On a 60-degree, sunny Tuesday in March at the Owl Athletic Complex, baseball came back. And for a little while, everything just felt right.
You could hear the dugout chatter, cleats grinding against the pavement and that unmistakable sound of bat on ball.
It was the Keene State baseball team’s first home contest in 702 days, a decisive 8-1 win over New England College in the Owls’ season opener.
“It felt great, it’s a beautiful day here in Keene,” said head coach Ken Howe. “The guys have been working their tails off. We’re doing everything we possibly can to keep everyone safe and continue to play.”
A three-run second inning, all of the runs coming with two outs, opened up the game for the Owls (1-0), giving them a 4-0 advantage.
“A couple of nice, clutch, two-out hits that got things going,” Howe said. “I tell our guys … our goal is to win every inning. If we win every inning, we win every game.”
Senior Josh DeFrancisco went 2-3 with two doubles, including a two-run double in that second inning.
“I just wanted to build on the momentum,” DeFrancisco said of his second inning hit. “I feel like I have to come through in those moments. The guys expect that out of me, so I’m going to keep doing it all year long.”
He finished with a game-high three RBI.
“I put a lot of work in off the field,” said DeFrancisco, who was the team’s leading hitter in the severely-shortened 2020 season. “I feel like I was going to be ready for this moment no matter what. I was just ready.”
After two quick outs in that second inning, junior Jacob Laskosky was hit by a pitch, giving the Owls their first baserunner of the inning and turning over the lineup. Sophomore Mark Barrett and junior Mike Collins kickstarted the two-out offensive production, each getting on base with a single. Collins’s hit brought home Laskosky.
Collins stole second base to get into scoring position and DeFrancisco brought him and Barrett home on his RBI double, flexing towards the Keene State dugout from second base.
The Owls scored twice in the fifth and again scored twice in the seventh to round out the offense.
Barrett, Collins, DeFrancisco and junior Colin McKeon each finished with two hits.
Howe said it was — generally — an all-around solid win for the Owls.
“For the most part, I thought we played good defense, we ran the bases well,” Howe said. “A couple of blundering base-running things that I’ll talk to those guys when I get out there, but besides that I’m very pleased with day one.”
Senior Isaac Keehn got the start on the mound for the Owls, picking up the win. He only pitched the first inning, but Keehn stuck out the side, giving up just one hit.
Six pitchers in total got time on the mound, none getting more than two innings of work. Howe said he wanted to get in as many guys as possible.
“Just to give them a taste of getting on the field and real competition as opposed to just inside against each other,” Howe said. “Pleased with the way they threw.”
Howe added that part of the game plan was to get guys ready for the first Little East Conference series of the season, against Castleton University. The Owls travel to Castleton Friday for a doubleheader before hosting Castleton Saturday for another two games.
Friday’s games begin at 1 p.m. First pitch on Saturday is scheduled for noon.