In the third preview of our expanded baseball coverage to start the 2023 season on NHsportspage we look at Division II.
We rank the Top 10 teams heading into the season and breakdown the contnders.
Watch for our signature Game of the Week video highlights all season long. We'll kick off our Division II video coverage this Sunday April 16th as Milford and ConVal meet up at Delta Dental Stadium, home of the NH Fisher Cats!
Also be on the lookout for a weekly Sunday morning baseball podcast with myself and Ian Melewski.
Our preview is brought to you by our longtime partners at Nashua Community College!
Pre-Season Top 10
2. St. Thomas
4. John Stark
6. Oyster River
10. Merrimack Valley
Lurking outside the Top 10: Lebanon, ConVal, Kingswood
Defending champion Hollis Brookline return plenty of talent from the 18-1 team that beat St. Thomas in the finals.
Pitching was the word I often heard about the Cavaliers, who have a host of strong arms back.
All-State players Charles Hale, Jack Lager and Zak Lussier will give coach Jay Sartell a top-notch rotation that will throw to another All-Stater,
catcher Alex Razzaboni.
Dylan Morelli is a sophomore pitcher who will contribute as well.
The Hollis-Brookline bats were no slouch either in the championship run, and more of the same is expected in 2023.
The Cavs bats came out on fire in their season opener on Wednesday, pounding out fourteen runs on 15 hits in their 14-7 win over a tough Souhegan team.
Look for junior Travis Lafontaine and sophomores Tyler Gryniewicz and Paul Gehan to be a part of the attack this season.
St. Thomas was always one of the first teams coaches would mention when I asked them who they thought the top teams in the division would be.
“St. Thomas has pitching,” I heard a bunch, “St Thomas is bringing just about everyone back” was another common theme.
This is what makes St. Thomas, our #2 team in the pre-season rankings. “We do have a lot of kids coming back”, said coach Carson Cross.
“We return our entire infield and our outfield. We have excellent depth. We have three or four kids who can play shortstop and three or four more who can play center field.”
Cross may only be in his second year at the helm of the Saints, but he has quickly built a reputation as one of the more feared programs in the state.
Cross is a local kid we covered in football when he played quarterback at Exeter in the early days of this website, but he went to UCONN for baseball and was drafted by two different major league teams before he ended up coaching in the minors with the Milwaukee Brewers system.
“Our guys have come back hungrier this year. We have been working on finding energy, playing loose and relaxed, and creating offense earlier against quality pitching”.
Speaking of quality pitching, the Saints start with lefty Sam Grondin, last year’s inning leader.
Southpaws Ryan Storm and Cade Murphy give St. Thomas three lefties, while sidearmer Carlos Guenard and freshman Ben Sabatini work from the right side.
Michael Skowron led the team in hits and average last year and will hit third in the lineup.
Murphy is “bigger and stronger” this year after leading the team in OBP (on base percentage) last season.
Shortstop Timmy Avery who had 18 steals last year and was second on the team in hits will bat second.
The Souhegan Sabers didn’t waste time lamenting last year’s 1-0 semifinal loss to St. Thomas. “First day back in December, we mentioned it for the last time,” coach Chris Metz said.
“New season, new team, a new opportunity.” Metz’s team has only two seniors and two juniors, and the roster is loaded with 4 sophomores and seven freshmen, but “I think it’s a great thing because we have a lot of excellent young talent.”
The Souhegan upperclassmen are good, too, led by junior SS Nolan Colby, who is already committed to Division I Fairfield.
Seniors Brandon Dufour, Hayden Goerlich, and junior Teddy Katsel returned after All-State seasons last year.
Drew Reagan played second base last year as a freshman and will move to third base this year. Matt Silk will be at second, with Colby “locked in” at SS, according to Metz.
Katsel is back in CF, and Dufour will move around between pitcher, first base, and catcher. Goerlich, who threw 16 innings last year with a
microscopic 0.16 ERA will be the #1 starter.
Brayden Hickman started the season-opening 12-1 win vs Pembroke and went 6 innings giving up just 1 run.
Freshman Ethan Gaudet threw in relief in that game and again in the Sabers second-game loss at Hollis-Brookline.
Blake Powers is another freshman Souhegan can go to on the mound. It’s a group coach Metz feels has very high aspirations.
“Our goal, what we’re talking about, is we’re going to compete for the Championship on June 10th. That’s the goal around here.”
It’s been a pretty good run for the John Stark Generals since Dennis Pelletier took over as the head coach nine years ago.
Stark has been a postseason participant in Pelletier’s first eight seasons in Weare.
The Generals won it all in 2021, and Pelletier says, “We would have been in three straight Final Four’s if not for a great catch by the St. Thomas, right fielder in last year’s 5-4 quarterfinal loss”.
This year’s edition of the Generals is young, as only four seniors are on the roster, and two of those kids were on JV last year.
But the core group of returning players and newcomers is very talented. A pair of juniors will serve as team captains Anthony Paolicelli and Hunter Keim. Paolicelli made 1st team All-State last year as a sophomore.
According to the coach, the LHP has a low 80s fastball and is a terrific hitter. Keim will play middle infield.
Another returning All-State performer is sophomore RHP/SS
Chase Phillibotte, the younger brother of Brady Phillibotte, was on the 2021 title team. “Chase throws four different pitches; he’s very composed and has confidence through the roof,” said Pelletier.
Senior Chis Dustin will get some work on the mound in relief and has also been one of the best John Stark hitters this pre-season.
Another senior Hayden Nunley “is a super utility guy for us and has a
rubber arm,” according to the coach.
The Generals also feature some guys you might recognize from football junior Deltyn Williams and All-State sophomore linebacker Joey Dykstra.
Coach Pelletier also had high praise for his big freshman catcher/third baseman, Aiden Harris, who he says is going to be one of the bright stars in NH High School baseball.
Bow baseball has had a lot of success since the school opened in the late 1990s. Head coach Ben Forbes was an assistant on those early teams and took over the program in 2000.
Over the last twenty-three years, Forbes has compiled 242 wins and led the Falcons to five State Championship Game appearances, a pair of titles in 2003 (Class M), and more recently in 2019 (D2).
Last year Bow earned a top-four seed in the tournament, where they fell in the quarterfinals to Hanover.
Gone from that team are four players who made All-State teams in 2022, but you can still expect the Falcons to be in the mix this
“We’ve just had a lot of good players in this program over the years. This community has produced so many good athletes, and I see that continuing.”
Second-teamer Zach Cross is back for his senior season and will be asked to play second base and lead the pitching staff this year along with fellow senior Ethan Gray.
Coach Forbes says his pitching staff is deep with senior Mark Folsom, junior Sean Guerrette, and freshman Peyton Larrabee who “has great mound presence and should provide innings for us this year.”
Forbes also has sophomore Nate Kiah coming back soon to make the pitching staff and infield even stronger. “We have the entire middle of our
defense back. Owen Webber started every game at catcher last year as a freshman, Cam Evans at shortstop.”
RBI guys Luke Wilke and Calen Smith will man the Bow outfield, and multi-talented freshman Jake Reardon is “fighting for the first base job.”
Senior outfielder Alex Magdziasz is also competing for a
Hanover graduated ten seniors and a handful of All-State performers off a semifinal team last year, so coach John Grainger is happy his team doesn’t open the season until Monday, April 17th.
“We are only bringing back two or three kids who played every day."
" We have a lot of new faces, with five freshmen and two sophomores on the team this year so we could use a little extra time.”
That being said, the fact the Bears have senior Sam Sacerdote back after a 1st team season in 2022 gives them an ace. “Sam has been All-State since his sophomore year. He is a very smart kid and a smart baseball player. He’s also a two-way player, our #1 pitcher, and the 2 or 3 hitters in our lineup.”
Junior lefty Jake Toulmin pitched a lot of innings last season and will
slot in behind Sacerdote in the rotation.
Allie Muirhead is a young freshman who just turned 15, but his sidearm delivery gives him a “whiffle ball change-up,” according to his coach.
Another name Hanover fans know about is Jackson McBride, the junior SS who is getting D1 college attention. McBride throws right and hits left and will serve as the leadoff batter for Hanover.
The Milford Spartans hope to build on the second half of last season that saw them go 6-2, overcoming an 0-8 start and earning themselves a trip to the postseason.
“We told the kids at the halfway point last year, we haven’t lost faith in you,” said coach Todd Robichaud. “You can still make something of this season.”
The pep talk apparently worked. Now that group is a year older and with seven seniors and seven juniors, the Spartans are thinking about making another, deeper run.
The return of Trice Cote is a big part of the optimism in Milford.
As a sophomore, Cote was an All-State performer, but he missed his junior last year after Tommy John surgery and is just getting back to
action after a football injury.
Coach Robichaud says Trice will be a top pitcher and play SS and provide a big bat. “We named him team captain last year even though he couldn’t play; that’s the type of kid he is.”
Sophomore catcher Logan Howard started and hit over .300 last year as a freshman, earning 3rd team. Landon Pierce is another big hitter who plays the corner infield spots and will pitch.
Landon Bianchi and Michael Lima are two more guys Milford is counting on in the field and from the mound. “We don’t have POs on the roster at Milford,” Robichaud joked (meaning pitcher-only guys).
The Spartans are happy to welcome back sophomore center fielder and middle infielder Bryce Larco who started high school at Bishop Guertin but has returned to school in Milford.
Another returning player, junior infielder Colton Tewksbury hasn’t played baseball since 6th grade, and his coach said “he came back to play with his friends, and he’s borrowing everybody’s stuff!”
Merrimack Valley coach Sean Wheeler has been around for 21 years now, coaching the Pride.
One thing Wheeler says has changed in that time is the
improved competition in the division. "The parity in the division is better now that (former powers) Portsmouth and Goffstown have moved up to Division I; every game is a great game in this division, it seems now. "
Last year's team earned a ten seed in the tourney and lost a heartbreaking 2-1 game to John Stark.
MV's pitching staff is led by juniors Luke Dougherty and Simon Keary.
Wheeler called Dougherty "a power pitcher" while Keary "does it with smoke and mirrors and awkward arm angles" and mentioned
Keary was the only pitcher to beat Hollis-Brookline last year.
The Pride has a talented freshman named Jonas Weed, who they think can become a top 3 pitcher on the team by the end of the year. Senior
Gavin Wheeler, the coach's son, will work in relief, as will sophomore David Isaak.
When I asked the coach who we could expect to lead the MV offense, he said, "The big bats, we're still looking for. Hitting has been a problem in recent years. We hit only .236 as a team last year."
Gavin Wheeler hit .306 and will table set along with senior Dylan Garvin. Dougherty and twin brothers Will (SS) and Alex McPherson (catcher) will hit in the heart of the order.
When asked to size up his team for this preview, Matt Harris said he sees his ConVal team in the "lurking outside the Top 10" category of a very competitive division this season.
The Cougars missed the playoffs last year, but the 3rd year coach is counting on some players that have been in the program with him since the beginning to lead the team back to the tournament.
"I usually only have two captains, but this year we chose four team captains because all four of these guys have been with me
for all three years."
RHP Oliver Theriault is one of the four senior captains expected to lead the team. "Ollie is a ground ball machine on the mound," said Harris.
"Offensively, he's been smashing the ball in pre-season."
Brady Carpentiere, another senior captain, is more of a power pitcher who will also see time at first base.
The other two captains are kids we know from ConVal basketball, Wyatt Beaulieu, a key bat who plays LF and pitcher, and Joe Gutwein, who has been the Cougars' leadoff hitter and center fielder since his sophomore
Justin Borges is a kid Harris says, "He just eats and sleeps baseball."
The junior will play catcher and third base, while junior Zach Pease will be the second baseman, and freshman Evan Aho will be at short.
The Cougars have a pretty cool opportunity to play one of their home games against Milford on Sunday April 16th at Delta Dental Stadium, the home of the NH Fisher Cats and also where the NHIAA Baseball
Championships are taking place in June.
When Rob Stockman took over as the new head coach at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy a year ago, he knew they had to change the culture.
Stockman is known for coaching a very successful Pittsfield
baseball program for 20 years, winning a Championship in 2013 and making it to three other title games.
"There have been so many different coaches here at Coe-Brown in recent years. We really had to start from scratch and change the attitude."
The first season started well at 5-2 with a quality win over John Stark, but the wheels fell off after that, and the Bears finished the season 6-10 and missed the playoffs.
This year, seniors Tommy Flanagan and Freddy Schaaff are the only returning players with varsity experience and will serve as team captains. Flanagan is one of the team's best hitters and will be the #1
Schaaff will be behind the plate. Sophomore Casey Colby is expected to step in as the #2 starter, followed by junior Joseph Bush, who coach Stockman is hoping can step up into the role.
The Bears have a pair of junior relievers in Dylan Burovac and Braden Burt. Flanagan's younger brother Mike Flanagan is a sophomore center fielder.
Colby should be one of the team's top hitters. Of the 32
kids in the program, the bright side for Coe-Brown is 20 of those kids are freshman and sophomores.
At 29 years of age, Sanborn Regional High School coach Jordan Britton is one of the youngest, if not the youngest, head coach in New Hampshire.
Now in his 3rd season, the young coach has seen what was once a young team grows into a group of nine seniors looking to make some noise after a pair of 4-12 seasons.
"Two years ago, we had seven freshmen and sophomores starting and only two seniors starting. Now we have nine seniors on the team and seven guys with two years of varsity experience. It's time for us to put it
Gavin Duquette and James Thompson served as Sanborn team captains last year as juniors, and they return as leaders again.
Duquette is a SS and #3 hitter for the Indians and will be playing at American International College in Springfield, Mass, next year.
Thompson and fellow seniors Ethan Stanley (low 80s fastball) and Peter Dubois are part of the pitching staff along with crafty righthander Aidan Broyer who the coach says "keeps hitters off balance."
Luke Sabatini is another 3rd year starter who will hit leadoff.
It's not easy being the northernmost team in Division II baseball.
When the Kennett Eagles play a road game like Souhegan in Amherst, they leave North Conway at noon for a 4 pm game and get home at 930 that night.
"Good thing we play baseball in the afternoon instead of at night,"
joked coach Josh McAllister, a Kennett grad himself.
McAllister is in his 9th season as Kennett, and he brings back a young team that took its lumps last year with a 3-15 season.
"The sophomore class we have this year played most of the innings last year as freshman, so they got great experience."
"That also means eleven of these players will be back again next year…and nine will have two more years in the program."
The team got some good bonding time during the pre-season when they played a few games in Dodgertown, Florida.
The Kingswood baseball team went down the same weekend and was on the same plane. "We left North Conway, and it was 22 degrees, and when we got off the plane, it was 92."
The trip was made possible by a $20,000 fundraiser the team did, and it was worth every penny."
Logan Ramsey will serve as the leader of the pitching staff. He had all three wins last year for the Eagles as a freshman and threw a no-hitter against Laconia late in the season.
Senior Sam Seavey was named 1st team All-State last season and had an excellent 2.25 ERA.
He hit .417 with 20 stolen bases and will be hitting in the middle of the order. Junior Brody Nagle was 3rd team all D2 last season when he hit .333.
Devin Jakubec will play catcher and hit near the top of the order. Jacob Brown is a righty pitcher and infielder, and Matthew Charrette will play infield and work out of the bullpen.