CARY, N.C. – The two players from Southern New Hampshire and their head coach filed very quietly into the press tent, their magical season having just come to an end at the hands of Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Never before had Southern New Hampshire won an NCAA East Region title, and this was Penmen’s first appearance in the NCAA championships. The team’s 43 wins — including one Saturday against Minnesota State, Mankato in the first round of the title tournament — were by far a school record. The year was not supposed to end like this, not with a 6-0 shutout.
Coach Scott Loiseau has turned the program around in his four years at the school. The year before he got the Southern New Hampshire job, the team won just seven games. Loiseau coaxed 14 wins out of the program in 2009, 18 the following season and 25 in 2011. With only 12 winning seasons in school history, Southern New Hampshire this year made its first post-season appearance of any kind since 1997.
Ironically, Southern New Hampshire has still never made an appearance in the Northeast-10 Conference tournament.
None of that seemed to matter much to Loiseau, junior designated hitter Andy Lalli and right fielder Jon Minucci, also a junior, as they sat down. After edging Minnesota State, Mankato Saturday, Southern New Hampshire was stunned by West Chester with nine runs in the last two innings en route to a 13-7 loss.
The elimination defeat was a hard one to swallow, and for the first few minutes, the disappointment was thick in each of their measured responses. Asked to put what was hands-down the best season in school history into perspective, Loiseau finally let loose.
“I think if you asked that group what their goals were at the beginning of the year, having never been to the World Series, never been in a regional (championship), never been in the playoffs, you wouldn’t have heard that we shouldn’t be here,” Loiseau said. “It’s a really special group. They work really hard. They are very tight. They have a lot of fun. They know when to press the gas. They know when to hit the brakes. They are very intelligent group, very baseball savvy and very confident.”
“I don’t think anyone was surprised to be here. I just think maybe a little inexperience in terms of the tournament hurt us a little bit. In general, it’s great for the program. This is what we’ve been working for. Hopefully, we’ll have another opportunity like this. It’s not easy playing in a phenomenal conference. There’s a lot of really good teams. It definitely helps prepare for a tournament like this. We’re ready for it. We just had to win the games, and this year, we had the opportunity to do that.”
Located in Manchester, N.H., both the school and its baseball team are on an upswing. In many ways, they’re good for each other.
“Obviously, it’s going to help,” he continued. “We were talking as a staff the other day. SNHU (which he, and presumably everybody else on campus pronounces “snoo”) is actually going national. The school is really hot right now. With the school being so hot and now with us having the kind of success we’ve had, that’s going to make a difference for us in terms of recruiting.”
“It’s obviously huge. We’ve had some success getting good players here because of how nice the school is. We’ve still got to compete with schools like Franklin Pierce, Southern Connecticut, UMass Lowell. There’s a lot of good teams and nice schools in our area.”
Lalli and Minucci both went 2-4 in the elimination game, and both will be back for more next season. The experience of 2012 – from winning 13 consecutive games to begin to the season and then making the postseason – has whetted both of their appetites.
There’s more out there, and they want it.
“We’ve got a lot of great guys on the team,” Lalli said. “Everybody’s tight. We’re all brothers. To come here was an awesome experience. Everybody dreams of playing in the World Series as a kid. It’s an amazing feeling, being one of the top-eight teams in the nation and to still be playing in June. We’ve got a good ball club coming back next year, so hopefully, we’ll be around.”
“Everybody has a sour taste in their mouth now, after this loss. It doesn’t sit well. I know a lot of teams are happy with just being here. But as a team and as a unit, we wanted to do more than just come here. We wanted to do some damage. We’re going to work hard. We’re going to be determined to get back here.”