Merrimack U10 wins state title

Ben Osterholtz clapped three times as he strode toward home, then leaped and shoulder-bumped C.J. Bilodeau as he crossed the plate. Behind them was a flood of teammates, jumping and shouting triumphantly while forming a pile on the first base side.

Milford Post 23 had just played 13 innings over three and a half hours, but still had more than enough energy to celebrate a thrilling 5-4 win over Bedford Post 54 in the American Legion state tournament at Holman Stadium on Sunday, staving off elimination in dramatic fashion.

It was Post 23’s first postseason win in well over a decade, and it was about as hard-fought a victory as a team could get. Milford blew a late lead in the eighth, rallied in the 12th and took advantage of Bedford mistakes in the 13th as Osterholtz scored the winning run on a throwing error by shortstop Grayson Jennings with two outs.

The win was especially satisfying for Post 23 because it came over Post 54, which won the two regular season meetings by a combined score of 22-9. Milford advances to play the loser between Exeter and Sweeney Monday afternoon.

"It’s awesome. It’s so good," said Osterholtz, who collected three hits and scored twice for the game.

"We were just all so excited to get here then we get that big moment and we came through."

"We lost to these guys twice this year and we really wanted to beat them," Post 23 coach Frank Douglas said.

Milford’s winning run was essentially a gift. Ryan Aho reached on an error to lead off the inning as his one-hopper was bobbled by third baseman Ryan Lang. Aho moved to second on a sacrifice by Tom Bennett, but was thrown out trying to advance to third on Osterholtz’s grounder to short.

It looked like a rally kill­ing moment, but Bedford gave it right back.

Osterholtz took second, and Ryan Britton hit a ground ball to short that should’ve ended the inning. Instead Jennings made a wild throw to first that rolled toward the home dugout and Osterholz scored easily to give Post 23 the walk-off win.

"It felt like we were hang­ing on for a long time then finally figured it out," Oster­holtz said. "It just came to­gether."

Bedford had a chance to end the game in the 12th inning, striking first in the extra frames. Jennings led off with an infield single and stole second. With two outs, Justin Mickelson hit a fly ball to left that was heading to­ward foul territory. Aho tried to play the ball but dropped the basket-catch attempt, allowing Jennings to score from second and give Post 54 a 4-3 lead.

Aho placed his hands above his head, pacing the outfield in disbelief with himself.

But his teammates picked him up in the bottom half.

Bilodeau singled to left and advanced to second on a sacrifice by Joe Grassett. Alec Burns singled to center and Bilodeau slid headfirst around the tag at the plate to tie the game. The response by Milford epitomized the kind of resiliency Douglass said his team has shown all season.

"We’ve played a lot of games where we won in the last inning," he said. "These guys don’t quit, they play hard all the time."

Post 23 was held scoreless through the first 13 innings of the tournament, but fi­nally broke through in the bottom of the fifth, and in a big way, scoring three runs on two hits, a walk and two hit batters.

Bedford starter Sam Sylvain, who worked right-handed hitters inside for most of the game, hit a pair of batters and Bennett laid a perfectly placed bunt toward short for a base hit to load the bases with no outs.

Sylvain walked Bilodeau with one out to score the tying run from third. Gras­sett drove in Bennett with a single to right. Burns hit a slow-rolling grounder to short for a fielder’s choice that scored Osterholtz and Milford took a 3-1 lead.

The three runs appeared to be enough for starter Ian Towle, who allowed just one run over six innings. Howev­er, Grassett, who earned the win with seven strong innings of relief, failed to hold the lead as Post 54 scored twice in the eighth to tie the game.

Bedford led off with three straight singles to load the bases with no outs. Milford appeared to have caught a break as Mickelson hit a pop to shallow right. But Oster­holtz, coming out from sec­ond, couldn’t glove the ball and a run scored from third.

John Fyfe hit a two-out single to right to make it 3-3.

Jennings walked, stole sec­ond and scored on a pair of wild pitches to in the fourth to put Bedford up 1-0.

Bilodeau, Burns and Os­terholtz all had multi-hit games for Post 23.