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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Connor Sahlin pitches Campbell to 1-0 win over Hopkinton

LITCHFIELD – Jim Gorham’s expectations for Connor Sahlin are high. So high, in fact, that a two-hit shutout to defeat Hopkinton wasn’t enough for the Campbell High School senior pitcher to impress the coach on Wednesday.

But who could blame Gorham, really? The right-handed Sahlin hasn’t lost a start in New Hampshire since the state championship game in his sophomore year, and has established himself as, arguably, the best pitcher in Division III, with an overpowering fastball and a good mix of breaking pitches. ...

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LITCHFIELD – Jim Gorham’s expectations for Connor Sahlin are high. So high, in fact, that a two-hit shutout to defeat Hopkinton wasn’t enough for the Campbell High School senior pitcher to impress the coach on Wednesday.

But who could blame Gorham, really? The right-handed Sahlin hasn’t lost a start in New Hampshire since the state championship game in his sophomore year, and has established himself as, arguably, the best pitcher in Division III, with an overpowering fastball and a good mix of breaking pitches.

So, while Sahlin may have seemed relatively ordinary Wednesday, his nine strikeouts to just three walks in a complete-game effort were enough to lead the Cougars to a 1-0 win over Hopkinton.

“That’s Connor right there. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think he had his best stuff (Wednesday),” Gorham said. “You could see his count was kind of up for most of the first three or four innings.”

Sahlin seemed to lack command early, particularly in the top of the first inning when he walked leadoff hitter Jake Nelson on five pitches and hit cleanup hitter Andrew Reale. A sacrifice and a stolen base gave the Hawks runners on second and third. But he struck out Alex Lajeunesse to end the threat and never looked back, dominating the rest of the way. The Hawks never sent more than four batters to the box in any of the final four innings and didn’t get their first hit until the sixth.

“I was overthrowing at the beginning, a little excited,” Sahlin said. “I just had to stay at a tempo, a good pace, and I started cruising from there.”

Sahlin took the mound each inning with a cutthroat intensity. His approach with each batter was always the same: get that first-pitch strike.

“I definitely like to get ahead so I can use all my pitches,” he said. “I don’t have to throw as many fastballs so I can save my arm throughout the whole game.’’

While Sahlin left the Hopkinton hitters befuddled throughout the game, Campbell’s bats weren’t much better. The Cougars got just two hits off Hawks starter Liam McNicholas, who walked four and struck out two in a complete-game effort, and scored their lone run off a fielding error in the bottom of the second.

Vinny Bucci got it started with a one-out single to left field and Kyle Manning moved Bucci to second with a sacrifice bunt. Tyler Butler drove Bucci home when his ground ball went through the legs of shortstop Collin Paraskeva.

The Cougars (10-2) had their share of opportunities to add to their lead with base runners in each of the last three innings, but fell victim to untimely hitting and base running gaffes.

“We made a couple of mistakes on the bases. We just didn’t come up with too many big hits (Wednesday), that’s all,” Gorham said.

Despite the struggles, the win was all the same for Campbell as it battles at the top of the packed Division III standings. And it can certainly thank its pitcher for this one.