Merrimack battles for American Legion state tourney berth

Photo by Tom King Merrimack Post 98 starter Cody Pfeiffer delivers a pitch in the first inning of Wednesday’s game with Exeter, which was suspended in the fourth with the game tied at 2. It will be resumed in the top of the fourth if needed on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Merrimack High School.

MERRIMACK – It’s the home stretch for the local senior American Legion baseball season as teams jockey for tournament position or fight just to get in .

Now if only Mother Nature would cooperate.

Merrimack Post 98 and Exeter Post 32 were deadlocked at 2 in the top of the fourth inning at Merrimack High School on Wednesday before lightning was spotted and then the rain came down. The game was suspended and will be resumed on Monday at 5:30 p.m. – if it’s deemed important enough to have playoff ramifications.

Rochester rules District B at 12-0, but Nashua, Merrimack and Exeter went into Wednesday all with eight wins. However, Nashua got its game in on Wednesday on the seacoast, topping Dover 7-2, a huge win that likely clinches a playoff spot at 9-7. Dover fell to 6-8.

And that may have sealed the deal for Merrimack (8-5) as well.

“All I care about is getting in,” Merrimack manager Chris McKenzie said. “The way I look at it is, when you get in, everyone’s 0-0. Rochester is 12-0, but come playoff time, we’re all 0-0.”

Tim Lunn’s Nashua team has made an impressive run, winning six of its last eight, including Wednesday’s win and a doubleheader sweep of Salem on Monday.

And Merrimack has been a team with some interesting offensive statistics. Post 98 has scored, if you include Wednesday’s two runs, 87 runs this summer. But it has left, if you include the five in four innings vs. Exeter, a whopping 116 men on base.

“It’s the most mind-blowing stat I’ve ever seen,” McKenzie said. “Because when you score 80 some-odd runs in a season, you’d think you’d have about 40 men left on base. You think you’re driving those guys in. When you think about it, we could be averaging 12 or 13 runs a game. It’s insane.

“What it is is it’s younger guys in high school, bad approaches, over-zealous at the plate.”

Alex Thornton had been hitting at a .400 clip until recently. Andrew Thibault has also hit the ball well.

As for pitching, Tyler Rhor has been a workhorse for Merrimack. He tossed a combined 11 shutout innings in a recent doubleheader win over Derry. Grant Coy has also pitched well.

On Wednesday, Merrimack started Cody Pfeiffer, who will be a junior at Merrimack High School this year, and he was touched up for a run each in the second and third. But Thibault doubled in two runs in the third off Exeter’s Luke LeBlanc to knot things at two. The game was called with the visitors having runners at second and third and one out in the top of the fourth.

“We would have liked to have gotten this in, but we save some pitching,” McKenzie said. “But who knows, we may clinch by Friday (Merrimack is at Portsmouth).”

Rochester, McKenzie says, “just doesn’t make mistakes, they play simple baseball.”

But right now, it looks as if Post 98 will join the tourney party that starts a week from Friday at Manchester’s Gill Stadium.

“It doesn’t matter to me where I sit,” McKenzie said. “If we’re in, we’re in. But that first game, you’d like to be the home team (batting last). But that’s about it.”

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The District A representation is just about set. Already having clinched are Concord (11-2), Sweeney of Manchester (10-3) and Lebanon (9-3). Laconia (7-4) is likely the fourth team.

Milford, the only local ‘A’ team, won’t make it, 3-10 at last look.

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