PEMBROKE, N.H. –- Tim Hopley had a message for his Portsmouth High School baseball team Thursday, and he waited until the seventh inning to deliver it.
With the Clippers three outs away from breaking the national record for consecutive victories, Hopley gathered the Portsmouth players in front of the visitors’ dugout and made sure he had everyone’s attention.
“I told them there’s something like 17,421 high school teams that play baseball in the [United States] and they were three outs away from doing something none of those teams had ever accomplished,” Hopley said following Portsmouth’s 10-2 triumph over Pembroke Academy. “If that didn’t get them excited, if it didn’t get them focused and paying attention to what we were standing of the doorstep of, well, that was the best I could come up with.”
Portsmouth’s victory stretched the program’s winning streak to 76 games, one more than Homer (Mich.) High School won in 2004 and 2005. That 2005 Homer team featured pitcher Josh Collmenter, who made his major league debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this season.
“Records are made to be broken,” Homer coach Scott Salow said. “There are no hard feelings. I’m sure they’ll do a good job carrying the torch. This has put Homer baseball back on the front page.”
Several Portsmouth players said they were relieved the record had been broken, but they insisted the team’s No. 1 goal is winning a fourth consecutive state championship.
“It’s definitely, definitely relief,” Portsmouth pitcher/outfielder Keegan Taylor said. “It’s always nice to have something off your back, but to me we’re not done. It’s more than just this. Definitely not satisfied yet. We want to be the last team standing.”
Pitcher Ricky Holt and catcher Connor McCauley are the Portsmouth players who made the biggest contribution to Thursday’s win. Holt, a sophomore, pitched a complete game and held Pembroke to five hits. He struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.
“Really happy and excited that we got that record,” Holt said. “Now we can start getting ready for the playoffs. We still have to get better every game and get to our main goal, which is to bring another championship back to Portsmouth.”
McCauley collected four hits, drove in three runs and stole three bases.
“Definitely my best hitting game of the season,” McCauley said. “It’s weird thinking we own a national record. Right now it feels pretty good, but after this weekend we’re gonna start thinking about winning another championship. There’s relief, but we still have work to do.”
McCauley and Taylor are among the five players on this year’s Portsmouth team who also played for the Portsmouth team that reached the 2006 Little League World Series. Shortstop Billy Hartmann, third baseman Matt Feeney and catcher/designated hitter Conor Trefethen are the others.
Feeney, Trefethen and second baseman Matt Main each had two hits for the Clippers, who raised their Division II record to 13-0. The loss dropped Pembroke’s record to 7-6.
Portsmouth did most of its damage in the second inning, when it sent nine batters to the plate and took a 5-0 lead. The big blow in the inning was Main’s two-run double.
Main made it 6-0 when he scored on a wild pitch in the top of the fourth, but Pembroke answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning. Matt Gosselin and Zac Gauss each scored on Pat Flanagan’s two-run single.
The Clippers padded their lead by adding three runs in the fifth and one in the sixth. McCauley’s two-run single highlighted the three-run fifth.
Pembroke’s Shane St. Onge pitched five innings in relief of starter Patrick Jarvis. Each pitcher surrendered five runs.
“Every day the focus was simply just getting better,” Hopley said. “If we continue to get better, we’re gonna continue to play good baseball. If we get complacent and we stop trying to get better, it’s gonna end in the snap of a finger. It’s the nature of the beast in high school baseball.”
Hopley shouldn’t have a problem getting his team refocused for its next game. Portsmouth will play at rival St. Thomas on Monday. Portsmouth overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat St. Thomas 4-3 earlier this season.
“They know what’s coming,” Hopley said. “They know there’s not a team in New Hampshire that wants to beat them more than what’s in front of us on Monday.
“My job will be to remind them that it’s 76, and why can’t it be 77? Why can’t it be a bigger number?”
Shortstop Mike Fransoso (Maine), outfielder Mike Montville (Maryland), pitcher Ben Hart (UMass), and pitcher Nate Jones (Wake Forest) are former Portsmouth players who contributed to the streak and are now playing Division I college baseball.
Two players on this year’s team –- Taylor and centerfielder Aidan O’Leary –- have committed to play Division I baseball next season. Taylor is headed to Northeastern, and O’Leary will play for Manhattan. Taylor is 6-0 this season and 20-0 in his varsity career.
Portsmouth’s last loss came against Hollis-Brookline in the semifinals of the 2007 Class I tournament.
The Clippers used to make headlines for a different reason. Portsmouth was coming off an 0-18 season when Hopley became head coach in 1996. The program’s losing streak reached 30 games before Hopley collected his first victory as a varsity head coach.
“[Back then] I would literally wake up and pray it was raining that day because it meant we weren’t going to lose,” he said.
Hopley played for the Portsmouth team that won a state championship in 1988. The Clippers also qualified for postseason play in 1989, but didn’t play another postseason game until 2004.
“There’s been 42 guys who put this uniform on during the course of this streak,” Hopley said. “The fact that it’s stretched out over four different teams speaks volumes about those 42 guys because every single one of them has done one thing or another to help us be successful.
“These guys finished what was started by the guys before them. It’s a pretty cool thing.”