Keeping Score with Chip Ainsworth: Dave Hastings doing quite the job at Keene State

Published: 02-09-2024 3:36 PM

Good morning!
Over the border in New Hampshire, Dave Hastings has the makings of a national champion at Keene State. The Owls are 20-2 overall, 13-0 in the Little East, ranked seventh nationally and are beating opponents by an average score of 85-68.

Their only blemishes were by 16 points against Stockton in November, and by two against Tufts in December. Owls center Jeff Hunter and forward Octavio Brito are dominating the conference leaderboard in virtually every category. Hunter broke the school’s all-time record for rebounds and blocked shots this season, and Brito is on pace to break the school’s all-time scoring record.

“I think we have an absolute chance to win a national championship,” said Hastings, whose assistants are Nate Stitchell, James Anozie, Eric Fazio and Kevin Ritter.

“Dave’s done a wonderful job,” said Keene State athletic director Marty Testo. “It’s easy to say he’s kept a very talented team together, but he’s got them playing good basketball at the perfect time.”

The 60-year-old Hastings was born and raised in Gill, graduated from Turners Falls High School in 1981and played for coach Barry Kostanski alongside players like Mark Cournoyer and Dan Currier. He served as Gill’s police chief and coached at Pioneer until he joined KSC’s staff in 2017.

“It’s been a dream of mine to coach at the college level,” said Hastings. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity.” 

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Testo named Hastings the acting head coach last summer after Ryan Cain left in June for the Johns Hopkins job in Baltimore. Cain coached the Owls to five NCAA tourneys in eight years, and was twice named the Little East Conference coach of the year.

He decided to hire Hastings one day while they were having a beer outside the Elm City Brewery. “He expressed an interest and it all worked,” said Cain. “He became my right-hand man for seven years, nearly my entire career at Keene State. He was the obvious choice to keep the program going.”

Ah, but there’s still that bothersome title of “acting” head coach. “That’s right, we’ll have to open up the search after the season,” said Testo.

“It’s kind of a typical process for the jobs,” said Cain. “I took the job in a similar situation.”

The Owls have averaged almost 1,000 fans a game inside 1,600-seat Spaulding Gymnasium, and Hastings has invited teams from Pioneer, Frontier, Turners Falls and Greenfield to come watch.

The Little East playoffs begin on Feb. 20, followed by the NCAA D-III tourney the first week in March. Most if not all those games will be played at Spaulding Gym until the Final Four which tips off March 14 in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“We’ll sell out for the tournaments,” said Hastings. “The atmosphere here is incredible. We had 2,000 here last year and had to open up another building for the overflow. It’s a crazy place and no one knows how good Division III is.”

If you care to find out, the Owls host Western Connecticut today at 3 p.m.

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Greenfield’s Bud Kingsley and his handlebar mustache were at last week’s UMass hockey game with daughter Michele (Turner) and her husband Brandon. “I’m nine and seven years younger than my brothers,” said Michele who was referring to her siblings Steve and Chris Kingsley. “We were always at the Greenfield rink. They called me the little ‘rink rat.’”

Chris has been the LA Kings’ head trainer for 20 years, and the family will be in Boston next Saturday to watch them play the Bruins. He had an LA Kings autographed helmet delivered in time for next weekend’s 31st annual David M. Petrin Memorial Alumni hockey game at the Collins-Moylan Arena.

The game starts at 4:30 p.m. and matches current GHS players against GHS hockey alumni. Dave Petrin was a pharmacist at the Franklin County Hospital and popular youth hockey coach who tragically passed away before his time. The helmet will be raffled, and anyone interested in competing or donating should call Larry Petrin at 773-9250.

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The Yankees have the Judge’s Chambers in right field to honor Aaron Judge, and the UMass basketball team has Cohen’s Corner to honor their big man, 6-10 center Josh Cohen.

Tomorrow the Mohawk boys’ hoops team will sit in Cohen’s Corner when the Minutemen host URI. The comped tickets, food and beverages and pictures and autographs are courtesy of Matt Sheridan at Greenfield Savings Bank.

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Over 7,700 fans packed the Mullins Center last Saturday and saw Maine shut out UMass, 1-0, on a shot by third string defenseman Brandon Chabrier. A UMass goal in the second period was disallowed because replay showed Taylor Makar was offside. Makar has one goal and no assists in 13 Hockey East games and might wind up sitting in Section C.

UMASS HOCKEY NOTES: Faces in the crowd included Anne Echeverria who was peeved they’d sold out of chuck-a-pucks. Anne was there with husband Tom and daughter Kate who’s an equine vet in Norton. Asked if his wife ever hit the center ice dot, Tom answered, “No. Half of them landed in the penalty box.” … UMass hockey alum Ed Polchlopek (1965-67) had to cancel vacation reservations to Jamaica after the State Dept. issued a Level 3 advisory. “They said no place is safe, not even the all-inclusive resorts.” Polchlopek opted to take his girlfriend to Boynton Beach this week, and hopes travel insurance reimburses him for the canceled trip. … There were a fair number of Maine fans at the game, including a gent from Bangor whose wife had to do the metal detector merry-go-round because of the metal rod in her hip. “Nice arena though, better than Northeastern’s.” … UMass transfer Mikey Adamson had two goals including the winner in overtime to help Sacred Heart beat AIC last weekend. Adamson is the team’s assist leader with 14 helpers from the blue line.

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LOMBARDI RIPS FELGER: During a get-together on Radio Row this week, Patriots insider Mike Lombardi ripped Michael Felger for trashing Bill Belichick on the SportsHub’s Felger & Mazz. Felger’s downfall was telling Lombardi he’d liked to have had a moment to speak to Belichick.

“Why would he spend five minutes talking to you? He’s gonna lower himself to you? ‘Oh I’ve gotta talk to Felger because if I win him over I can really do a good job and maybe I’ll get into Canton! He could give one rat’s a** about what you think. He doesn’t care. He won six Super Bowls, he’s been in nine. You’re not the girlfriend he reminisces about.”

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SQUIBBERS: Word has it that UMass chancellor Javier Reyes was or still is a Dallas Cowboys season ticket holder. Reyes likes sports, and that is huge in this day and age. …  There’s more on the line than hometown glory for Super Bowl players. Last year the Chiefs got $157,000 for winning, and the Eagles got $82,000 for losing. … Sirius-XM’s Chris Russo said on the air that he’s staying at a Motel 6 in Las Vegas, and has had problems getting through security to Radio Row. “I got all upset at the security guys and yes, I threw out the “First Take” stuff and yes, I threw out the radio stuff and — no surprise — nobody had never heard of SiriusXM and Mad Dog Unleashed.” … SportsGrid radio’s Scott Ferrall moaned about the $11 ATM fees and $20 drinks on the Strip. “It’s Super Bowl Week. It’s jacked. I went off campus for cash and rum. I have a gambling problem. I have a stipend, it’s gone by breakfast.” … Rick Pitino says college basketball needs a salary cap. This from the guy that stole RJ Luis from UMass for who knows how much. … BSJ’s Greg Bedard thinks Longmeadow’s Joe Philbin has a shot to be the Patriots offensive line coach. … Frank Martin’s old team the Gamecocks were picked to finish last in the SEC preseason poll, but Lamont Paris has them 20-3 and 15th in the Top 25. … More on Ferrall, who said the NFL should’ve put the players up at the Aria. “The most expensive place on the Strip, the fancy Aria. I have stayed at the Aria and they are so snobby out at the pool there, you couldn’t get lucky on your birthday.” … The 49ers won’t blow a 10-point lead like they did with seven minutes left against the Chiefs five years ago. San Francisco wins 37-26. You read it here first.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet715@icloud.com