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Sports

Matthews, Coming Off Championship Season With Central, Competes In Collegiate Summer League

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Former Newtown High School standout baseball player Dave Matthews, coming off an ultra-successful junior campaign at Central Connecticut State University — a history-making season for the program, in fact — is competing for the New England Collegiate Baseball League Keene Swamp Bats of Keene, N.H., this summer.

Matthews, who plays center field and first base for the Swamp Bats, had 15 hits, seven home runs, and 17 runs batted in through the first 21 games of the summer league season.

He helped the Division I Central Blue Devils to a remarkable playoff run this past spring. Central won the Northeast Conference championship, upsetting top seed Bryant as the No. 6 team in the bracket, then captured the program’s first NCAA tournament game win.

This is all impressive on its own, but consider this: Matthews, a left-handed batter, said his team was not even picked to qualify for the conference playoff in the preseason polls.

“We were overlooked — especially at the beginning of the year,” he said. “Coming into the tournament, we were definitely the underdogs. Coming out and winning it was huge because we weren’t even supposed to be there in the first place.”

Central had to defeat Bryant twice in the conference tourney. In the decisive game, the Blue Devils trailed by a run heading into the final three frames after Bryant got two runs in the sixth. The Blue Devils tied the game in the bottom of the seventh on a clutch Matthews home run to knot the game at 2-2. Central took the lead in the eighth and hung on for a 3-2 triumph at Dodd Stadium in Norwich in late May.

Then came the program’s first NCAA tournament game triumph as Matthews and the New Britain-based school defeated California 7-4 in the Fayetteville Regional in Arkansas in early June.

Matthews was named to the Fayetteville Regional All-Tournament Team as voted on by the media. He hit .385 (5-for-13) and led the Blue Devils with five RBIs in three tourney games, including losses to Arkansas and Texas Christian University. He also scored three runs and hit a pair of doubles. In the win over Cal, Matthews went 3-for-4 and drove in four runs. He tied the game with an RBI single in the third inning and then put Central ahead with a three-run home run in the fifth inning. He had two hits and a run against TCU, including an RBI-single in the first inning of the team’s season-ending 9-5 loss.

“It’s nothing short of jaw-dropping,” Matthews said of the experience of competing in the NCAA tourney, which included taking the field before 13,000 fans.

Central concluded the season with a 31-23 record and won the program’s sixth Northeast Conference title under Head Coach Charlie Hickey.

“I think we earned it as a team. We deserved the opportunity to go,” Matthews said of Central’s trip to Arkansas. “It was a great year for us.”

Matthews, who is studying business, has had to overcome some adversity on his way to success on the collegiate baseball diamonds. He suffered four fractures in his back and had to sit out his sophomore campaign.

“That’s definitely a humbling experience. I’m not really used to sitting on the sideline not being able to do anything,” said the slugger, adding that he learned a lot as an observer.

Matthews certainly bounced back strongly. He led Central in most offensive categories. In 53 games and 195 at-bats, Matthews had team highs in hits (59), runs batted in (43), runs scored (40), doubles (19), homers (seven), and walks (32). His .303 batting average, .405 on base percentage, and .508 slugging percentage were second to teammate TT Bowens, who had 125 at-bats.

Matthews, who transferred from Johnson & Whales University, where he earned all conference accolades in 2017, had quite the season this spring after having to sit out the 2018 season. He earned Second Team All-Northeast Conference accolades and led the NEC with his 19 doubles. Matthews ranked among the top ten in the NEC in homers and RBI.

In addition to all of these offensive stats, Matthews has a solid glove and arm in the field.

“He’s a talented defender,” said Josh Hull, who coached Matthews during his summer league play with the American Legion’s Bethel Admirals.

Hull describes Matthews as having a Major League arm in the outfield, but the versatility to play out of position.

“There were times we had injuries and what not, and I’d play him at second base, and he could turn a double play like an infielder,” Hull recalls.

During his career at Newtown High School, Matthews stole second base, third, and home back-to-back-to-back, a memory that stands out for Hull, a regular among the fans behind the backstop at Newtown High games.

“As baseball players go, he’s very athletic. He’s got about as beautiful a left-handed swing as you can see,” Hull added.

Newtown High School Athletic Director Matt Memoli taught Matthews at Newtown Middle School and coached him at Newtown High, and he had a lot of interest in Central’s success, having also played baseball for the Blue Devils. Memoli, who was a captain and two-time conference champion at Central and is among the program’s top all-time hitters, was web streaming Central’s win over California and checking in on Matthews, whom he describes as an impact player for Central, while on hand for Newtown’s state playoff action this past spring.

“I couldn’t be happier for the success he’s had,” Memoli said.

Dave Matthews and the Blue Devils earned the program's first NCAA tourney win this past season. (Stephen McLaughlin Photography)
Dave Matthews helped the Central Connecticut State University baseball team win its conference. (Stephen McLaughlin Photography)
Dave Matthews led Central in most offensive categories. (Stephen McLaughlin Photography)
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