HOOKSETT — Derry's Zach Mathieu and his Franklin Pierce University teammates got the East Regional of the NCAA Div. II baseball tournament started just the way they wanted.
The Ravens, a No. 6 seed with all kinds of motivation, routed No. 1 Wilmington, 7-0, at Penmen Field at Southern New Hampshire University on Thursday in the tournament opener.
"We feel like we have a chip on our shoulder," said Mathieu, a 6-foot-7 and 265-pound first baseman out of Pinkerton Academy in Derry. "Before we were kind of hyped and now it's the other way around and we like it that way so we've just been playing with something to prove."
The Ravens, then the No. 7-ranked team in the country, were knocked down a peg or two the second week of the season when they lost four straight games at — yes — Wilmington in Delaware.
There were other motivators, among them the way the Northeast-10 tournament ended and the fact that Mathieu and a couple of his fellow teammates may be playing their last collegiate games.
Franklin Pierce, now 33-16 and in the NCAAs for a ninth straight year, was knocked out of the league tournament in the first round by Merrimack, 4-1.
"I think they had a chip on their shoulder from Wilmington and as far as the season goes, it's more of a second chance," said Raven coach Jayson King. "We didn't do what we wanted to do in the conference tournament and we got a bid. I think the guys are feeling like they got a second chance and feel like they have as good a chance as anybody to win this."
Host Southern New Hampshire, the defending champion of the regional, and a few other teams plan to have something to say about that.
The Ravens play at 3 p.m. today in the double-elimination event against the loser of Thursday night's game between No. 3 New Haven and No. 4 Southern New Hampshire.
Junior Trevor Graham allowed three hits, struck out 10 and walked one in an impressive complete game win for the Ravens and improved to 9-2 for the season.
Mathieu knocked in Franklin Pierce's second run in the third inning with a long sacrifice fly to right field.
King said scouts have been out in droves to watch Graham and he expects Graham, Mathieu and Kevin McGowan, a 6-foot-5 junior righthanded pitcher out of Nashua North will all be selected in next month's major league draft and leave school to start their professional careers.
King said sophomore lefty Steve Hathaway will likely start today's game for the Ravens and McGowan will probably get the call for the team's third game in the tournament.
Mathieu leads the Ravens in batting average at .341 and in home runs with six. He's second in runs batted in with 33 and doubles with 15.
"Obviously his size is a different level and his athleticism is a different level," King said. "He has so much raw potential. He just needs to continue to develop and he has the potential to be a special player."
McGowan has a 6-1 record and 3.34 earned run average. In 64 and a third innings, he has struck out 64 and walked 12.
"He's similar to Zach," King said. "He's real big. He's got a real good fastball and he throws a lot of strikes. Both those guys are athletic and both those guys are only going to get better."
First, they've got some work to do at Penmen Field.
"You think about the draft," Mathieu said. "But I try to put the team first right now and focus on college because you never know when it's going to be your last time playing college baseball."
He and the Ravens hope to be playing until Sunday and a regional championship game — and beyond.