Merrimack Legion baseball toughs out win over Portsmouth

MERRIMACK – The Merrimack and Portsmouth American Legion baseball teams launched their own little protest to the new rule about games being only seven innings.

The two teams battled into the ninth in Tuesday night’s season opener, with Merrimack pulling out 2-1 thriller with a walk-off win.

Justin Grassini, back from college at SUNY Cortland, earned the win with 2-1/3 innings of shutout relief, backing up a sparkling start on the hill from Pat Harrington.

For Harrington, who’ll be a major addition, it was great to get the taste of his final game at Bedford High, a loss in the state championship to Exeter, out of his mouth.

“It took a while to get over it,” said Harrington, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh. “I’m just happy to get off to a good start here, especially coming back from the high school season and having an extended amount of time off.”

Merrimack struck first in this one with Landon Henzley lacing a clutch, two-out RBI double to center in the second inning. For a while, that looked to be plenty of support for Harrington, who wasn’t sure about the status of the potential no-no.

The righty wiggled out of a jam in the fourth when he hit two batters, and he potentially lost the no-hitter in the sixth, when a hard two-hopper sneaked under a glove at third (ruled an error).

“I wanted to try and not think about it, but when the opposing dugout is yelling that you still have a no-hitter going (in the seventh), it’s going to get in my head,” said Harrington.

The first hit, a one-out triple to right in the seventh, was certainly a clean one.

“He found a gap, and that’s going to happen,” Harrington said. Portsmouth then knotted things at 1-1 with a sac fly, bringing Grassini to the mound and sending it to extras.

Merrimack finally won it in the ninth when Alex Caron bunted for a hit and then raced to third on Grassini’s single to right. Portsmouth chose not to pull the infield in or walk the hitter to load the bases, and Merrimack’s Nick Dutton took advantage.

His looping one-hop liner to second easily plated Caron with the game-winner.