Cody Morissette came in and helped stabilize the position.
Hitter Alex Brickman, who tore up the league a year ago for North Shore, was signed after his Cape Cod League temp deal was done, but he proved to be
“I brought in some guys, probably wasn’t like the success of the past,” Neverett said. “But then the second wave of guys (were added), that really helped us.”
The first wave success story was DH Jake Lebel, the team’s best power hitter and this year’s FCBL All-Star Home Run Derby champ. He wasn’t on the original roster, idle thanks in part to the Seacoast Mavericks suspending operations for a year, and Neverett scooped him up. He hit over .300 with five homers, the biggest of which tied the playoff spot clincher against Pittsfield this past Saturday, igniting the eventual 2-1 win.
“I got here late, and they started tough,” Lebel said. “The guys who were here from the beginning, they battled the whole way. We were able to turn it around, and were fifth seed in the playoffs. … They grinded. We did what we had to do, we just didn’t come out on top (on Monday).”
The other early wave addition that worked was right fielder/leadoff hitter Austin White, who ended up leading the team in hitting at .340.
The second wave? URI’s Justin Cherry was solid as a pitcher and could play the field. First-third baseman Joe Bramanti had that huge three-run homer Monday night that brought the team to within 6-5.
Neverett gambled Monday. He had Bramanti playing third and Cherry playing second, trying to get the club’s best bats in the lineup with Dufault on the mound. On paper, it looked like a winning formula. On the field, the team made four costly errors.
But the tone was set in June.
“We’re playing the first 15-20 games without a shortstop,” Neverett said. “You can’t do that in this league.
“As I go through every year, there are some things I know I have to philosophically change, and one of them is if I take high school kids, who are they, what position am I taking and how many?
“I’m not sold on a high school catcher, it’s too hard. And I’m not sold on any infielders from high school. I’m really not sold on that. Even guys I saw on other teams that were infielders from high school, they were OK but nothing special.
“I’d rather have an experienced guy that can run the team out there (at short) on the field.”
The poster child for the perils of youth was, despite his durability and decent play, Virginia Tech incoming freshman Nick Biddison. Biddison was valuable in that he could play multiple positions, and he hit .245. But he didn’t turn 18 until late in the season, and had to go back to Virginia early and miss the playoffs. Too young.
“Sometimes (now) I might have to pass on a kid,” Neverett said, “because I’d have to take him late, and then have them leave for (college) orientation. It gets complicated.”
Catching and infield defense were definite issues. Neverett had a surplus of backstops prior to the start of the campaign, but one by one they fell by the wayside (injuries, youth, etc.) and balls kept bouncing back to the backstop. He had to add Joe Caparis out of Pepperdine, but he left right before the playoffs and it came down to seldom used Teddy Beaudet for the playoffs, too much to really ask.
Ironically, the Silver Knights starting pitching was solid by the end. Think back to a year ago, and that was the biggest post season question. Go figure.
Brandon Dufault (4-1, 1.30 regular season) was the FCBL’s Pitcher of the Year. Luke Dawson went 5-1. Lefty Justin Snyder was converted to a starter from the bullpen and held his own. But Dufault and Snyder are incoming seniors and can’t return. Neverett would love to see what he could get from a healthy lefty Pat Maybach (Salvae Regina junior), if he’s able to return next summer after injuries limited him to just two early starts and a few relief appearances in the last week.
Injuries did hurt, especially to experienced players. First baseman Thomas Joyce was done before the end of June. A veteran holdover from last year’s title , a huge blow as he was hitting .370. Another ring winner, infielder Tom Blandini, got hurt toward end of June was never returned after playing in 23 games.
But here’s the deal: Nashua, with a few exceptions, just couldn’t hit in the clutch. Its four-run sixth was a great response down 6-1, but that was it. The lasting memory will be the runner’s interference call against Beaudet, and Tyree being thrown out at the plate, basically forced to gamble and try to score on an infield bouncer, rather than trot home easily on a clutch hit.
Fans would likely rather remember the comeback. So would Neverett, who will begin working on the 2019 roster right around when he goes back to his Fairgrounds teaching job in late August after taking some well-deserved time off.
It’s an arduous process. Players he has secured by November before the college season begins may not be available depending on what happens with health, etc. during the college season.
Who knows what the playoff format will be next summer, as the FCBL has a lot of off-season work to do. But it would be nice to see the Silver Knights finish well above .500 and get a bye into the semis, something they have not had since 2013, believe it or not. They are now 3-2 in the single game first round play-ins.
And fought hard in this latest one.
“That’s what they’ve done all year,” Neverett said of his team’s battling. “The kids played with character and they played hard all season.
“But to summarize the whole season, just one hit away in so many situations that would have made a difference.”
Including in their final game of 2018.