Merrimack American Legion baseball comes alive in state tourney

MANCHESTER – It was a long Sunday at the ballyard for the Merrimack Post 98 Senior Legion baseball team.

Grit, character and a flat-out nasty pitching performance from Jake Mainey assured that it wouldn’t be the players’ last day together.

Dropping a brutal 7-4 decision in the morning to Lebanon, Post 98 rallied around the adversity in the evening’s loser’s bracket eliminator and drilled Laconia, 10-0 in five innings, to stay alive here in the New Hampshire Final 8 at Gill Stadium.

Monday at 4:30 p.m., Merrimack faces Concord. The winner plays right back at 7 p.m., for the right to move on to Tuesday’s title game.

“I thought the loss put the fire in us. We came right back and hit the ball well and played well,” said the winning pitcher Mainey, who made it look easy on Sunday night. “It’s a lot of guy’s last seasons here together. We want to keep playing. It’s so important, we’re a very close team. We feel like we can win a championship. We have a lot of talent, and we haven’t won in a long time.”

Mainey was in complete control, so comfortable with the lead in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.

“I was just throwing strikes and getting outs,” said Mainey. “I trusted my defense behind me. I knew we’d play well. You just do your job there.”

Cody Pfeifer and Pat Harrington had first-inning RBI singles to get the offense in gear and the hits just kept coming.

Justin Grassini added an RBI double in the second, Nick Dutton’s two-run triple sparked a five-run uprising in the third that essentially put it away.

Pfeifer and Landon Henzley had two hits each.

Rain on Saturday night made this rugged road even tougher for Post 98 which came back on Sunday morning, trailing Lebanon, 3-0, where the game was picked up.

Post 98 needed a hero and found one in Tyler DeNeill, who hit the

mound and stifled Lebanon immediately.

“He came up with a Herculean effort,” said Post 98 skipper Mike Henzley. “Tyler stepped up, put us right in the game. It was a great effort in what might have his last game. He’s been with us five years, it was a great effort. We just came up a little short.”

Merrimack, sparked by a key Landon Henley double, rallied and knotted things at 4-4, only to see Lebanon score three in the seventh to win it.

“We had those guys on the ropes and didn’t finish it off,” said Henzley.

But with only a couple hours of down time, the Merrimack character kicked in and the bats came alive.

And for that, they get to come back to the ballpark and battle again Monday evening.

“Alex Thornton was a starter in high school and after that and he’ll be on the mound against Concord,” said Henzley. “After that, everyone is on deck. They want to keep playing, it’s great to see.”