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October 06. 2012 7:51PM

Jim Fennell's NH College Notebook: SNHU duo earned Hall of Fame status

The Southern New Hampshire men’s basketball program is counting on a core of young players to emerge this year and help the Penmen return to the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time in eight years.

With eight freshmen and sophomore on the roster, and only one senior, Penmen coach Stan Spirou can only hope one or two of his youngsters develop into the kind of players John Baiano and Miguel Gonzalez did when they helped lead SNHU out of a similar kind of rut a decade ago.

The Penmen had failed to reach the NCAAs three straight years and were 11-16 just two years before Baiano and Gonzalez joined the team as a freshmen for the 2002-03 season. Their impact was immediate, a pair of undersized guards who brought a new energy to the team. Not to mention their talent.

The Penmen reeled off three straight trips to the NCAAs and won a total of 86 games in the next four years. Baiano and Gonzalez emerged as the heart and soul of the team.

“Our program needed a shot in the arm,” Spirou said. “Those kids came in and showed the other kids what we needed to do to win. Those guys were winners and that’s something you can’t coach.”

Appropriately enough, the college announced this week that Baiano and Gonzalez are being inducted into the SNHU Athletic Hall of Fame together. They will be joined by two-sport standout Nikki (Cote) DiOrio and lacrosse star Mike Hutnick of Derry to form the Class of 2013 to be inducted during ceremonies on Saturday, Jan. 12.

Baiano was a four-year starter who set a program record with eight steals in a game — a feat he did twice — and remains the program’s all-time leader in steals with 304. He also ranks in the top 10 in assists (641) and 3-pointers (177), while scoring 987 points.

Gonzalez also ranks in the top 10 in 3-pointers (191) and is 19th on the all-time scoring list with 1,414 points.

But, Spirou will tell, their impact went beyond the stats. “A lot of people are on winning teams, but those guys were able to create that winning atmosphere,” Spirou said. “They pulled out a lot of games for us.”

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SPEAKING OF HALL CALLS: Plymouth State University athletics director John Clark will be part of the first class to be inducted into the Little East Conference Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 27 in Providence.

Clark was one of the founders of the LEC, a guiding force that helped shape one of the more successful small college conferences in New England. Clark helped bring six schools (Plymouth State, UMass Boston, Rhode Island College, UMass Dartmouth, Eastern Connecticut and Southern Maine) together to form what started out as a basketball conference in 1985.

The LEC now sponsors 19 sports and it speaks volume to the concept of the conference that all six of those schools remain part of the LEC.

Clark remains active within the conference, currently serving as the president of the Little East Athletic Directors Council.

Also part of the 11-person class is former PSU basketball star Adam DeChristopher.

He is one of just three players in program history to score more than 2,000 points (2,090), helping the team win 77 games during his four years, including what was then a school record of 22 wins during his senior season in 1999, and qualifying for four straight trips to a postseason tournament.

He holds the program record for 3-pointers (278) and was known as a cool player under pressure and he showed that in a memorable series of games at the beginning of the renewed rivalry with Keene State.

Keene State joined the LEC in DeChristopher’s junior season, dropping from Division II to Division III, and immediately became a conference powerhouse.

The Panthers and Owls played five times during DeChristopher’s two years, with Plymouth State winning three times and DeChristopher averaging 29 points.

The crowd at KSC’s Spaulding Gym quickly became known for its rowdy behavior and DeChristopher was a particularly favorite target. He answered the taunts by leading the Panthers to wins in both games there, going off for 40 points his senior year.

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SHORT HOPS: Lauren Greer of North Hampton is back at it for the Middlebury College field hockey team. The nation’s leading scorer and the Division III player of the year a season, the senior went into Saturday’s game leading the NESCAC is goals (14) and assists (7) ... UConn senior Ryan Griffin of Londonderry is once again on the Jack Mackey list as best tight end and Lombardi watch as best lineman in college football. He went into Saturday’s game at Rutgers with seven catches, including a team-high two for touchdowns ... When Franklin Pierce knocked off Southern New Hampshire in women’s volleyball last week, it snapped an eight-match winning streak for the Penmen, the longest for SNHU in at least 25 years ... The Merrimack field hockey team is 10-2 and ranked eighth nationally in Division II. The Warriors are doing with a team built around Granite State talent; four starters are from New Hampshire. Senior midfielder Jen Otis of Penacook (Merrimack Valley) is the team’s third leading scorer, while sophomore Katie Bishop of Conway (Kennett) and sisters Katie and Christine Zubkus of Dover are part of a defense that has allowed five goals in its last seven games.

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THE BEYOND THE BORDERS SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON: Charlie Donahue of Plymouth. The junior kicker was perfect in his first two games of the season for the Bates College football team. He went into Saturday’s game against Williams having converted all five of his extra point tries and both of his field goal attempts. He kicked four PATs and a 26-yard field goal in last week’s win at Tufts. Donahue, who went to Plymouth Regional, attempted just two field goals in his first two years with the Bobcats. He went into this season having converted 18 of 22 PATs.

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Jim Fennell may be reached at jfennell@unionleader.com.


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