Milford baseball rallies for win over Souhegan

MILFORD – Steve Claire was a little surprised when his Milford High School baseball team got off to a slow start Tuesday against Souhegan.

But the four-run rally in the bottom of the sixth? That’s becoming habit for the Spartans.

Milford trailed the Sabers 4-0 early, but chipped away at Souhegan starter Chandler MacKenzie until exploding in the sixth for a 6-4 victory at Keyes Field in Milford. The win was the 10th of the season for the Spartans, and moves them one step closer to locking up a home game for the first round of the Division II tournament, which begins June 5.

“We battled,” Claire said. “We started slow, which hasn’t been the case this year. When we came to the park, they didn’t seem as enthusiastic as I had hoped. Once we got down, it really got in their heads that this is an important game and they needed to dig deep.

“This is the last week of the regular season, the tournament is starting and we need these two wins, so I was a little surprised at their lack of energy. But as the game went on, we started to get better at bats and got more into the game, and it helped.”

Bryce Walker led the way, going 2 for 3, including a solo home run in the third and a run-scoring double in the sixth. Walker also scored the tying run on a single by Jesse Rood (2 for 3), who scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch.

Mason Gaudette overcame some early struggles, including a three-run third inning that put Souhegan up 4-0, to get pitch a complete game for the win, retiring the final 10 batters he faced. Gaudette allowed two earned runs on four hits and a walk while striking out three.

MacKenzie took the loss, as he struck out six and allowed five earned runs on nine hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. He was also 1 for 3 with an RBI, as was Seth Learned.

“The kids have played great all season,” Souhegan coach Bill Dod said. “We’ve battled and battled and been in all our games, and (Tuesday) was just a microcosm of what we’ve done all year. We’ve been competitive and the kids have been great, we just didn’t finish it.

“Chandler has done a great job. He went as far as he could. I tried to get a little more out of him than I probably should have.”

It didn’t look like the Sabers (3-11) were doing to have to worry about that early. After scraping out a run in the first inning, had runners at second and third with one out and the middle of the lineup coming up.

Learned hit a grounder to Rood at shortstop, driving in a run, but the throw to first was off the mark, allowing Learned to reach safely and Tommy Bennett to score to make it 3-0.

After Learned stole second, MacKenzie drove him in with a single, and Mike Mancini appeared to make it three base hits in a row, but Milford’s Drew Jepson made a nice leaping catch for the second out. MacKenzie stole second, but overran the base for the third out of the inning.

Walker homered with one out in the bottom half of the third to make it 4-1, and Gaudette’s RBI single in the fourth made it a two-run game. The Spartans (10-5) threatened for more, with two on and one out, but MacKenzie retired the next two Milford hitters to escape. Milford stranded two more runners in the fifth, but at that point, the Spartans felt it was only a matter of time.

“For most pitchers in Division II, when you get to the third or fourth time in the order, you’re naturally going to struggle more,” Claire said. “That’s why we were positive in their. We have two more at bats and the more we see a pitcher, the more likely we are to get on him.”

And with two out in the sixth, Milford did. Sawyer Trask walked and Walker brought him in with a double to make it 4-3. Rood drove in Walker with a single and Jepson followed with a base hit.

After Devyn Pioli walked to load the bases, Joe Grassett came on in relief of MacKenzie. With Ryan Britton up, Grassett uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Rood to score the go-ahead run. Britton then beat out an infield single to drive in Jepson to make it 6-4.

“They’ve worked hard the last couple of years to be where they are now,” Dod said of Milford. “We just didn’t get enough. We were trying to get as much as we could. We got as much as our bats had.”