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Monday, May 6, 2013

Eagles’ baseball program soaring to new heights with second straight NCAA tourney berth

Tom King

Oh, what a special baseball day in the city of Nashua.

At North Common on Sunday, eight youth coaches were honored for their dedication and their service. One of them, Willie Kierstead, had actually coached Daniel Webster College’s baseball team back in the late 1980s. ...

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Oh, what a special baseball day in the city of Nashua.

At North Common on Sunday, eight youth coaches were honored for their dedication and their service. One of them, Willie Kierstead, had actually coached Daniel Webster College’s baseball team back in the late 1980s.

The Eagles at that time were simply a rag-tag outfit, just barely able to compete at the collegiate level. They were using a field at Nashua Community College that isn’t even around any more.

DWC was strictly an aviation school back then, not an athletic one, and Kierstead’s famous line during a game or practice when a small plane would go overhead was “There’s my starting catcher,” as he pointed up to the sky.

That’s certainly not the issue any longer. Current Eagles coach J.P. Pyne on Sunday fielded a roster of 31 players not far away from North Common, on a beautiful facility known as Harvey Woods Field on the DWC campus.

The crowd fluctuated between the two games that comprised of the New England Collegiate Conference finals, and an NCAA tourney berth was on the line.

They’ve come a long way, Willie. When DWC was trailing the pride of New London, Conn., Mitchell College, 6-1 in the second game after they staved off elimination in the opener 12-8, the talk was about an ECAC bid. No longer, after they rallied for a 9-7 win and secured a second straight NCAA berth.

“What a statement that is, when you’re talking about an ECAC bid as a disappointment,” the Eagles acting athletic director and sports information director Ken Belbin said.

How true. Even just a few years earlier, the Eagles were still a lousy outfit on the diamond, playing in front of no one in the chill of late March and early April. Now here they were playing meaningful games in early May, and a crowd that at one point during the two games reached about 200 was basking in the sun, and concession grills were fired up the entire time.

Credit J.P. Pyne, one of the best coaching hires the DWC administration has ever made. Pyne was also brought in full time, which makes a huge difference. And four years ago he hit a home run with a recruiting class that this year gave him the experience of 12 seniors. One of those, Darrik Marstaller out of Spofford, never envisioned what he’s seen the last couple of years.

“Not really, no,” Marstaller said. “When I got here, I looked at the team, I looked at their record and they were like 7-24 the year before. I said, ‘OK, maybe we’ll decent, we’ve got some good players (coming in). And the team really just came together.”

When Belbin was talking, it looked like the Eagles’ success story was going to have to be modified. Mitchell coach Travis Beausoleil gambled that his freshman ace, Tyler Shamas, still had enough gas after tossing 14 innings over two days. He had beaten the Eagles 11-2 on Saturday, and was checking them on one run on four hits over five in the deciding second game Sunday.

“We were originally going to take him out in the fifth, but he came to us and said ‘I’m OK, I can pitch one more’,” he said. “We were out. We had no one left.”

And the Eagles knew it, torching a gassed Shamas and two other relievers for eight runs in the sixth. Pyne had Zach Hurley tossing 5 2/3 of stellar relief, and his closer, tourney MVP Rich Lizotte, who had two saves on the day. End of story.

“We knew it was a matter of time,” Pyne said. “But even though in the matter of time, if you get into the bullpen, you still have to take advantage of it. We knew we had a mountain to climb today. I’m really proud of the guys.”

“We stuck with it. We stuck to our plan, everybody believed. … To get an effort like we got out of Zach Hurley, that’s how you win a championship.”

Pyne always has a plan. People on campus know he’s probably not going to be the Eagles’ coach much longer. He’s destined to go onward and upward with the success he’s had.

“I had a goal to build a quality program,” Pyne said. “This is probably better than what I imagined. It starts with great people. These players are great people before they’re baseball players. … For me, we get to stay together a couple more weeks. That’s what I’m happiest about.”

“I think it’s our chemistry as a team,” Marstaller said. “All of us love each other to death, and we love baseball.”

Coach Kierstead, on one hand the Eagles players now are grounded, but on the other, the DWC program you helped keep going has really, really taken off.

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