PLYMOUTH, N.H. – On paper, it was another successful season for the Plymouth State College baseball season. There was a 22-17 overall record, the third straight 20-win
season, an invitation to the inaugural Little East Conference Tournament, the third consecutive post-season invitation and eighth in 13 years, a regular appearance in the New
England Division III coaches poll, and a handful of individual awards that included a First Team All-New England honor.
But if you ask Panther head coach Dennis McManus his highlights, he looks into the dugout rather than on the diamond for his image of success.
“It was a fun year, a successful year because of the commitment and personalities of the players,” said McManus, who is 227-213 in 13 seasons at PSC. “We just had a
bunch of kids who came to play everyday. They took it as a serious responsibility and yet they came to have fun, and that’s important.”
“Certainly one of the highlights of the season was doing as well as we did in the Little East,” said McManus. “Even though this is the first year of the Little East Conference, it is
already recognized as one of the toughest conferences. Two teams, Southern Maine and Eastern Connecticut, were invited to the NCAA Regionals, and Southern Maine, which won
the LEC Tournament, went to the College World Series. Those two, plus Plymouth State and UMass Dartmouth were ranked among the top 10 in New England all season, and
Western Connecticut has had good teams.”
The Panthers finished the regular season 9-5 in LEC games, second place in the North division, and were one of four teams invited to the conference tournament. After a
tough first-round loss to Southern Maine, 6-3, PSC eliminated No. 1 ranked (New England) and top-seeded Eastern Connecticut, 7-2, in the losers’ bracket. It was only the fourth win
for PSC in 39 career meetings against ECSU. UMass Dartmouth then eliminated PSC, 22-6.
“That win over Eastern was a big one for us,” said McManus. “It came at a time when they were having a good year, and they had beaten us twice down in Connecticut earlier
this season. I think our program is to the point where we can challenge for the LEC title. We may be a player or two away from the best teams, but we can be as good as anybody we
“Playing in the tournament was fun for the guys,” added McManus. “I kind of expected the excitement because
we played in some unofficial LEC tourneys in the fall and the kids got up for the atmosphere of tournament play.”
The Panthers returned from the annual spring trip to Ft. Myers, Fla., for the Gene Cusic Classic with a 5-3 record. The immediate challenge awaiting them back in New
England was weather and the layer of snow and ice on Panther Field. Scheduled games both home and away were postponed and relocated, as teams scrambled to find suitable
playing conditions. The first doubleheader at Colby College was moved to the high school in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and a pair of `home’ Little East Conference twinbills were
moved to Spaulding High School in Rochester, N.H., over an hour away from Plymouth.
“Probably the key to the season,” said McManus, “was after losing twice to Colby, we bounced back to take all four Little East games in Rochester. Colby was a decent team,
but it was cold and we didn’t play very well. Then we swept Rhode Island College and UMass Dartmouth the next weekend. That made the kids believe they could play with and beat
anyone. It was a big key to their confidence, which helped the rest of the way.”
Most of the individual highlights and honors went to senior captain Jason Lewis (Exeter, RI) and junior Mark Thompson (Manchester, NH/Memorial), next year’s captain.
Lewis capped off a remarkable PSC career, earning All-Little East and All-New England First Team honors as a first baseman, and All-LEC honors as a relief pitcher/closer. He set
more than a dozen PSC season and career records for pitching, hitting and defense, finishing his senior year with a .433 batting average in 39 games, with 10 doubles, nine home
runs, and 34 RBI. On the mound, he was 3-1 with five saves and a 2.55 earned run average, working 17.2 innings with 23 strikeouts and just three walks.
Thompson was a Third Team All-New England and honorable mention All-Little East pick after his 1997 season, which included a .333 average with 12 doubles, nine home
runs, and 40 RBI in 39 games. He played both catcher and left field for the Panthers, and his left-handed bat will be welcomed back in ’98.
Joining Lewis and Thompson in those receiving individuals honors were sophomore George Gauthier (Rochester, NH) and freshmen Jason Freeman (Manhasset, NY) and
Darren Svendsen (Stoneham, MA). Gauthier came on strong as the season progresses, earning the regular job at catcher, and was an All-Tournament Team pick at the LEC
Tourney. Freeman earned the starting position at second base, and thrived in the role, was named a LEC Rookie of the Week in April. Svendsen earned the same honor after
pitching PSC to a big win at Western Connecticut.
“Obviously Lewis and Thompson were our big guys,” said McManus, “but I’m just as proud of the quiet individual performances of guys like Gauthier and Freeman, and some
of our young pitchers. Quietly they were very consistent, and played hard and epitomized the effort you look for in players. They were consistent in their play and stayed off that
emotional rollercoaster, which is a key to being a good ball player.”
Freeman, who finished with a .279 average, got a chance to play when McManus moved sophomore Jim Freda (Windham, NH) to shortstop, replacing the injured Todd
Steffanides (Fitchburg, MA). Steffanides suffered a season-ending knee injury in Florida after batting .318 in eight games with eight stolen bases. Freda joined Lewis and
Thompson as the only ones to start all 39 games, although he batted only .205 and occasionally struggled in the field. Third base was held down for the third straight year by junior
Josh Norse (Brattleboro, VT), who slipped to .239 this season.
Sophomore Josh Egan (Sharon, MA) and senior Brian Hayes (Quincy, MA) were PSC regulars in center and right field, respectively. Egan improved dramatically since taking
over as starter, batting .315 in 35 games with 26 RBI and 11 extra-base hits (6 doubles, 3 triples, 2 home runs) and using his outstanding speed to roam the PSC outfield. Hayes
played a steady right field, batting .261 with seven doubles, a triple, a home run, and 16 RBI in 37 games.
Sophomores Mike Bence (Warwick, RI) and Mike Ryan (W.Roxbury, MA) split time as the Panther DH and pinch hitter. Bence, who also made five pitching appearances,
showed pop from the left side of the plate, batting .305 with four doubles and five homers, while Ryan hit .229 with a double and three homers from the right side. Other hitters on the
Panther bench included sophomore OFs Don Jennings (Bradford, VT) and Seth Whitworth (Orford, NH/Hartford, VT H.S.), junior OF/P Sean Walsh (Laconia, NH), and freshman INFs
Phil Tarbox (York, ME) and Jason Blye (Deerfield, NH).
The Panther pitching staff was a true team effort, a well-balanced unit. The combination of doubleheaders and rescheduled games meant lots of innings, and seven different
Panthers got at least three starts. One of the top starters, sophomore Ben DuBois (Franklin, NH) , was also a top set-up man, and the closer, Jason Lewis, was one of last year’s top
“The pitching staff was probably a strenghth as well as a weakness,” said McManus. “We had a lot of good arms but we had a lack of experience and lack of maturity. The
arms got us through a lot of innings and a lot of games, but we didn’t have the experience we needed.”
DuBois and freshmen Adam DeChristopher (Brockton, MA), Svendsen, and Jim Buchholz (Gilmanton, NH) were the team top starters, although none stood out above the
others. DeChristopher (5-1, 4.80 ERA) was the team leader in innings (50.2) and wins, and DuBois (4-3, 4.39), who also was a primary set-up man for Lewis, had the top ERA and
strikeouts (39) among starters. Svendsen went 3-2 with a 4.79 ERA in eight appearances (six starts), and Buchholz (2-4, 6.51) worked 47 innings in his nine starts.
Other members of the Panther staff included junior Drew Shields (Pittsburgh, PA), who was 3-1 in 10 games (four starts), senior Scott McGonigle (Concord, NH), freshman
Brian Neff (Salinas, CA), sophomore P/DH Mike Bence, and junior P/OF Sean Walsh.