Bow native Blandini relishes College World Series run with SNHU baseball

  • Bow native Tom Blandini fires a throw across the diamond for the Southern New Hampshire University baseball team during the NCAA Division II College World Series last month in Cary, N.C. Courtesy / Southern New Hampshire University athletics

  • Southern New Hampshire University sophomore Tom Blandini swings at a pitch during the NCAA Division II College World Series last month in Cary, N.C. The former Bishop Brady High School standout finished out the season as one of the top players for the Penmen. Courtesy / Southern New Hampshire University athletics

  • Southern New Hampshire University’s Tom Blandini fields and throws the ball to first base during the NCAA Division II College World Series last month in Cary, N.C. Courtesy / Southern New Hampshire University athletics

Monitor staff
Published: 6/13/2018 11:59:25 PM

Following a 4-2 loss to Pace University back in March, the Southern New Hampshire University baseball team was at a crossroads.

“We started the season 10-9 and it’s like, ‘Oh boy,’ ” SNHU head coach Scott Loiseau said. “Luckily, we had a ton of experience, great leadership and extremely competitive kids.”

A few months later, the Penmen walked off the field at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., as one of the last four teams standing in the NCAA Division II College World Series.

The Penmen did more than turn their season around. They not only won 31 of their last 39 games, but also staved off elimination twice in what was the most successful year in program history.

“It was honestly a great experience. Not only for me, but the whole team,” said sophomore Tom Blandini, a Bow native and former Bishop Brady High School standout. “This is the furthest we’ve went, so it was a pretty good experience for all of us to play against that competition and watch our guys produce. It was pretty fun.”

After knocking off No. 17 St. Thomas Aquinas College in the NCAA Division II East Regional Championship on May 21, SNHU managed to secure the program’s second berth to the College World Series – its first since 2012.

And while the Penmen were naturally excited to be in the conversation for a title, this wasn’t a team that felt out of place among some of the top talent in the nation.

“We thought we deserved to be there and wanted to just play well,” Loiseau said. “We played a lot of top-25 teams this year, so we felt like we played a good enough schedule and had teams of that caliber. So we expected to compete down there.”

Paced by their lights-out pitching staff and the emergence of third baseman and leadoff hitter Blandini, the Penmen did exactly that.

SNHU opened the tournament on May 26 with a 5-2 loss against Augustana (S.D) – a team that would eventually go on to win its first Division II championship – before bouncing back for a pair of wins with its back against the wall.

The next day, behind RBI singles for Blandini and Thomas Buonopane, and a dominant performance on the mound from Shane McDonald, the Penmen avoided elimination with a 3-0 blanking over the University of Southern Indiana.

The Penmen brought that same magic to the ballpark on May 30. On the verge of elimination for the second straight contest, Blandini and senior Kyle Pangallo each homered to lift SNHU over third-seeded and 14th-ranked University of California, San Diego, 7-4.

“It sucked losing the first game, but we finally locked in afterwards,” Blandini said. “We were just thinking that this could be it for our seniors so we wanted to give it our all.”

Less than 13 hours after advancing, the Penmen were right back at it for a rematch against Augustana (S.D.) on May 31 where the season came to an end with an 8-2 loss.

“I was really happy for the players,” Loiseau said. “They put a lot of work in all year and I think they earned it. They deserved it and I’m glad they were able to get that done. ... Just being able to be down there and showcase at that level, I think it was great for the players.”

As for Blandini, the infielder finished a breakout campaign as one of the team’s brightest young players.

He led the Penmen in at-bats (237), runs scored (51), hits (77), triples (10) and RBI (49). Blandini also recorded a slash line of .325/.412/.489, nabbed 15 steals and showed a terrific feel for the strike zone with 30 walks and only 17 strikeouts.

For Blandini, the ride through the College World Series was a valuable one.

“It was definitely different competition and you see guys throwing 94-95 mph, it’s much different,” he said. “It was definitely new for me, especially leading off down there and it really made me think about my approach and what I really need to work on.”

Blandini said he wants to steals more bags next season and add a bit of strength to his 5-foot-7, 150-pound frame over the summer to generate more extra-base hits.

The idea of him continuing to improve is a scary one for the rest of the conference.

“I can’t wait. If he’s not already one of the best players in the conference, his goal should be,” Loiseau said. “It won’t be easy, but if I’m him, that’s my goal.”

(Jay McAree can be reached at 369-3371, or on Twitter @JayMcAree.)

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