Merrimack American Legion baseball falls to Derry

MERRIMACK – The mad scramble for one of the four American Legion District B playoff spots is on.

Wednesday afternoon, two candidates for those precious positions tangled in a doubleheader.

The result … a tough, tough afternoon for Merrimack Post 98, which dropped both to Derry, first 8-1 and then, 3-0.

The sweep puts Merrimack at 6-4, right in the thick of a four team scramble with Derry, Nashua and Dover for the three spots below 8-1 Rochester. Derry moved to 9-3 with the results Wednesday.

Merrimack did its best to gift-wrap Game 1, committing seven errors in the loss.

“The defense let us down,” said Post 98 skipper Mike Henzley. “We’ve had some issues defensively, but not like this. (All seven errors) seemed to really hurt.”

About the only part of the contest that went well was the bottom of the first when Justin Grassini led with a single, stole second, moved to third on Nick Dutton’s selfless two-strike, right-side infield groundout and then waltzed home on a bomb double to left by Cody Pfeifer.

“Things were going our way with the big hit, but we just were flat the rest of the way,” said Pfeifer.

Starter Pat Harrington strolled through the first four scoreless frames, despite needing to pick up extra outs because of the defense.

But the pitch count rose, and Derry finally took advantage with four in the fifth.

“Pat has been outstanding for us. He pitches strikes, and they put the ball in play against him, but it’s never really a hard-hit ball,” said Henzley. “We usually track them down and make the plays, but the guys weren’t behind him today.”

Harrington left with two outs in the frame, trailing 4-1, and deserved a better fate.

In the fifth, Derry put it away when Connor Jenkins launched a three-run triple. That offensive eruption was plenty for Post 9 southpaw George Welch, who settled in brilliantly in his six innings of work.

“George is a heck of a pitcher,” said Henzley. “He kept us off balance. We had our opportunities, and we just seemed to squander them.”

Milford’s Jamie Pare got the start for Merrimack in Game 2 and pitched well, but again Post 98 put up little offense against Derry’s David Unkles, who spun a five-hitter. Alex Thornton had two of the Merrimack hits.

Bishop Guertin’s Taylor Proulx had a big day offensively with two hits in the opener for Derry and a key RBI in the nightcap.

“This was important for us,” said Proulx. “We knew we had to be at our best against a very good Merrimack team, and we did that. This keeps us right there in the playoff race.”