Blandini

Southern New Hampshire University’s Tom Blandini, of Bow, leads off third base during the NCAA Division II regional game May 17, 2019, in Hooksett. 

WHEN Scott Loiseau was hired as Southern New Hampshire University’s baseball coach in 2008, the Penmen were coming off a seven-win season and their field looked a lot like many of the high school baseball fields in New Hampshire. There were bleachers behind home plate and not much else.

Back then, it would have been hard to envision SNHU baseball becoming what it is today, which is one of the top NCAA programs in Division II.

How’s this for consistency? SNHU has finished above .500 in each of the last nine seasons and has won at least 41 games in five of those years. The Penmen have qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the last eight seasons, and reached the Division II World Series in 2012 and 2018.

SNHU beat LIU Post twice on Saturday to move within two victories of another World Series berth this year. The Penmen, who are ranked No. 17 in the country, will play the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) in a best-of-three Super Regional that starts Friday in Hooksett.

Loiseau, a 38-year-old Manchester resident, played at Franklin Pierce and was an assistant coach there for four years — he was also the hockey coach at Franklin Pierce for one season — before moving across the state. Basically, he took the blueprint Jayson King used when he was the Franklin Pierce head coach and brought it to SNHU.

“When I got to Franklin Pierce, we weren’t very good,” Loiseau explained. “It was Coach King’s first year there, so I watched him build a program from scratch — build it from the ground floor up. I was lucky enough when I was a coach (at Franklin Pierce) to see how he maintained it.

“I played at Franklin Pierce for four years and then I coached there for four years, so I knew a good deal about the (SNHU) program and the players. The most important thing is I knew a lot about the league (Northeast-10). I felt like (SNHU) was a spot where we could try to get players who could be good players in the league. I kinda knew what type of player we needed to play at an elite level, so that was obviously an advantage for me. The tricky part was trying to get those guys.”

Loiseau built the foundation of his program, in large part, with out-of-state players. Specifically, he mined New Jersey for talent. Back then, SNHU was rarely a landing spot for top New Hampshire players.

“When I first got here, the program had struggled a little bit and it was harder to recruit local kids, so I went to New Jersey because they don’t really have any (Division II programs) down there,” Loiseau said. “If you look through the early years you’ll see I had a lot of players from New Jersey. I made a choice to make sure I built it with freshmen. I didn’t try take the quick way with transfers and JUCO guys. I’m pretty sure I started seven freshmen the second year. We took our lumps.”

The Penmen won 14 games in Loiseau’s first season (2009), 18 in 2010 and 25 in 2011. Then came the breakout season: SNHU went 43-15 and advanced to the Division II World Series in 2012.

SNHU’s two victories over LIU Post on Saturday pushed Loiseau’s career record to 350-169-2. Since 2012, SNHU is (293-96). Ten SNHU players have been selected in the MLB draft since 2011.

These days, New Hampshire players no longer shy away from SNHU. This year’s roster features five in-state residents: junior infielder Tom Blandini (Bow), freshman catcher Jacob Hunt (Goffstown), junior pitcher Wes Tobin (Portsmouth), sophomore catcher Dakota Mulcay (Goffstown) and freshman catcher Sean Lavery (Brentwood). Blandini, Tobin and Mulcay have all been significant contributors this season.

Franklin’s Derrick Sylvester and Portsmouth’s Mike Montville are among the players who transferred from Division I schools to the SNHU program.

Sylvester left Boston College for SNHU, and Montville, the state’s only two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in baseball, came to SNHU from Maryland.

“Originally I had to go away from here (to recruit),” Loiseau explained. “I want the best players in New Hampshire. We’ve had some success winning games and we’ve had some success in the draft, so I think that helps keep guys here. If you look at our rosters, some of the best players that we’ve had are New Hampshire kids.

“Every program can always get better,” Loiseau continued. “If you’re not trying to get better, then what are you doing it for? Our biggest challenge is playing in New Hampshire. Trying to play at home. Trying to deal with the cold. Luckily the school allows us to travel.”

The SNHU field has been dressed up and now has additional seating behind home plate (chairback seats) and near third base, and a modern press box. The field no longer looks like it belongs to a high school team.

The Penmen are still chasing the program’s first Division II national championship, but that no longer seems like an unattainable goal. In fact, it’s a goal that’s still within reach this season.

“The timing was impeccable here,” Loiseau said. “The school takes off the second I got the job. Amazing people to work for. They put resources into the program and gave me a chance. From a recruiting standpoint, our facilities are great. I think that that matters.”