This spring has been a long road “home” for the Southern New Hampshire University baseball team.
After having just one practice and playing a single Northeast 10 Conference series on their true home field all season due to grown sinkholes, the Penmen find themselves back in Manchester on the cusp of their ultimate goal.
This weekend’s home away from home is Delta Dental Stadium, the home of the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. There, SNHU and Molloy will play a best-of-three East Super Regional series for the right to move on to the Division 2 College World Series in Cary, N.C.
“We’ve been getting better every week,” SNHU’s 14th-year head coach Scott Loiseau (Worcester, Mass.) said ahead of Friday’s series opener between the East Region’s top two seeds and the champions of the NE10 and East Coast Conferences, respectively.
“We have a lot of veteran guys who have been there and done that, played in a lot of playoff games,” Loiseau added. “These guys just go to the field and try to win a baseball game, wherever the field is.”
Perhaps losing out on the comfortability of home would have a greater impact on a younger team. But, these Penmen know what it takes — whether they run between white lines down the street or a six-hour bus ride away as they did for last week’s three-team sub-regional at Wilmington (Del.).
After beating the host Wildcats and Southern Connecticut twice last week, SNHU now sits just two wins away from its second straight and fourth-ever World Series appearance.
A slew of positional players like senior catcher Dakota Mulcay (Goffstown, N.H.), redshirt junior outfielder Alex Kennedy (Braintree, Mass.), graduate outfielder Idelson Tavares (Lawrence, Mass.) and senior first baseman Sam Henrie (Middleboro, Mass.) have contributed greatly to both runs, helping SNHU’s impressive streak of five consecutive trips to regional finals.
“None of these guys need to do it all by themselves,” Loiseau said. “They’re all very clutch, they come up in big spots. Mulcay and Kennedy, they’re (two) of the most impressive postseason players I’ve ever seen. Those guys are different players at this time of the year. Idelson is very clutch. Sam is just an ultimate baseball player. They’ve all been in these games so much.”
Friday’s first game against Southern Connecticut didn’t start the way the Penmen had planned as they faced an early 1-0 deficit before rattling off 16 straight runs to finish the game. It was a three-run home run by Mulcay that flipped the score for good.
SNHU has scored double-digit runs in four of its eight postseason games after beating the NE10 rival Owls, 16-1 and 16-9. The wins featured eight total homers, including two each by redshirt sophomore shortstop Danniel Rivera (New Britain, Conn.) and senior second baseman Ricky Jimemez.
For the season, the Penmen’s 72 long balls are 14 more than any team in the region. Henrie has a team-high 13.
You bet that kind of run support helps a pitcher.
“They’re ridiculous,” graduate right-hander Josh Roberge (Chelmsford, Mass.) said of an offense that scores 7.8 runs per game entering Super Regionals. Only Molloy scored more among East Region postseason teams.
“They understand what it takes to win. We just have to do our job as pitchers because we know (the offense) is going to play for us. They’ll give us runs, so we just have to hold them to zero runs, as (Loiseau) likes to say. They can’t win if they can’t score.”
After graduating NE10 Northeast Division Pitcher of the Year Nick Artymowicz and all but two total starts from last season’s staff, pitching was the overwhelming question mark of the Penmen entering 2022.
While it took time to get things right, the right formula has come together.
As it turned out, all three regular starters are transfers with plenty of experience: Roberge from local Division 3 power Wheaton, redshirt sophomore Brandon White (Simsbury, Conn.) from Southern Connecticut and senior Angus McCloskey from another NE10 opponent in Pace.
They hadn’t all worn the same uniform before this season, but their varied experiences — Roberge pitching in the D3 World Series and McCloskey in the Cape Cod League, for example — have paid off.
“Robo played for an incredible coach (Eric Podbelski) and a winning program that competed in the World Series last year, so he knows what it takes to get to this level just like a lot of our other (positional guys),” Loiseau said. “… They’ve done an unbelievable job of getting better as we’ve gone on. Hopefully these last few starts can be their best.”
Roberge has been the best, leading the group with a 9-3 record, five complete games, a 3.06 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 82 ⅓ innings to date.
While playing a key role at the World Series was an unforgettable and invaluable experience, Roberge also credits his big-game success in part to pitching in the Futures League in 2020, where his Nashua Silver Knights competed against the likes of current pros Sal Frelick and Cody Morissette.
“Wheaton does a great job of keeping guys humble and focused, so you learn to play as a team and understand that you’re put in (big spots) for a reason,” Roberge said. “But, for me, I took a ton of confidence out of (2020 in Nashua). … I literally punched pros and high-caliber D1 guys out and won games against them. I love big games, big spots. Hopefully we’ll have a lot more.”
While he didn’t literally allow zero runs last Friday against Wilmington, he didn’t give up the ball for a second consecutive nine-inning start. He scattered just eight hits in the complete-game effort, which came just a week after his six-hit shutout of Le Moyne in SNHU’s second game of the NE10 Championship.
The Penmen may have taken care of business in three straight games last weekend, but Roberge knows there’s more in the tank. And that’s a scary thought.
“I think we can play better,” Roberge said. “We can hit the ball a little harder and throw to better spots. Going to Delaware wasn’t the easiest, but the biggest takeaway was how we competed. The offense did what they do, defense was phenomenal and we did our jobs pitching. Hopefully we can continue that success and go win a World Series. I think we have the team to do it.”