Milford takes down Souhegan baseball in season opener

Chris Pantazis photo New Souhegan baseball head coach Tom Walker talks with his pitcher and catcher early in the Sabers' 2019 season-starting loss to the Milford Spartans.

AMHERST – For the first time in decades the Souhegan High School baseball team began a new campaign without the guiding presence of coach Bill Dod behind it when the Sabers commenced their 2019 season on Wednesday with a home game against the visiting Milford Spartans.

Alas, Saber Nation won’t have many fond remembrances of step one of the coach Tom Walker era because the hosts didn’t have much go well in a 7-1 loss to the visiting Spartans in bitter-cold spring weather.

Despite leaving some seven runners stranded on bases during the first three innings, Milford coach Todd Robichaud saw his team tally two runs in the first inning, two more in the fifth, and another three in the seventh in support of a gutsy pitching performance from senior Kolbe Heipel in their lopsided, season-opening success.

The home-standing Sabers had walks, errors, and a lack of hitting hinder their cause significantly as they attempted to get new head coach Walker his first Souhegan win.

Milford smacked out a modest six hits in tallying the success, but Saber pitching dealt out some nine walks and the hosts’ defense committed five errors on a truly tough day.

Legendary coach Dod, who attended several of the Sabers’ pre-season contests, wasn’t in attendance for game one of the 2019 regular season. And that was certainly a good thing from the Souhegan standpoint.

Milford didn’t spend any time talking about the special significance of the game to its opponent before it began. But coach Robichaud found himself thinking about it in the visitors’ dugout before the first pitch was thrown.

“It was a little bit odd out here, without Bill here,” said Robichaud. “I played for him on a summer team. But Tom Walker’s a good coach and next time we see them they’ll be a different team. I’m sure of that.”

But the Spartans’ mentor would likely be just fine with having his contingent put forth the same sort of performance it did in the opener against Souhegan the next time around.

Disregarding the bitter weather the best he could, Milford pitcher Heipel was all kinds of strong in twirling a five-hitter, notching some nine strikeouts and walking three while also hitting a pair of batters. His defense played error-free ball behind him, and coach Robichaud was extremely pleased with his hurler.

“He was our number three starter last year, and he showed a lot out there today,” said the coach.

The visitors notched the only two runs they’d need to end up winning this opener in the top half of the first inning against Sabers’ hard-throwing starter Jacob Grassett.

After striking out the leadoff man, Grassett walked the next two batters, hit the next one with a pitch to load the bases, and then walked Ethan Golden to force Sam Santaniello in from third base.

Brandon Shaw then smacked a fly ball down the right field line, with Souhegan outfielder Aidan Casey leaving his feet to make the catch in foul ground. Seeing that, Milford runner Max Fortin tagged up and sprinted home from third to make it a 2-0 game.

The Spartans left two men on base at the close of that inning, but Souhegan did the same in the latter half of the first without scoring at all.

The score remained at 2-0 until the bottom of the second when the hosts managed their only run after Nick Wilson drilled a lead-off double, moved to third on a ground-out to the right side of the infield, and scored on a single by Dylan Dufour.

Despite stranding seven runners through the first three frames and a pretty stunning nine through four, Milford struck for two more runs in the top of the fifth thanks to one hit and no less than three Souhegan fielding mistakes as the score moved to 4-1.

Colin Pynn laced the first of his two RBI singles in that two-run frame, and he smacked another in the seventh when the Spartans turned a 4-1 lead into a commanding 7-1 advantage.

Milford made a Souhegan comeback that much more difficult with the three-run, three-hit seventh which included safeties from Shaw, Pynn, and Trevor Coyne.

A highlight for the hosts was the two hits knocked by Wilson, who also contributed four innings of pitching duty in relief of starter Grassett. The two Saber hurlers combined for 11 strikeouts and nine walks. Four of the Spartan walks turned into runs.

Milford will play its home-opener today against John Stark, while Souhegan returns to play on the 15th at Pembroke Academy.