Post 98 earns 4th in Legion state tourney

The most successful season in the history of Merrimack Legion 98 baseball came to an end on Monday, as Post 98 finished in fourth place in the state following a 4-0 defeat to eventual champion Rochester.

Despite a complete-game effort from Grant Coy, he ended up on the wrong end of a pitchers’ duel at Holman Stadium. Chris States tossed a two-hitter with eight strikeouts and three walks over nine innings for Rochester, which on Tuesday became the first team to win back-to-back New Hampshire Senior Legion titles since Jutras in 1996-97 with a pair of wins over Exeter.

"We ran into a good pitcher," Merrimack coach Chris Shanahan said. "He was in a groove and we just couldn’t get him out of it.

"We hit like four or five balls on the screws right at guys and we couldn’t get that ball to drop when we needed it to like we have been. That’s baseball."

Rochester jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Anthony DiPrizio DiPrizio walked and Josh Gagne was hit by a pitch before Justin Jewell came through with an RBI single. Gagne scored during the following at-bat on a pitch that reached the backstop.

Jewell finished 3 for 4 with a double and a stolen base.

Rochester added an unearned run in the fifth. Ben Gravel reached on an error and scored on a sacrifice fly from Rick Creteau. Gravel also doubled to lead off the ninth and scooted home on a Shaun Cormier single to provide Rochester with a 4-0 cushion.

"Every guy that scored up until that last inning, it was either a hit batter, a walk or an error," Shanahan said. "You can’t do that in this point of the tournament with a team like this."

Chad Seaver and Tyler DeNeill had the lone hits for Post 98, which concluded the season with a 13-9 overall record and went 8-6 in District B play.

Despite the loss, Coy was strong on the mound throughout. He scattered eight hits and allowed four runs – three earned – with four strikeouts and one walk.

It was a fun season for Post 98, breaking into the Legion tournament for the first time in program history and winning a pair of games in the process. For Shanahan, it brought back memories of coaching Northern Essex Community College to third at the National Junior College World Series in 2012.

"I kind of look at them and say, ‘Am I ever going to have a team like this again – that I just love every kid on the team? It was just a different feeling.’ About halfway through the season with these guys, I had that feeling again," Shanahan explained. "I kind of got away from coaching for a little bit, but these guys have pulled me back and made me realize that I do love to do it. They’re a great group of kids."

Saturday

Merrimack 8, Bedford 5

NASHUA – Sometimes, all it takes in baseball is a couple big innings.

That storyline was played out by Merrimack Post 98 in a must-win game against Bedford Post 54 in the American Legion Senior State Tournament on Sunday at Holman Stadium.

Post 98 fell behind, 3-0, after 2 1/2 innings, but turned the tables with a five-run outburst in the third, and then waved goodbye to Post 54 with a three-run seventh en route to an 8-5 victory.

Post 98 dropped its first game of the tournament, 8-1, Friday to Milford, but fought off elimination in back-to-back games, as it defeated Lebanon, 12-2, in eight innings Saturday.

Post 54’s season came to end with its second defeat in the double-elimination tournament.

Post 98 was led by DeNeill (2 for 4, triple, single, three RBI and two runs scored), Ryan Slate (2 for 2, double, single, three walks and two runs scored) and Brendan Carter (2 for 4, two singles, a walk and a run scored).

With the game knotted, 5-5, in the seventh and the bases loaded, Seaver crossed home plate to give Post 98 the lead for good on a sacrifice fly by Logan Chaput. Coy provided a three-run safety net, 8-5, as he drove a two-run single to right field, scoring Slate and DeNeill.

Post 54 opened the scoring in the first when Matthew Gilligan scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Kernan.

Post 54 loaded the bases in the second with no one out, but Post 98 starting pitcher J.P. Somers did not wilt under pressure, as he struck out Gilligan looking and then forced William Edwards to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Post 54 peppered the scoreboard for another pair of runs in the third, as Nicholas Mokas doubled to right-center field, scoring Kernan and Ryan Lee.

Merrimack got some run support in the third, as Carter crossed home plate to cut the deficit to 3-1. DeNeill walked into the batter’s box with the bases loaded and two outs, and he ripped a bases-clearing triple to right-center, scoring Alex Thornton, Seaver and Slate. DeNeill eventually crossed home plate on an error, giving Post 98 a 5-3 advantage.

Post 54 posted a run in the fifth and sixth, respectively, as it evened the score, 5-5. Lee drove an RBI single down the left-field line in the fifth, scoring Ryan Linehan, and then Edwards scored in the sixth on an RBI double to left-center by Linehan.

Somers earned the win on mound for Post 98, as he went 7 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on 10 hits. He posted one-two-three innings in the fourth and seventh. Justin Grassini closed the deal, as he pitched the final 1 1/3 innings and did not relinquish any runs.

Saturday

Merrimack 12, Lebanon 2

Kyle Lawson twirled a complete game while his teammates pounded out 16 hits and Merrimack cruised to a mercy rule-shortened 12-2 victory over Lebanon Post 22 in eight innings on Saturday at Holman Stadium in an American Legion Senior State Tournament elimination game.

It’s the first tournament win for Merrimack since the program’s inception over 30 years ago.

Justin Grassini helped Post 98 jump on Lebanon starter Chase Hussey with a leadoff double in the first inning. He scored on a two-out RBI single to right from Thornton.

Grassini proved to be a thorn in Lebanon’s side throughout the contest, finishing 4 for 5 with three runs scored and two RBIs. He was happy to see his team bounce back and earn the program’s first postseason triumph after an 8-1 defeat to Milford in the opening round of the double-elimination tournament on Friday night.

Thornton was another star for Post 98, going 3 for 5 with five RBIs.

Logan Chaput (Milford) and Grant Coy (Nashua North) were difference-makers at the bottom of the lineup, as Chaput went 2 for 4 with two runs scored and Coy was 3 for 4 with a run and two RBIs.

Chad Seaver, Ryan Slate and Brendan Carter – all from Merrimack High – also contributed two hits apiece for Merrimack.

Carter drove in Chaput for the game-clinching run – the third of the inning – in the bottom of the eighth with one out, inducing the 10-run mercy rule.

Most of Merrimack’s damage came in a five-run fourth inning off reliever Matt Braley (Proctor), the second of six pitchers used by Lebanon on the day. A plunked batter, a walk and a bunt single from Coy loaded the bases before Grassini had an RBI hit and Carter drew a walk to push home a run. Andrew Thibault (Bishop Guertin) was hit by a pitch to bring home another run before Thornton delivered the big blow with a two-RBI single to make it 7-1.

The six-run cushion was plenty for Lawson, who only allowed an RBI single from Kegan Silovich (Hanover) in the second and an RBI triple from Hussey in the eighth. Lawson struck out five and walked four en route to the victory in sweltering heat.

Coach Shanahan gave Post 98 baseball director Mike Henzley much of the credit for turning the program around. Henzley took over in 2007 and shut down the program, which had been running since the mid-to-early 80s, to restart from scratch. The Junior Legion team jumped back into competion in 2010 and won the Junior state title in 2011. The Senior team returned to action in 2012 and four years later, Post 98 is in the playoffs with a win under its belt.

"It’s huge for us," Shanahan said. "When Mike Henzley took over a couple of years ago, I don’t want to say it was in shambles, but it kind of was. Mike kind of got pushed into it and made it his passion and his goal to make the program viable."

The hard work is now paying dividends.