Dod, Sabers’ title run is No. 1
One of area’s many crowning moments in ’16
The year brought plenty of ups and downs to the local scene, but it feels like there were a whole lot more positives than negatives.
The following is a list of some of the biggest sports happenings in the area since the calendar turned to 2016:
1. Souhegan baseball gives Dod state record, wins D-II crown
The journey of the 2016 Souhegan baseball team started with a thud following a 6-3 walk-off defeat to Milford after Bryce Walker blasted a game-ending grand slam.
A loss to ConVal put the Sabers in an 0-2 hole. It was the last time Souhegan tasted defeat.
The Sabers went on an incredible run that included earning longtime coach Bill Dod’s state-record 519th career win and culminated with a 2-1 triumph over Portsmouth in the Division II championship.
Souhegan gave Dod the record with a 14-4 drubbing in a rematch with ConVal on May 16, passing former Plymouth High School coach Tom Underwood.
"I’m speechless, this is great," Dod told the Cabinet following the win over ConVal. "It’s a milestone because I’ve coached for 48 years. It’s the realization that I’ve been very fortunate to coach 48 years. Sandy (his wife) and my two kids, Kerry and Betsy, have a connection with baseball and love baseball, and that connection is very important. One of the kids asked Sandy if she’s seen something like 518 of the 519 wins and it’s true. That’s very important to me."
Dod has been a fixture in New Hampshire baseball circles for decades. He began his varsity baseball coaching career at Sanborn Regional from 1969-72, then became the baseball coach and athletic director at Bishop Guertin High School, where his teams won two Class L titles (1982, 87) before moving on to Milford in 1989, and then, when it was built, Souhegan in 1992. This is his 24th year at Souhegan where he has a record of 267-186 with two championships (2003 and 2016) and his overall career mark is now 527-407.
Thomas Bennett, who stole home for the only run in the semifinals, scored two runs – one on a daring play – to give the Sabers and coach Bill Dod one of the sweetest of his 527 career wins, a 2-1 Divison II championship win over top-ranked Portsmouth at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
"It’s unbelieveable," Bennett said. "We lost our first two and won our last 18."
The second-seeded Sabers (18- 2) also rode the arm of starting pitcher Noah Hodges, who, despite control problems, gutted his way through seven innings, allowing one unearned run on two hits, walking five while striking out five to beat the Clippers for a second time this spring.
"This is absolutely incredible," Hodges said. "Nothing better than winning a state championship to cap off a season with 519 wins (referring to Dod’s state record)."
No argument here.
2. Milford girls sweep track and field titles
Milford girls track and field was unstoppable in 2016, as the Spartans rolled to Division II championships during the indoor and outdoor seasons.
Olivia Rougeau, Nicole McMorrow, Viankah Williams and Amy Arena were the biggest factors for the Spartans. The quartet set the indoor state record for the 4×200 relay at 1:46.45 at the indoor New England Championships. They also set the outdoor state record for the 4×100 relay with a run of 48.94 seconds a the Londonderry Invitational.
Rougeau, a senior at the time is now competing for the University of Hartford, claimed high jump and long jump individual titles during the indoor and outdoor seasons.
McMorrow, who placed no worse than third in any of her four outdoor events, won the D-II title in the triple jump with a leap of 36-1 and finished third in the long jump (16-4).
Williams won a pair of individual titles during her record-setting freshman campaign.
"It honestly feels amazing. We’re back to back champions," said Williams, who set the Division II record in the 200 at 24.75 on her way to victory at the D-II outdoor championships at Porstmouth. "It’s surreal. It’s just so surreal."
3. Milford softball knocks off undefeated Windham for title
Jen Carson’s catch behind home plate secured the sixth-seeded Spartans’ 2-1 victory over top-seeded and previously undefeated Windham in the Division II championship in June at Southern New Hampshire University.
Delaney Parker pitched seven strong innings, Erin Tyrrell gave Milford an early lead with a two-out RBI single and Carley Holtshouser scored from second on an infield hit to provide an important insurance run during the Spartans’ first title run since 2006.
Milford managed to scratch across two runs – one earned – on four hits against Windham’s dominant ace Jaime Cleasby, who struck out 10 and walked two.
The first walk was critical, as Cora Rogers led off the game by taking ball four. She stole second and scored on a single up the middle from Tyrrell – the Division II Player of the Year winning the battle against the D-II Pitcher of the Year – to supply the Spartans with a 1-0 advantage.
It was the first run scored against Windham the entire postseason.
4. Souhegan girls run to D-II, MOC cross country crowns
Division II girls cross country had only known one champion.
Back in 2010, Class I was renamed to Division II and Coe-Brown paced the field with six straight titles. This year, Souhegan caught up.
Madeleine Hunt was first to cross the finish line with a time of 18 minutes and 15.4 seconds, leading five Sabers in the top 23, and Souhegan claimed its first crown since 2002 on Saturday at the Cross Country Divisional Championships at Derryfield Park.
"My team really believed that this was our chance this year," Hunt, a senior, said following her first-place finish at the D-II meet. "We have such a strong team. We lost very few varsity runners last year, but we knew it was all going to have to come together right for us to win."
Hunt was followed by teammates Arielle Zlotnick (seventh, 19:07.9), Jane Leighton (ninth, 19:18), Marissa Romano (16th, 19:57.3) and Shannon Earley (23rd, 20:22.8).
A week later at the NHIAA Meet of Champions, Hunt, Zlotnick and Leighton were all among the first 17 runners to cross the finish line and the Sabers earned first place at Mines Falls Park in Nashua.
The Sabers weren’t done there, though.
Souhegan finished with 89 points, which was 30 clear of second-place Pinkerton’s 119. The Sabers went on to finish second in New England at North Scituate, R.I.
"It’s been a phenomenal year for us," Wilson said. "We were ranked second in the preseason, we stayed in the top five all season, and then we won the Division II and Meet of Champions titles.
"We peaked at the right time. Three weeks in a row these girls put it all together."
5. Morgan Andrews wins NCAA championship at USC
Milford native Morgan Andrews scored two minutes into the match and helped catapult the University of Southern California to a 3-1 victory over top-ranked West Virginia in the NCAA women’s College Cup championship game Dec. 4 at Avaya Stadium.
Andrews is a two-time Gatorade National High School Girls Soccer Player of the Year who paced Milford to the 2012 Division II title. She started her collegiate career at Nortre Dame before transferring to USC.
The Milford native’s goal came after Julia Bingham directed a corner kick to the top of the penalty box, where Savannah Levin headed the ball forward to Andrews, whose header from 5 yards eluded Foster.
The USC victory caps a sensational collegiate career for Andrews, who started at Notre Dame before transferring to USC. She was one of three Trojans named to the all-tournament team.
6. Souhegan boys win D-II outdoor track and field crown
Sebastian Eaton and Peter Forster led the balanced Sabers to championship glory.
Eaton, who was later named the top boys track athlete in the state, spent the sweltering hot June day at Portsmouth High School leaving sprinters in the dust. He won the 100 meters (11.11 seconds), 200 (22.79) and 400 (50.26) and joined Jon Nogueria, Forster and Matthew Blood on the second-place 4×100 relay team.
Forster claimed the title in the long jump (20 feet, 5 inches), placed second in the high jump (5-10) and third in the triple jump (39-5.).
"I’ve been working for (the team championship) for a long time. The last time we won a team title, I hadn’t qualified for any events yet," Forster said after the June triumph. "This really means a lot, and I’ve put in a lot of hard work for it."
7. White helps Bentley to NCAA Division II Final Four
Souhegan graduate and Amherst native Jane White, a co-captain and lone senior on the Bentley University women’s basketball team, helped the Falcons reach the NCAA Division II semifinals, before they fell to undefeated Lubbock Christian University, 67-57, March 23 in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Bentley is a top-tier program and won the national championship in White’s sophomore season, but she was stuck on the bench nursing a broken leg back to health. As a junior, she was back on the floor, but not back to full strength, and Bentley stumbled to an 11-16 record – the only sub-.500 ledger in program’s 41-year history.
As the only senior on the team and a returning captain, White embraced her role.
"She knew she was the only senior," said Bentley coach Barbara Stevens, who is 800- 177 in 30 seasons at the helm of the program. "She knew with a lot of freshmen and sophomores, this was a team she needed to nurture and lead. She gets ‘A-plus’ marks in both of those. She was terrific."
White started every game, averaging 3.6 points and 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per contest. Although the statistics aren’t gaudy, the 5-foot-5 point guard was the glue for a cohesive unit that finished 29-6 in 2015- 16.
8. Pellitteri wins D-II wrestling title at 152 pounds
Mike Pellitteri, a senior last spring, ended his Milford wrestling career strong with a Division II championship in the 152-pound bracket.
Pellitteri made quick work of Manchester West’s Markus Joseph in the final, pinning his shoulders to the mat in just 48 seconds. Pellitteri went on to finish fifth at the Meet of Champions.
9. Souhegan girls hockey reaches playoffs for 1st time
The Sabers made strides last winter, going 10-7-1 in the regular season behind senior leader Elizabeth Sylvia-Chandley and sophomore goalie Makayla Lachance. However, Souhegan was given a rude awakening to playoff hockey, as No. 3 Exeter ousted the No. 6 Sabers 8-1 in the quarterfinals.
10. Milford beats Souhegan in football rivalry
It wasn’t the greatest of years for local high school football. Milford narrowly missed the playoffs after falling to eventual Division II champion Plymouth in the final week of the regular season, and Souhegan couldn’t get on track following a tough stretch to start the year.
However, when the two got together Sept. 30, it was another competitive showdown in the rivalry.
The Sabers tied it up late in the third quarter, but the Spartans responded with 13 points in less than three minutes to deliver a knockout blow and beat Souhegan 26-14 on Friday night at Milford High School in the latest meeting between the local rivals.
"It’s always good to beat a rival. It’s great," Milford senior Teagan Vitali said. "Every time we play each other, every year, it’s always a battle and it’s nice to come out on top."