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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Merrimack pulls out must-win game against Nashua North

MERRIMACK – The Merrimack High School baseball team’s goal at the beginning of the season was to win eight games, a number realistic enough to get the Tomahawks into the state tournament.

Sitting at 3-10 with five games to go, Merrimack would need to play perfect baseball the rest of the way in order to achieve that feat. ...

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MERRIMACK – The Merrimack High School baseball team’s goal at the beginning of the season was to win eight games, a number realistic enough to get the Tomahawks into the state tournament.

Sitting at 3-10 with five games to go, Merrimack would need to play perfect baseball the rest of the way in order to achieve that feat.

So far, the Tomahawks have done just that.

Merrimack made it three straight wins on Monday with a 12-2 beatdown of Nashua North in six innings to improve to 6-10 with two games left in the regular season. The win keeps the Tomahawks in the top 16 in Division I with Winnacunnet and Trinity idle on Monday.

“Eight wins is gonna get you in the playoffs, so each one is a must win,” catcher Mickey Gasper said. “As long as we keep fighting I think we’ve got a good shot.

“It’s gonna be close. Sense of urgency is exactly it. I think everyone has been playing differently since we needed to win.”

Gasper went 2 for 3 with two RBIs, two runs scored and an intentional walk to lead the onslaught in Merrimack’s best offensive output of the season against Titans starter Ricky Constant. The usually effective left-hander allowed seven runs on six hits with two walks and no strikeouts over 41⁄3 innings.

The Tomahawks focused on staying inside the ball and driving it to right field to beat Constant. Once they got on, they used their speed on the bases to get in scoring position.

Constant didn’t get much help from his defense either as a throwing error by first baseman Zach Smith with two runners on in the first inning helped Merrimack jump to an early 3-0 lead. Constant was mentally shaken from there.

“He did not have his best stuff, and he struggles to overcome it on days when he doesn’t have his best stuff,” North coach Kyle Harvell said of Constant. “He’s gotta be good to be competitive and he just didn’t have it (Monday).

“Losing confidence in your defense certainly doesn’t help,” he added. “When he’s on, he’s got the stuff to overcome that, but he’s gotta work on competing when he doesn’t have his best stuff.”

Alternatively, Tomahawks starter Devin Gillis shut down the Titans’ bats in a complete-game effort. Gillis allowed two runs on five hits with four walks and a strikeout. The two North (8-11) runs came with an 8-0 lead in the fifth inning.

“I thought he came out and put us in a good position in those first few innings,” Merrimack coach Nick Jaskolka said of Gillis. “We pounded the outer half all day, see what they could do with it, a lot of breaking balls. He mixed well.”

With two on and one out in the first, Eric Gendron hit a ground ball that was fielded by Smith. Smith tried to get the force at second but the ball sailed into the outfield and Gillis scored the game’s first run. Connor Powell executed a bunt single to score Gasper and a sacrifice fly from Mark Feeney made it 3-0 Tomahawks.

“That’s huge. Ricky Constant, he’s a good pitcher, but when you’re able to get three on a guy like that it really mellows out their team and lights a fire under our team’s butts to get us going,” Jaskolka said.

Said Gasper: “That’s what we’ve been preaching all year. We’ve been coming out a little sluggish and then we’d turn it on toward the end, but once we started playing it from the start we’ve been playing well. That’s three in a row. It shows.”

Merrimack broke the game open in the fourth with three straight hits to make it 5-0 and chase Constant from the game.

The barrage continued against reliever Tom Hyland. Gasper hit a two-run double and Gendron drove him home with a sacrifice and the Tomahawks led 8-0.

Brennan Kastens and Chas DeWitt drove in North’s only runs of the game.

Merrimack completed the mercy with two runs in the bottom of the fifth and sixth.