Upstart Monks show New England their mettle

The Saint Joseph’s College baseball team made history with a thrilling run in the NCAA New England Regional Tournament in the spring.

After winning the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship, the Monks headed to Connecticut to participate in the regional tournament for the fourth time in the last five years. As the No. 8 seed, Saint Joseph’s (35 wins, 13 losses) fell to top-seeded Tufts University by a 12-3 tally in the opening game of the double-elimination tourney. One more loss and the Monks’ brilliant campaign would come to an end. But that’s when things got interesting.

Monks baseball photo

Saint Joseph’s second baseman Mike Burdin ’10 of Gardiner, Maine, completes a double play against Western New England College in the NCAA New England Regional Tournament in May. The Monks set a team record by turning five double plays in the 3-2 victory. (Photo courtesy of James Nanof)

With the season on the line, Coach Will Sanborn ’86 leaned heavily on the team’s eight seniors. Although the Monks had advanced to regionals three times during the seniors’ tenure on the team, the seniors had never won a game there. In fact, they had dropped seven straight games at the regional, including several lopsided losses.

After suffering the opening defeat, lesser team leaders might have succumbed to the “here-we-go-again” sentiment. Instead, the Monks rallied, notching three straight victories over better-seeded teams and nearly making it to the championship game.

The senior corps kept the team focused and made major contributions on the field during the run. In the team’s second game, senior Pat Moran of Winterport, Maine, worked nine outstanding innings on the mound against No. 5 Worcester State. The game was won in the bottom of the 12th when senior catcher Travis Adams of Saco, Maine, delivered the game-winning double. Another senior, Chris Nanof of Clinton, Mass., earned the victory on the mound, while fellow seniors Craig Woodbrey of Gorham, Maine, and Ben Grant-Roy of Biddeford, Maine, produced offensively for the Royal Blue.

The next morning, Saint Joseph’s faced off against No. 3 Western New England College. Coach Sanborn turned to another senior to start the game on the mound, lefthander Andrew Keirstead of Westbrook, Maine, who held the opposing lineup off balance and was pivotal in the 3-2 win over the Golden Bears. Senior second baseman Mike Burdin of Gardiner, Maine, had an excellent game defensively for the Monks, and turned a program-record five double plays in the triumph.

St. Joe’s played No. 2 Wheaton College later that evening. The Lyons, a perennial powerhouse who entered the tournament as the 14th-ranked team in the nation, lived up to their billing but fell victim to an upstart St. Joe’s club by a 9-7 score. Senior lefty Kyle Dorr of Berwick, Maine, started on the hill but was lifted in favor of Nanof, who went on to gain his second victory of the tourney. Grant-Roy and Burdin led the offensive charge, while freshman third baseman Mike Pratt of Dartmouth, Mass., connected on a three-run homer in the third inning.

With the win over Wheaton, Saint Joseph’s advanced to “Championship Saturday” and earned a chance to avenge the team’s loss to Tufts. The Monks pushed top-seeded Tufts to the brink before falling in 11 innings by a 6-5 margin. Along with Tufts and eventual regional champ UMass-Boston, St. Joe’s was one of three teams to play on the final day of the tournament.

“It was a memory I will never forget,” says Mike Burdin. “We went down to the regional saying that we won’t go 0-6 (in regional play for our careers) and we had that mindset the entire time. The team … fought hard all the way until the final out.”

Although the Monks fell short of advancing to the NCAA World Series, players and coaching staff were proud their effort put St. Joe’s baseball on the map. As Coach Sanborn says, “Our program took a huge step forward at the 2010 New England NCAA Regional. To come out of the losers’ bracket, win three games and knock three of New England’s top teams out of the tournament showed a lot of heart. Making it to championship day at the regional was a thrill – now it is time to take the next step and get to the NCAA III College Baseball World Series.”

by Corey McCarthy