PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- If you attend a Portsmouth High varsity baseball game this spring, you’ll see a team with superior pitching, a team that plays sound defense and a team with no easy outs in its batting order. There’s plenty of talent on the bench too.
It’s the same makeup Portsmouth teams have had since 2008, when the Clippers won the first of their three consecutive state championships. Portsmouth is 4-0 entering Wednesday’s game against Windham, and is considered by many to be the team to beat in Division II again this season.
The Clippers are also threatening to break the national record for consecutive victories. They’ve won 67 games in a row, which puts them eight victories away from a share of the record. Homer (Mich.) had a 75-game winning streak end in 2005.
“The winning streak is something I hear about a lot, but it’s not something we speak about,” Portsmouth coach Tim Hopley said. “We try to focus on what’s right in front of us and the kids have done a good job taking it one game at a time. It has been a great ride.”
Pitcher Keegan Taylor and outfielder Aidan O’Leary are among the leaders on this year’s team. Both have committed to play Division I baseball next season, Taylor at Northeastern and O’Leary at Manhattan College.
Taylor has been contributing to the program’s winning streak since he was a sophomore, when he won six games on the mound. He’s 16-0 as a varsity pitcher, and is 2-0 this year with 26 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.
“Throughout the school the winning streak is talked about, but as players coach drills us on one game at a time,” Taylor said.
Taylor is the latest in a long line of exceptional pitchers than have worn the Portsmouth uniform. That group includes Chris Anderson, Ben Hart, Tim Welch and Nate Jones.
The Minnesota Twins drafted Anderson, who was on the mound when Portsmouth ended a lengthy postseason drought by beating Timberlane (Plaistow) in the 2004 Class L tournament.
Hart and Welch led Portsmouth to its first Class I championship in 2008. Welch, who is now playing at Bowdoin, posted a 9-0 record and didn’t allow a run – earned or unearned – that season. Hart continued his career at the University of Vermont, and transferred to the University of Massachusetts when Vermont eliminated its baseball program.
Jones was the ace on last year’s staff. He was 20-0 with a 1.89 ERA during his varsity career and is now pitching for Wake Forest.
Infielder Mike Fransoso (Maine) and outfielder Mike Montville (Maryland) are some of the other Portsmouth players who have gone on to play in college.
“Work ethic has a lot to do with what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Hopley said. “When you have guys who are willing to listen, work hard and implement stuff they’re taught it makes it a lot easier.
“We had some pretty good players set the example by showing a good work ethic years ago and the younger players have followed that.”
Portsmouth hasn’t always been the program by which all others are measured. The Clippers won the Class L championship in 1988 and qualified for the Class L tournament in 1989, but didn’t make its next postseason appearance until 2001. The program ended a 30-game losing streak in 1996, when Hopley took over as head coach.
“There wasn’t a ton of good players back then,” Hopley said. “The talent just wasn’t there.”
Portsmouth didn’t win a tournament game under Hopley until 2004. The Clippers also won one tournament game in 2005 and 2006. Then, in 2007, the program dropped from Class L (the division with New Hampshire schools that have the largest enrollments) to Class I.
“We would not be on this run if we had remained in Class L,” Portsmouth assistant coach Matt Gladu said. “Class L is much deeper, particularly the pitching.
“I think we might have been able to win one or two state championships, but three in a row? Probably not.”
Kingswood (Wolfeboro, N.H.) coach Chip Skelly said it will come as no surprise to him if Portsmouth wins another state championship this spring.
“I attribute [the winning streak] to the program he has developed, and obviously the program stems from your coach,” Skelly said. “Coach Hopley has done a nice job getting his program to a point where the expectations are the exact same year in and year out. They just change kids. It’s an attitude. You can learn to win. You can also learn to lose.”
It seems that Portsmouth has forgotten how to lose, though. The program’s last loss came against Hollis-Brookline in the 2007 Class I semifinals. Bedford, which is 5-0 and the only other unbeaten team in Class I, and Souhegan are the teams that appear most capable of beating Portsmouth this season.
Portsmouth is scheduled to play Souhegan on Friday, and will meet Bedford on May 9. Both games will be on the road. Bedford is the team Portsmouth beat in last year’s Class I title game.
“We’re not 2009, we’re not 2010 we’re the 2011 team,” Portsmouth third baseman Matt Feeney said. “We make our own destiny. We do what we do, and nothing else matters except for this season.”