Beginning the summer on a temporary contract, Keene State’s Connor Longley was given the chance to showcase his athletic ability on the collegiate-level baseball team, the Valley Blue Sox.

Despite being a Division III athlete competing in a largely Division I-run league, Longley did not see this as intimidating, but as an opportunity to show what he could really be capable of.

“You were up against the best, so every night, you had to go out and play to your full potential,” Longley explained.

“I knew I could play with them. It just came down to getting my shot and executing it.”

Photo by Luke Stergiou / Senior Photographer

Photo by Luke Stergiou / Senior Photographer

The team is based out of Holyoke, Massachusetts, and is one of 13 teams that competes in the primarily Division I dominated, New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL).

This year, the members of the Valley Blue Sox went on to beat out the number one ranking team in their league, the Ocean State Waves.

KSC Director of Athletics and Recreation Dr. Kristine Kelly expressed her pride in the strength of the athletic department and pointed out the fact that no matter where you are, elite coaches will find you anywhere.

“Division III athletes choose to come here,” Kelly expressed.

“We are excited to have Connor back, as well as some many other strong athletes this year.”

Longley began playing baseball at around the age of five, and has played the game every year since.

“It has always been my favorite sport,” Longley said.

Through his many years of baseball, Longley was able to make connections with many different coaches he has had along the way, one of them being John Railo.

Ralio was a past pitching coach for Longley, but also happens to be manager of the Valley Blue Sox.

When Longley was unsure of where he wanted to play summer ball, he reached out to Ralio in hopes of scoring a spot on his team.

At the time, Railo didn’t have any open spots, but when a few spots did open after players were drafted to different teams, Railo had Longley’s name in mind.

“I knew Connor would be a good fit,” Railo said.

“He does a lot for the team.”

Through communicating with Railo and KSC’s Associate Head Coach Marty Testo, Longley found himself with a temporary contract to play for the now 2017 championship team.

After the experience of playing on such a high level team, Longley is looking forward to being more confident and seeing improvement in his game.

In the league, Longley said he would see pitches clocking in at around 95 mph, compared to 85 mph pitches that you typically get when playing Division III ball.

“I’ll definitely be able to see the ball better,” Longley said.

“I think I really bettered myself playing in that league, so I’m excited to see what happens. It will definitely be beneficial that I played the summer there, and it will definitely make everything better here.”

The NECBL was founded in 1994, according to the organization’s website.

In 23 years, the Valley Blue Sox had not even made an appearance at the championship game.

This year, however, the team went on to win the league title with a record of 26 wins and 18 losses in the regular season.

Longley described holding the trophy as the perfect ending to a great summer.

“You’re there for such a long summer. I was playing with kids from all over the country, and they were already to go home. It was good to finally win it and celebrate that, and then ride off with that good feeling like you didn’t leave anything.”

After returning from an unforgettable summer of baseball, Longley is eager to continue to play the sport that he loves here at Keene State.