HIBBING — After a coaching career that spanned nearly three decades, Dave Bevacqua said he has coached his last game.
Bevacqua, 64, who was recently named Minnesota College Athletic Conference (MCAC) Northern Division Coach-of-the-Year, announced his retirement as head coach of the Hibbing Community College baseball team recently after nine years at the helm, saying it is time to pursue more time with his family.
Bob DeNucci, Bevacqua’s assistant for the past four years, will take over as the new head coach of the Cardinals and Bevacqua said the program could not be under better hands. He praised the work DeNucci – who served as both an assistant coach and as the HCC recruiting coordinator – has done in past years to improve the community college program.
DeNucci said he is excited to be able to take over the head coaching position.
“I played for Dave (Bevacqua) since I was very young so a lot of my philosophies on baseball have been formed from his coaching, so not much will change,” DeNucci said. “I feel that playing the best competition is how you make your program better. We will continue to schedule good programs and we are not going to worry about our non-conference record.”
Bevacqua said he was planning to coach for another year or two, but as the 2019 season wound down he felt that it was the right time to get out of coaching. He said he wanted more freedom to do different things during the spring months he was coaching baseball.
“They tell you that you will know when you are done, and I felt it was a good time,” said Bevacqua.
Bevacqua is a former Nashwauk-Keewatin High School star athlete who played baseball at the University of Minnesota. He served as an assistant coach under Chuck Klinker at N-K High School for nine seasons before taking over the head coaching job and holding that position for 11 years.
Bevacqua also coached the Spartans girls basketball team in the winter along with Aaron Clusiau, and they had one team qualify for the state tournament. Another highlight was coaching Nashwauk-Keewatin in the 2001 state tournament when his son Aaron was a member of the team. The Spartans were undefeated heading into the state tournament.
“The opportunity to go to a state tournament with my son and with the first baseball team that Nashwauk-Keewatin had ever had in the state tournament was pretty exciting,” Bevacqua said. “Then a number of years later I got an opportunity to go to the state girls basketball tournament with my daughter Emily on the team. So, coaching has provided me with a ton of wonderful experiences and memories that I will cherish forever.”
Bevacqua said it was a difficult climb in getting the HCC program to the point where they wanted it to be. He said if it wasn’t for DeNucci, he would have retired years ago.
“If it wasn’t for Bob DeNucci, I would have been out of this program probably four years ago,” Bevacqua said. “The energy and knowledge that Bob has brought to this program over these last few year has just been outstanding. I can’t say enough good things about what Bob has done for this program, and for me personally.
“I would have left probably four years ago if I didn’t have Bob doing all the work that he did. The success this year is fully based on the recruiting job that Bob has done for the last couple years. At this level, it is all about recruiting to get players in. You certainly have to develop them, but at the community college level you have two years to try to develop kids so it really boils down to who can recruit better talent.
“Bob brought in some quality players and that’s why we started winning. They are good kids, kids we can really count on to work hard and do what we ask them to do.”
DeNucci is a 2001 graduate of Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and competed under coach Bevacqua in his prep career. Additionally, DeNucci was a member of the 1999 N-K Minnesota state championship American Legion team and earned All-Tournament Team honors as a part of the 2001 N-K team that went 25-1. A familiar face in the MCAC baseball ranks, DeNucci played his collegiate baseball for Justin Lamppa at Itasca Community College where ICC finished as region runner up in both seasons. DeNucci and the Vikings won the 2003 MCAC state championship; he also played point guard for the Vikings basketball team.
Prior to his role as an assistant at Hibbing, DeNucci coached at the youth, VFW and Legion levels in both the Nashwauk – Keewatin and Greenway communities, as well as serving as a player/coach at the amateur level with the Marble Mallards.
DeNucci said his father, Joe, was a coach while he was growing up so coaching has been part of his life for decades. He said his first memories are of him being in the gym with his father.
“It seems like I have always been in a gym or on a baseball field,” DeNucci laughed.
In 2019, HCC won the MCAC Northern Division title with a 13-2 league mark; the Cardinals were 19-18 overall and qualified for their second consecutive Region XIII State Tournament. In 2018, HCC earned the at-large bid to the Region XIII post-season.
In addition to the two recent tournament appearances, Bevacqua mentored several Cardinals in recent seasons who went on to compete in the four-year college environment, including Joe Lescarbeau (Bemidji State), Joe Kanipes (UW-Superior) and AJ Rouco (Cal State-East Bay).
“The program is in a good place right now,” DeNucci – who thanks HCC Athletic Director Mike Flaten for his support – said. “We are trying to get local players here this year. The goal is to try to get the program to the level where the local kids want to stay and play for Hibbing. You always start in your back yard and then you branch out and try to find the best kids possible for the school.”
Bevacqua said DeNucci excelled at getting out and recruiting good players for the program. DeNucci said he has been on the road recruiting to places like Puerto Rico, Texas and Utah, and he said he has met people from all over.
“The coaching fraternity is pretty small and even the other college coaches can help you find guys at times,” DeNucci said. “If the kid isn’t good enough to play at their school, they will give you a call and tell you they have a kid for us. The more people you can network with, the better it is as far as recruiting.”
DeNucci said he is a competitive person, but he said his first goal is to give good experiences to all the young athletes who come to play at HCC. He also expects them to do the work in the classroom.
“Wins are nice but I want these kids to come here and enjoy their time at Hibbing and have good experiences in the program,” DeNucci explained. “Then, their goal should be to transfer out of here and go to a four-year school. But you won’t have many options if you don’t take care of business in the classroom. That is something I am going to emphasize.”
Bevacqua has no doubts that DeNucci is the right man for the job.
“I think the program is going to be in great shape,” Bevacqua said. “Bob has a passion for the game and for teaching baseball. And, he is outstanding at recruiting.”