Milford Post 23 set for Legion playoffs
Members of the Souhegan baseball team piled on top of each other at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium this spring when the Sabers beat Portsmouth to claim the Division II state championship.
Some of the key players from that squad hope to enjoy a similar celebration for another state title at Holman Stadium early next week.
The American Legion Senior State Tournament starts Friday and Milford Post 23 is on a roll.
Post 23 – which prominently features Souhegan’s Joe Grassett, Thomas Bennett, Ryan Hill and Alec Burns among others – won its final eight games of the regular season to finish 14-2 and earn the top seed in District A heading into Friday’s first-round matchup with District B No. 4 seed Merrimack Post 98 (8-6). It’s the final game of an American Legion quadrupleheader at Holman and first pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
"We have a great young bunch of kids. The nucleus comes from the Souhegan High School program, so that didn’t hurt at all," Milford coach Harold Webster said. "They’re excited, of course. They realize they have a chance to win two state titles in one year. That would be something. The other guys, they’d like to win, too."
Milford lost 2-1 to Bedford on June 26 and dropped a 4-2 decision against Concord on July 1. It’s been nothing but victories since for Post 23, capped by a 10-7 triumph in 11 innings at District A No. 2 seed Lebanon.
"The kids played hard and they played well. They worked," Webster said. "They’re really dedicated to baseball, that’s the key. Those kids want to play baseball at any cost and you can’t beat that."
Webster wasn’t sure who will take the mound to start the postseason, but it’s between right-handed sidewinder Grassett or lefty Ian Towle.
"Whichever pitches the first game, the other will pitch the second game. It really doesn’t matter," Webster said. "They’re fantastic together. One is a lefty with a little speed and the other throws side-arm."
Merrimack coach/business manager Mike Henzley is expecting to see Grassett, but regardless of who is on the hill, Post 98 needs to avoid self-inflicted wounds and take advantage of its opportunities to earn a victory.
"We know that they’ll probably come at us with (Grassett)," Henzley said. "The defense needs to be solid, like it has been all year, and we need to come up big when we have runners in scoring position."
Merrimack’s offense was led by Andrew Thibault, who led Post 98 with a .538 batting average, six doubles, five triples and 18 RBIs during the regular season.
Justin Grassini (3-1, 1.80 ERA), JP Somers (2- 2, 2.08), Kyle Lawson (2-2, 4.01) and Grant Coy (1-1, 1.19) are the top pitching options for Merrimack, which boasts a strong defense.
"We have a very strong middle infield, from the catcher to the second baseman and shortstop and then to center field," Henzley said. "I think we’re really strong up the middle and I think this team can go places this year."
An attitude adjustment has helped Post 98 navigate its way to the tournament despite mixed results during the regular season.
"Teaching guys how to close it when they’re ahead, coming to the game ready to play – I think those are some of the things we weren’t very experienced in and they did a much better job throughout the year," Henzley explained.
Milford will try to derail Merrimack with a balanced offense, along with a talented outfield featuring Jake McMaster in center, Bryce Walker in left and either Grassett or Hill in right.
"Our defense is probably the best part of our game. I think I have the best outfield you could put together in the state," Webster said. "I can go any direction with any of those four and it’s just a great outfield. They have a lot of speed and their arms are very, very strong."
Depth has also been a key to Post 23’s success – whether it’s filling in when needed or keeping morale high in the dugout.
"A lot of our strength comes from our bench. Any good team has to have a solid bench," Webster explained. " It’s tough when you’ve got real good ballplayers and then you’ve got a bench behind them and they all can’t play at once. It’s been hard, but I really want to compliment my bench this year. They’ve been a wonderful bunch of guys."
The winner of Milford and Merrimack will play the winner of Rochester (10-4) and Lebanon (12-4) on Saturday at 7 p.m. The loser will attempt to stay alive against the Rochester/Lebanon loser