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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Baseball’s return to Holman tops local stories of 2011

Tom King

There’s never a dull moment in the local sporting world, is there?

That’s clearly evident by one man’s list of 2011’s Top 10 local sports stories/achievements for the year. Championships, teams emerging from obscurity to nearly win titles, individual achievements and the return of high level baseball to Holman Stadium.

Now, remember, this is clearly a subjective list and every year there are plenty of events that get left out. But here’s a look at what stands out in these eyes:

NO. 1 NASHUA SILVER KNIGHTS OF THE FCBL:

Professionally run baseball – different from professional baseball – was back at Holman Stadium, thanks to the Lowell Spinners entry in the newly formed Futures Collegiate Baseball League. It brought a Silver Knights franchise that won a championship on the field and basically was a champion off it, with a minor league-type promotional schedule that helped the club average near 900 fans a game, or about double what it was expecting.

Now the bar is raised as the Silver Knights will probably look to expand on what was done as the Futures League, now at seven teams and expected to become eight any day now (likely Brockton) takes things to another level as well. The final big Silver Knights story of the year was former longtime Nashua and Nashua South coach B.J. Neverett named as their second manager.

Fun and fans were back at Holman. That was a good thing.

NO. 2 BG FOOTBALL

It was a year that saw a championship coach, Tony Johnson, forced to resign after 17 seasons, to be replaced by a young up-and-coming coach, former Milford defensive back Travis Cote. It was a stunning turn of events that took all by surprise – players and coaches alike.

But all Cote (Johnson’s hand-picked successor as he stayed on as athletic director) did, with panic all around him after non-league shutout losses at the hands of Pinkerton Academy and Catholic Memorial, was run a steady ship to a fourth straight Division II title. Cote was in tears talking to his players after the title win over Dover, a moment that should be frozen in time. Meanwhile, later came the news that an expected move up to Division I was reversed due to a revised realignment and Guertin will be back to defend its title next year.

NO. 3 BASKETBALL TITLE TWINBILL

Double your pleasure, and double your fun with the Milford (Division II) and Bishop Guertin (Division I) boys hoop championships at a packed Lundholm Gymnasium at the University of New Hampshire on a mid-March Saturday. The biggie was that 20-2 Guertin ended a 28 year title drought, winning its first championship since the Skip Barry era with seniors Connor Green and Sean McClung leading the way over Trinity in a racehorse show of athleticism on both sides in a 54-46 game.

And just a couple of hours earlier, Milford won its second straight Division II (formerly Class I) title, but the significance was it finished 22-0, the first undefeated season in the history of the program. Mike O’Loughlin had 18 points in a 48-42 vanquishing of Portsmouth. A historic day in local sports, simply great stuff.

NO. 4. BASEBALL DOUBLE DELIGHT

Championship Saturday in mid June was a day to remember for two local high school nines: Campbell and Nashua North. The third seed Cougars started out with a gutty 4-2win over Somersworth, a team that had beaten them twice already during the regular season, and somehow season-long favorite Nashua North survived 17 Concord hits in an 11-6 win for its first Division I title ever. Campbell’s Cullen Baker was sick on the mound but somehow pushed through for a complete game victory, and both teams used squeeze plays to turn or keep things in their favor. It was a memorable day at Manchester’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, ending with the North players, who were paced by shortstop Brandon Karkhanis’ defense and key squeeze bunt (as well as one by Adam Leith) rushing to go up the street to their graduation.

NO. 5 CAMPBELL GIRLS TEAMS

Campbell went 20-1 and cruised to the Division III championship in girls basketball, holding off Conant 42-33 in the finals, and three months later the softball team emerged victorious, going unbeaten in Division III as well (only a non-league loss to local rival Alvirne). It was an incredible show of dominance by a strong junior and senior class of athletes. In basketball, Rebecca Arnone pumped in 21 points in the final and in softball, Julia Nolan led a pitching staff that did not allow a single hit in the tournament. Amazing.

No. 6 NORTH BOYS, BG GIRLS TRACK

They dominated indoors and outdoors, with a winter and spring state championship sweep. Speed demons Andre Williams and Eric Muite helped pace the way for the Titans while Betsy Garnick paced the Cardinal girls. Nate Burns did a superb coaching job for the Titans, keeping them focused on a two-season sweep while the BG girls indoors were led by freshman Molly McCabe. Guertin went on to have cross country success in the fall; it just shows that Nashua is the track and field center of the state.

NO. 7 SABERS’ GIRLS HOOP, SOCCER SUCCESS

The Sabers girls basketball team went 22-0, fought off injuries, finished the Division II title game win over Lebanon with just six players, rallying from an 18-3 early deficit. Need we say more?

The soccer crown, meanwhile, is a personal favorite, having covered several of the Souhegan titles dating back to when the school first opened nearly 20 years ago. The Sabers scored an amazing goal in the final seconds and then in the first minute of overtime to reach the finals where they bested Hanover for their first state title since their glory run ended in 2003. Head coach Dwayne Andreasen also earned his 100th career win. This was a highlight of the fall tourney season which also featured the Wilton-Lyndeborough boys soccer team winning its second straight Division IV title.

NO. 8 PHIL PLEAT

The local amateur golfer had quite a year, winning the New Hampshire Senior Amateur championship but then moving on to a stunning run to the finals of the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, winning quarterfinal and semifinal matches on the 18th hole. He barely missed a birdie attempt in the finals that would have helped upset Louis Lee of Arkansas, who won out as Pleat finished one down. He was fittingly honored last month as the state’s most decorated amateur golfer in a ceremony at Nashua Country Club. His state senior crown gave him 13 state titles, more than any other New Hampshire golfer ever.

NO 9. DWC WOMEN REACH NCAA TOURNEY

What would a Top 10 be without news from the local colleges, and there was plenty but the accomplishment by the Eagles women took the cake as they survived a lot of adversity, including having to forfeit games due to an administrative transcript error that was self reported as an NCAA violation. Yes, the local schools have gone that far, as it topped a year where Rivier opened a new facility and also heisted highly regarded men’s soccer coach Bill Lawler away from DWC, the Eagles named a new athletic director, Robin Seidman, and the Riv-DWC men’s hoop rivalry was reborn.

NO. 10 ’HAWKS HOCKEY

The Tomahawks were a program that were nearly invisible years ago. So much so that former athletic director Joe Raycraft, in his second tour of duty at the school, was ready to drop the program down to Division III, a move that has immensely saved both the Souhegan and Alvirne programs. But current AD Andy Krahling believed in the coaching of one Dan Legro, and the Tomahawks lost just once in the regular season but eventually ran out of gas in the finals vs. Dover in a 5-1 game. Legro has since moved on to Manchester Central, but he helped put ice hockey on the Merrimack sports map and the ‘Hawks have followed his lead to end 2011, winning the Bauer Tournament in Manchester in a shootout the other night over Manchester Memorial, with goalie Brett Glendye winning tourney MVP.

And there you have it; again, just one person’s opinion. There were so many other feats: BG wining another boys lacrosse title, Alvirne winning its first softball title, Nashua North capturing the girls swimming crown, Nashua native Paul LaPolice guiding his Winnipeg CFL team to the Grey Cup game in just his second year as head coach, B.J. Neverett giving up the Nashua South baseball coaching job after 17 years at the helm – it goes on and on. All could fit in this top 10. Let’s hope 2012 is just as eventful.

Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or tking@nashuatelegraph.com.