The 2019 NHIAA baseball landscape has a much different look than it did a year ago, and the most significant changes were made to Division I.
Goffstown, Portsmouth and Windham — three of the strongest Division II programs in recent years — now call Division I home, adding depth to a league that has been dominated by Exeter and Bedford over the past three years. Exeter defeated Bedford in each of the last two Division I championship games, and Bedford beat Bishop Guertin to win the Division I title in 2016.
The Blue Hawks and Bulldogs are on the list of contenders this year as well, but some would contend that the addition of the three former Division II programs makes that list longer than usual.
“This is my sixth year as a (Division II) head coach, and every year I thought Goffstown and Portsmouth would have have competed with the top teams in Division I,” John Stark coach Dennis Pelletier said. “Portsmouth and Goffstown are going to compete for the Division I title (this year) in my opinion.
“Windham graduated a lot of kids. It may be tough sledding for them early, but they’re not going to get run over.”
Although Goffstown, Portsmouth and Windham were placed in Division I because of enrollment, each program could have made the move for competitive reasons as well. You have to go back to 2012 to find a year when not one of those three teams reached the Division II championship game. Two of the three have advanced to the Division II championship game in four of the past six seasons (2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018).
Portsmouth won the Division II title in 2013, 2017 and 2018; Goffstown won the Division II championship in 2014 and Windham beat Goffstown for the Division II title in 2015. Portsmouth also advanced to the championship game in 2013, but came up short against Souhegan (2-1).
How dominant was Portsmouth in Division II? The Clippers established the current national record for consecutive wins by a high school baseball team when it won 89 straight games from 2008 to 2012.
“They’re all very good programs and I think it’s good that they moved up,” Pinkerton coach Steve Campo said. “It makes our conference even stronger.
“I bet there are seven to 10 teams that if they walked away with the Division I championship this season it wouldn’t come as a surprise to people. Adding those teams definitely makes it a more competitive league.”
The loss of Goffstown, Portsmouth and Windham may benefit Division II as well, since it opens the door for other programs to go deep into the Division II tournament. Winning a Division II championship is now a more realistic possibility for many programs.
“There was a lot of Division I and Division II (college) talent on those teams,” Pelletier said. “They were tough to play. If we were to start this season with Goffstown in Portsmouth in Division II they would be one and two again. There will definitely be a lot more parity.”
Here are some other changes made to NHIAA baseball this season:
— Hopkinton moved from Division IV to Division III.
— Laconia moved from Division II to Division III.
— Kearsarge and Stevens were bumped up to Division II from Division III.
— Manchester West will field a varsity team after having only a junior varsity team for the last two seasons.
— Concord Christian will field a varsity team and compete in Division IV.
While this is Windham’s first foray into Division I, Goffstown and Portsmouth have both competed — and won championships — at the Division I level before. Goffstown beat Salem in the 2008 Division I championship game, and Portsmouth’s last’s Division I title came in 1988. Current Portsmouth coach Tim Hopley was on the Portsmouth roster that season.
“I would say Goffstown and Portsmouth were Division I programs playing in Division II,” Pelletier said. “Look back at the records and try to find me a year when Goffstown and Portsmouth weren’t in the final four.
“Adam (Goffstown coach Adam Lawrence) and Hop (Hopley) are great coaches who run great programs. You could say they set the bar high for a lot of us, but this does give other teams a chance. That’s not a bad thing, either.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brett Anderson (P/INF/OF) Bishop Guertin; Trevor Anibal (INF) Bedford; Evan Beals (C) Alvirne; Devin Bedell (INF) Pittsfield; Connor Blandini (INF) Bow; Sam Boudreau (C/INF) Bishop Guertin; Ryan Bourque (P/1B/OF) Timberlane; Owen Brickley (P/INF) Plymouth; Braxton Brown (P/OF) White Mountains; Jake Bullard (3B/SS) Winnacunnet; Keagan Calero (INF) Spaulding; Clay Campbell (P/INF) Goffstown; Griffin Crane (P/1B/OF) White Mountains; Derek Dascoulias (P/OF) Kennett; Brady Day (P/INF) Pinkerton; Jonathan Dube (C) Spaulding; Griffin Embree (P/OF) Belmont; Tony Gallinaro (P/OF) Nashua North; Jojo Gallo (INF) Windham; Braden Green (INF) Exeter; Cal Hewett (P/OF) Portsmouth; Kyle Hsu (C/3B) Hollis/Brookline; Connor Hujsak (P/INF) Goffstown; Andreas Hulfachor (P) Nashua South; Ethan Imbimbo (P/INF) Exeter; Colin Jackson (P/OF) Exeter; Connor Jenkins (1B/OF) Pinkerton; Trevor Kelly (P/INF) Nashua North; Garrett Langis (INF) Spaulding; Oscar Lalime (P/INF/OF) Portsmouth; Reece Manor (P/INF) Londonderry; Zach Miles (SS) Concord; Keegan Mills (P/INF) Campbell; Ryan Minkler (P/INF/OF) Portsmouth; Zach Mooers (INF) Keene; Avery Mosseau (INF/OF) Bedford; Brett Patnode (P/C/INF) John Stark; Caleb Piwnicki (P/3B) Prospect Mountain; Axel Post (C) Dover; Jacob Rich (C/OF) Coe-Brown; Garrett Roberts (OF) Exeter; Asa Runge (P/OF) Pinkerton; Myles Sargent (INF) Portsmouth; Adrian Siravo (P/INF) Gilford; Kyle Stockman (INF) Pittsfield; Marcus Soucia (P/SS) Keene; Owen Tonkin (P/INF/OF) Oyster River; Daniel Trzepacz (P/INF) Souhegan; Caleb Yianakopolous (P/INF) Hopkinton.