With Newport job, baseball coach realizes longtime goal of leading program

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-10-2023 5:01 PM

NEWPORT — Matthew Robbins has always wanted to be a high school baseball head coach.

A former four-year starting first baseman at Sunapee High, Robbins paid his dues over several years coaching Cal Ripken baseball and has also coached his children at levels ranging from tee ball to travel ball. After one year as Newport High’s junior varsity head coach, Robbins achieved his longtime goal when he was named varsity head coach this spring following the departure of James Blaine.

“There’s a great group of kids. I just love hanging around with them,” Robbins said. “Any of the day of the week they call me, I’m right down here. Saturday, Sunday, doesn’t matter. I’ve always wanted to do it, but I never actually stepped up and said something. I finally manned up a little bit and talked to (Newport athletic director Jeff) Miller, and he got me into doing JV.”

The Tigers have had some strong baseball teams in the last decade, but stability at the head coaching position has been hard to maintain. Tim Spanos put together solid teams in his three years from 2013 to 2015, then Jonathan Hamel led Newport to its last deep playoff run in 2018, when Newport reached the NHIAA Division III semifinals for the first time in 25 years.

Scott McNamara then took over the varsity team in 2019 after a long stretch coaching the middle school and JV squads, going 4-12 in his only campaign. Once baseball resumed in 2021 following the pandemic-canceled 2020 season, Blaine — who had also previously been the JV head coach — stepped up to the varsity but managed just a 3-23 record over the last two years.

“(Robbins) was the logical choice to step up,” Miller said. “He’s coached a lot of these kids because he’s coached a lot at the youth level, so we brought him on board. He’s serious. We’re kind of struggling, but he’s in it for the long haul, and we’ve got some good young talent that’s coming from the middle school level.”

Newport was unable to field a JV team this year due to low numbers, and Miller chose not to bring up any eighth graders for JV because he didn’t want to break up a strong middle school team. The Tigers have just three returning seniors, and one of them, Karter Pollari, was not present for Monday’s game against Conant. The other two, Owen Beaulieu and Darren Janicke, combined for all three of Newport’s hits in a 15-0 loss.

Robbins’ debut was a successful one as the Tigers picked up a 13-9 road win over Hopkinton on April 12. Pollari went 4-for-4 in that game with a triple and a double, and Beaulieu had three hits and closed out the victory on the mound.

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“We still had many things we needed to work on, but they were hitting the ball, they were swinging, they were making good plays,” Robbins said.

Nearly a month later, Robbins is still searching for a second victory. Newport was competitive in a 4-2 loss at Kearsarge on April 14 but, since then, a series of tough opponents has had little trouble with the Tigers. The losing streak, now at six games, includes a 26-0 drubbing on April 21 at the hands of undefeated Monadnock and two losses in a home-and-home doubleheader last Friday against rival Stevens by a combined 29-1.

Monday’s game was the first of five contests this week and also kicked off a stretch of eight games in 12 days. In order to preserve as many pitchers as possible, Newport used four arms in the five-inning defeat against Conant, including Robbins’ son, freshman Devan Robbins.

Robbins knows a strong youth program is needed to make the Tigers a consistent winner, as is summer experience. He said Newport is likely to field an American Legion team this year for the first time in a while.

“Matt does a great job keeping them together,” Miller said. “A lot of times with a team that loses a lot, you see a lot of other stuff that happens; all the kids are disgruntled. He’s done a good job of keeping the morale up and keeping them playing hard.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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