By Jim Sullivan
---- — Editor’s note: This is the first story in a continuing series in which players and coaches reflect on their favorite games.
Steve Malenfant bleeds crimson and old gold. The Newburyport alumnus played basketball, ran cross-country and graced the diamond before moving on to coach baseball, basketball, soccer, golf and gymnastics in various locales.
When asked about the greatest game he ever played, Malenfant, a Newburyport High English teacher and head baseball coach, is quick to answer. He remembers his first varsity baseball game in 1972 when the Clippers beat Phillips Exeter Academy, 5-2. Swampscott native Mike Lynch, now a news anchor at WCVB Channel 5 Boston, was the losing pitcher of record.
“We did something the previous team hadn’t done,” said Malenfant. “We beat Mike Lynch from Swampscott, and he was a year older. It was like … It was a championship. We were basically all JV players.”
Swampscott was a big Port rival at the time, and Lynch, who would go on to pitch and play quarterback at Harvard University, had already beaten the Clippers in football, basketball and baseball the year before. He moved on to his post-graduate year at Exeter.
Another factor that made the Exeter win so special for Malenfant was that it was the first of 616 varsity wins for 40-year coach and close friend Bill Pettingell.
“We all moved up with Coach Pettingell,” said Malenfant. “Sophomore year, we all played JV for Coach Pettingell. In junior year, it was virtually the same. We were basically a senior/sophomore team.”
But Malenfant and crew were about to step onto the field for their last, first game as Clippers, ever.
“I don’t wash all that stuff out,” Malenfant says of his surroundings both physical and symbolic. “Senior year, with each game, you want to go through every step. Because it’s the last time you’re ever going to do it. So you look around, you take everything in.”
Taking things in as well that day in early April of 1972 were teammates Joe Jancewicz, Seth Kelsey, Kevin Doyle, David Brown, John “Bear” Currier, Bruce Gouldthorpe and Fred Carter. Malenfant was at shortstop, trying to keep his knocking knees from making any sound.
“I was nervous as could be,” Malenfant said.
Lynch came as advertised with punishing heat, keeping things scoreless into the third inning and reminding the Clippers of his Big Blue dominance.
“That was on our mind, and Coach picked it up,” Malenfant said of Lynch’s dominance against Newburyport. “He said, ‘You guys have to make a statement, you guys have to be the leaders.’ He pushed hard. One of the things he always said was, ‘You have to outwork me.’ And we’d make him stay late every day. We enjoyed each other. We’d stay for four, five hours. We didn’t care.”
It was that camaraderie that held the Clippers together until the top of the third when Doyle hit a three-run bomb off Lynch. Exeter gained a couple back in the next frame, but Currier slapped a two-run homer in the fifth to seal the deal. The Clipper faithful rushed the field after seven.
“We jumped on them? It was more like buried them,” said Malenfant. “When Bear hit that home run, he was hitting it for us. It was just one of those days where you wanted to win so badly. It told us, we can do anything. That’s what we thought. We could accomplish anything.”
Newburyport went 9-11 that season, beating Triton twice in a doubleheader and splitting with Amesbury along the way. They made only 10 errors as an infield, and seven of those 11 losses were by one run. The Clippers had put themselves back on the map, and the Pettingell era began.
“We knew exactly how things were supposed to be done,” said Malenfant. “Having that first game, that first win really brought us together. Every time we see each other now, it’s like a continued conversation.”