After a whirlwind year on the campus of Merrimack College – one that included five Northeast-10 Conference champions, new buildings, facilities and much more, if the academic year were to have ended at the end of April, many of the College's supporters and fans more or less would have been extremely satisfied with the year that was for the Navy and Gold.
But the Merrimack baseball team was just getting started as the calendar turned to May.
Riding the waves of what was one of the more memorable single-season performances in recent school history, the Warriors wrapped up the 2012-13 academic year with one of the more incredible postseason runs in recent school and conference history, transforming what was arguably a very good season into one of the best in program history in a matter of days.
After wrapping up the team's first postseason berth in three years with a resounding win in its regular season finale, Merrimack would embark on a tear through the Northeast-10 Championships, starting with an eye-popping road upset over eventual College World Series participant Franklin Pierce and ending barely short of the school's fourth conference crown, as the Warriors used three consecutive wins in the NE-10 Championships to advance all the way to the final round, where they fell just short of their goal.
For those efforts, one that opened up eyes at the conference and regional level, the baseball team's magical postseason run and historic season has been recognized as one of the top moments of the past year.
But their story would not be given its due justice without the proper prologue.
Entering his third season at the helm, head coach Jim Martin had guided a very young program from 14 wins in 2011 up to 17 in 2012, and with an intriguing mix of both grizzled veterans, some of the most underrated players in the region and a hearty blend of top recruits, Martin and his Warriors truly believed they had more than enough to compete against some of the best in the NE-10.
Other coaches did not quite see eye-to-eye with those expectations, especially for a program that had just one winning season – the 2010 campaign, during which Merrimack also qualified for the NE-10 Tournament – over the last decade. After back-to-back losing seasons, Merrimack was pegged to finish seventh in the NE-10 Northeast Division.
That, however, only added fuel to Merrimack's fire, as the Warriors tore through the first month of the season and topped their win total from 2012 after their third game into the month of April.
Then came a seven-game losing streak that could have threatened to derail a promising season, but Martin guided the team back from the depths and steadied them for what needed to be a dramatic late-season surge should they hope to return to the playoffs.
Merrimack enjoyed that late-season surge and much, much more, starting with a doubleheader sweep against Franklin Pierce on a Sunday in late April. The two victories snapped an 11-game losing streak that dated back to 2009 against the Ravens, and that sweep prompted a 5-1 stretch over the last week of the regular season to punch a ticket to the eight-team NE-10 Championships.
For most teams that might have been in Merrimack's shoes, a playoff berth after such heavily weighed odds against them probably would have been satisfying enough.
But for the Warriors – who despite bringing in a 26-17 record into the postseason and exceeding their preseason ranking by three spots were tagged heavy underdogs in the tournament – just getting there was not enough.
So, despite having to travel to a nationally ranked Franklin Pierce squad that was 18-1 at home in the 19 previous contests prior to this one, Merrimack stayed true to the course that it had navigated through the season's first two months, and behind the arm of junior righty Alek Morency (Nashua, N.H.), as well as the first career homer from classmate Eddie Newton (North Billerica, Mass.), the Warriors stunned the Ravens, 4-1, in the tournament's opening round, opening eyes across the region while advancing to the conference's four-team double-elimination championship weekend in the process.
But even that monumental upset was not enough to define that postseason run. Perhaps the Warriors' most mesmerizing efforts came after a lopsided, 8-0 loss to Le Moyne in the first day of championship weekend, pushing the Navy and Gold to the brink of elimination.
Instead of folding, Merrimack did quite the opposite, winning back-to-back elimination games – including a second one over a Le Moyne team that it had lost to a day earlier – to punch a ticket all the way to the NE-10 Finals.
Needing two wins against unbeaten host New Haven, Morency and the Warriors got right back at it on Championship Saturday; Morency dazzled in what was ultimately his final start of the year, and his offense backed him with six runs to blank the Chargers, 6-0, in game one, forcing the 11th and final "if necessary" contest of the tournament.
After racing out to a four-run lead in the first inning of the second game, Merrimack appeared poised to do something the program had not done since the mid-90s. But the Chargers countered with a late run of their own, withholding the Warrior offense the rest of the way to eventually claim the NE-10 title with a 6-4 decision in the final game of the tournament.
After just missing out on the hardware it sought, and after being snubbed from an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, Merrimack's season came to a sudden and heartbreaking end.
But with time to digest and process, the team slowly became well aware of just how memorable and special what not only it accomplished during that NE-10 Championship was, but what the season altogether stood for.
With a final record of 30-19, the Warriors tied the single-season record for wins, while senior All-American Casey Cotter (North Hampton, N.H.) was named NE-10 Player of the Year, alongside freshman Frank Crinella (Springfield, Mass.), who was tabbed the league's Rookie of the Year. Senior Joe Mantoni (Northbridge, Mass.), meanwhile, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in early June, becoming the first player since former Warrior Ryan O'Rourke to join the professional ranks.
All of those accomplishments came in the form of three years' worth of hard work and dedication under Martin's system, and because of that, and because of what was nearly accomplished on that Saturday in New Haven, Merrimack baseball is very much back on the map.
And for the rest of the NE-10 and the East Region, these Warriors have become a force to be reckoned with, next season and beyond.
This is the eighth of 10 Merrimack Top Moments of 2012-13 Installments.
10. Women's Crew Wins NE-10 Cup V4 Title
9. Football's Historic Victory Vaults Voegeli to NFL
8. Men's Hockey Team's Dramatic OT Win over BC
7. Men's Lacrosse Stuns Top-Ranked Le Moyne
6. Women's Golf Claims First-Ever ECAC Title
5. Women's Basketball's Postseason Run to NE-10 Semis
4. Men's Tennis Repeats as NE-10 Champions
3.Baseball Caps Historic Season with Run to NE-10 Finals
2. Wednesday, July 10
1. Friday, July 12