For every single game I’ve worked at Bryant, I’ve sat side-by-side with Bill Pike Sr., the man penning the official scorebook for the last 14 years. Naturally, we have a great relationship – we discuss what’s going on around the league, and admittedly mix in the occasional unconscious fandom for our Bulldogs.
Bill and I grew closer last year, more than likely due to being one of a select few allowed into the Chace Athletic Center; spectators were prohibited from entering the arena during COVID-19’s pre-vaccination-era. Our relationship evolved from co-workers to friends. Bill celebrated his birthday a few weeks ago; last year around this time, his granddaughters wrote him a card and sent him their school portraits, and you could see him glowing through his mask.
Bill graciously subs in as the scorekeeper for Ed Cooley’s Providence Friars every once in a while, and was disappointed that he didn’t get to Friartown the past two years. Bill arrives to every game far before I do, carefully ensuring he has accurate rosters & numbers for each team, inputting them all into the scorebook with above-average handwriting, especially for a lefty writing in pencil.
Bill and I help each other out quite a bit during the game. I’ll let him know who scored if his eyes weren’t on the court, catching up from the previous basket – it happens quite often with this run-n-gun Bryant team. He’ll be the first to correct me if I call out the incorrect number of fouls on a team or player. To be frank, we make a great duo.
Last year, Bill and I got to witness Bryant host its first Northeast Conference Semifinal and Championship games in program history. We know what the underwhelming fate of the Bulldogs was in 2021.
While it meant a lot to both of us – and in different ways – there was something missing.
And with Bryant nailing down its first NEC regular season championship in program history, we’re due to get it back this year.
Bill Pike suffered through the days that many Bryant alumni and fans would consider “soul-crushing.” Sure, the Bulldogs had their glory days – they made it to at least the Sweet 16 in their last five years at the Division 2 level, including a championship loss to Virginia Union in 2005. But when Bryant made the switch to Division 1 before the 2008-09 season, it was an ugly sight.
“The biggest thing that sticks out in my mind when we first moved up; if you’re not good in Division 1, you just don’t draw the crowds,” Bill told me back in March 2021. “There were some pretty lean years as far as attendance goes in those first few years.”
Indeed, the “lean years” were for a good reason; Bryant went 20-99 in its first four seasons, including a dismal 1-29, with its lone win coming on the road against Wagner in their final year of Mark Deane (fun fact, Wagner’s coach the next year was Dan Hurley).
The Bulldogs finally saw a glimpse of success for a few years under O’Shea – they went on to have winning seasons for three consecutive years from 2013-15, including a 19-12 finish in 2013.
And, of course, there was “The Shot Heard ‘Round Smithfield” in 2015, which Bill and I had a chuckle about. “Do you remember O’Shea’s shot in 2015? That was unbelievable,” he recalled. In Bryant’s second NEC Quarterfinal home game in program history, they needed some heroics to keep the game going, and Joe O’Shea delivered. The Bulldogs ended up knocking off Sacred Heart in double-overtime.
Of course, Bill and I were beyond excited when Bryant thumped Sacred Heart 85-55 in last year’s NEC Semifinal matchup, and were off-the-charts when Mount St. Mary’s came to Smithfield for what would’ve been Bryant’s first conference championship in D1 program history. But Mount had other plans, and rained on the Bulldogs’ parade to claim their sixth NEC Championship in their program history.
If you ask Bill and I, the crushing part wasn’t even necessarily the loss. It was the fact that after all the time we’d waited for this, we’d have not the fans to share it with.
“What I missed about the D2 era was the crowds,” Bill said. “This place was packed, the games were close, and the environment was exciting.”
I pressed him further and asked him if the Chace Athletic Center would’ve blown a lid during last year’s postseason matchups. “Oh, absolutely,” he quickly replied. “I’m sure they’d be packed into capacity. It makes it more fun.”
Bill’s 15-year-long wait – and my much shorter one – is over. Bryant is the NEC Regular Season Champion for the first time in its history, and no longer will we have to wonder what the crowds will be like in such an historic season.
Just four years ago, Tim O'Shea retired and left the Bulldogs in a state of total despair. 3-28 was the record, attendance was dwindling, and no path to success in sight.
Saturday's game, almost 4-years to the date? A sellout crowd, a one-seed, and a path to glory with just three more wins.
It’ll be one of Fairleigh Dickinson or Central Connecticut on Wednesday night. A Bulldogs win will set them up for a fixture with either Mount St. Mary’s or St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday. And after that, if the stars truly do align for the Bulldog faithful – including Bill and I – we’ll get an NEC Championship in Smithfield for the second straight year.
And this time – God-willing – it’ll be filled to the brim.