O’Sullivan: Top 10 local sports stories for 2019

  • WW 57kg - Skylar Grace HATTENDORF (USA) Kadir Caliskan

  • The Hopkinton girls’ lacrosse team celebrates after winning the Division III championship. GEOFF FORESTER file / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/4/2020 10:38:46 PM
Modified: 1/4/2020 10:38:19 PM

Most of them have deep local roots, although not all, unless Bill Belichick and Brad Stevens have ties to Hopkinton or Chichester we don’t know about.

They are stunning leaps up career ladders, world championship appearances and overflowing high school trophy cases.

They made it another great year for sports in our city, state and region. They are our top 10 stories of 2019.

1. Yankees hire Matt Blake

You know a story is big when lifelong Red Sox fans find a soft spot for the team in pinstripes.

“All of a sudden I’ve got to kind of root for the Yankees a little bit,” baseball coach and Concord native Sean Wheeler said when Blake, one of his former players, was named the New York pitching coach on Nov. 14.

Blake, 34, is the youngest pitching coach in MLB history. He was a left-handed pitcher at Concord High, played for the now-defunct Concord Quarry Dogs and got his coaching start in Concord Babe Ruth. Blake then developed a reputation as an innovative thinker, hard worker and great communicator giving pitching lessons out of Cressey Performance Center in Hudson, Mass., and then working for the Cleveland Indians.

“I had people to look up to in Concord who were good baseball people and playing the game the right way and supporting the community,” Blake told the Monitor in November. “So, this was something that was fostered in Concord, for sure.”

2. Skylar Hattendorf vs. the world

If a Concord native hadn’t been given one of the highest profile jobs in MLB, Hattendorf would have been an easy choice for No. 1 on this list. As a Bow High freshman, she finished runner-up at 120 pounds wrestling against boys in Division III to help the Falcons to their first-ever team title. A week later, she became the first girl to place (finish in the top six) at the New Hampshire Meet of Champions when she took fourth.

In May, Hattendorf finished first at the girls’ USA Wrestling Cadet World Team trials in Irving, Texas, a win that qualified her for the United World Wrestling Cadet World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, this summer. Hattendorf won her first three matches in Bulgaria to reach the finals, where she lost to Japan’s Ruka Natami, 4-0.

“The whole town of Bow and the whole New Hampshire wrestling community is proud of her,” Bow wrestling coach Brock Hoffman said. “She’s got a lot of fans.”

3. Patriots saga

Even if Belichick isn’t from Chichester, the twists and turns of New England’s pro football dynasty was one of the most important sports stories of 2019 around here. There was last season’s AFC Championship overtime win in Kansas City back on Jan. 20, probably the greatest win of the dynasty that wasn’t a Super Bowl or the Snow Bowl (haters call it the “Tuck Rule” game...whatever). There was the dismantling of the Rams hyped offense for a sixth Lombardi Trophy, which tied New England with Pittsburgh for the most all-time. There was the 8-0 start to this season, before a loss to the Ravens, the struggles of Tom Brady and a brutal loss to the Dolphins have stoked fears that this run may, finally, be nearing its end.

4. Parker McQuarrie and St. Paul’s School football

When he transferred from John Stark Regional High School to St. Paul’s School in 2018, Weare’s McQuarrie had already made a name for himself as an elite college prospect with strong performances at major summer camps and showcases. McQuarrie cemented that status during his two years at St. Paul’s when he helped the Big Red to an 8-0 mark in 2018 and a 9-0 record in 2019.

It won’t be so easy to see McQuarrie play his college ball since he’s going to UCLA, but the local connection is still there since he will be playing for Manchester native and UNH alum Chip Kelly.

5. Year of the Hawks

This one dips back into 2018 a little since it spans a school year, but what the Hopkinton High athletic teams have done recently is remarkable even if it’s limited to the calendar year.

In the winter 2018-19 season, the Hawks won titles in boys’ hockey, girls’ Nordic skiing and boys’ Nordic skiing, and both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams reached the quarterfinals. In the spring of 2019, Hopkinton went a perfect 19-0 on its way to the first girls’ lacrosse title in school history, won a third straight boys’ lacrosse championship, won a softball title and finished runner-up in baseball. This fall, the Hawks claimed a girls’ soccer championship, were runner up in both boys’ and girls’ cross country and reached the boys’ soccer semifinals. And if you go back to the fall of 2018, there’s another girls’ soccer title and championships for the golf and girls’ cross country teams.

That’s eight titles in the 2018-2019 school year and seven titles in the 2019 calendar year.

“We have some sports crazy kids in this school,” said Dan Meserve, Hopkinton’s athletic director and softball coach.

6. The Kyrie debacle

Not all sports stories that captured our attention in 2019 were positive.

Fans around New England had the loftiest of expectations for the Boston Celtics when the 2018-19 season began. After all, the team came one win away from reaching the NBA Finals in June of 2018, and that was without star Kyrie Irving. As it turned out, the return of Irving was subtraction by addition.

The selfless offense and dogged defense that had been a staple for the Celtics disappeared into the vortex of Irving’s mesmerizing on-court talents and perplexing off-court actions. The team lost its verve, lost too many games and definitely lost the fans. Few tears were shed when Irving bolted for Brooklyn in the offseason, and without the moody point guard clogging up the works, the Celtics are back to sharing the ball, trying on defense and feeling the home crowd love.

7. UNH football coaches

It’s been an eventful year for past, present and future football coaches at the University of New Hampshire. Ricky Santos, who broke almost all of UNH’s passing records as a player, returned to the Wildcats coaching staff in March as the associate head coach and quarterbacks coach (he was the UNH wide receivers coach from 2013-15). Santos then took over the program in August when Sean McDonnell, the team’s head coach since 1999, took an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons. After the team went 4-7 in 2018 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003, Santos had the Wildcats in playoff contention until late in the season and guided them to a 6-5 record after a win against rival Maine in the finale.

Another former UNH quarterback and assistant coach, Ryan Day, was in the national college football spotlight. After serving as interim head coach at Ohio State for three games in 2018, Ryan Day was named the full-time head coach at Ohio State for the 2019 season and led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff semifinals.

8. Tide XC reloads and returns

The Concord boys’ cross country team lost its top three runners and its coach from its 2018 title team. The Concord girls’ cross country team hadn’t won a title since 2003. But on Oct. 26 the Crimson Tide won both the boys’ and girls’ Division I championships at Derryfield Park in Manchester. Eben Bragg (third overall) and Brayden Kearns (eighth) led the Concord boys’ team, while Sophie Hopkins (ninth), Morganne Orcutt (10th) and Katherine Kennedy (11th) were the top girls.

“I knew they had it in them,” said Concord girls’ coach Ally Davis, who was also part of the Tide’s ’03 title team.

9. Making history

Even though the program had never won a championship, that was the goal for the Bishop Brady field hockey team all season.

“We talked about it all the time. Every day we kept it in our minds,” said Brady junior Ashlyn Toupin, the Monitor Field Hockey Player of the Season for 2019.

It looked like the Giants might have to alter their dreams when they were blown out by Hopkinton 6-0 near the end of the regular season. But they pulled it together for the playoffs, rolling past Laconia in the first round 5-0, beating nemesis Gilford 1-0 in the quarterfinals and rallying from a two-goal deficit in the second half of the semifinals against Newfound and pulling out a 3-2 overtime win. Brady capped its first-ever title run with a 1-0 decision against defending-champ Mascoma in final.

“Greatest feeling ever,” Toupin said.

10. Walk it off

Winning a regular-season baseball game in walk-off fashion usually leads to dugouts erupting onto diamonds. Walking off a playoff win gets even wilder. But what happens when you win three straight playoff games by walk-off, like the Bow baseball team did on its way to the Division II championship? You get a spot in the Top 10, that’s what happens.

The Falcons went 15-2 in the regular seasons to earn the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. After that, it was nothing but nail biting.

Bow trailed 3-1 in the quarterfinals against Coe-Brown before coming back to score the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh for a 6-5 win. In the semifinals, the Falcons took advantage of some St. Thomas miscues to erase a one-run deficit and claim another 6-5 comeback win when Steve Guerrette scored on a walk-off suicide squeeze bunt from Matt Lamy. And Bow completed the improbable run when Riley Elliot lined a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the seventh against Hollis Brookline to give the Falcons a 5-4 win and their first baseball title since 2003.

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