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Hard lesson learned by Nashua Senior Legion team

It was a gorgeous Thursday at Worcester’s Fitton Field, the diamond totally sun-splashed.

Beyond the baseball facility, the Holy Cross College football team was out on the field inside Fitton Football Stadium, just stretching and running, nothing major.

But the Nashua Legion Post 124 Senior team really couldn’t enjoy it, because it was enduring a tough class in the Northeast Regional School of Hard Knocks.

The locals’ regional experience, first for a Nashua team since 1998, lasted less than 24 hours, and Post 124 was the first team eliminated from the Regional. The players found out the hard way the difference between state tournament play and regional play.

“What we saw here, we know what level we need to compete at,” Nashua manager Tim Lunn told his players under a right field tent after the game.

They certainly did. Wednesday they faced two dynamic Lawrence, Mass.pitchers that combined to shut them out, mainly because of a couple of base running miscues that prevented Nashua from scoring while twice having runners on second and third and none out.

And Thursday was like watching Hangover Four. Nashua was a dead team walking, especially when it was obvious starting pitcher Zach Finkelstein didn’t have it. A team can’t issue nine walks and hit two batters and expect to win.

“You’ve got to play clean baseball,” Lunn said. “I hope the kids realize as a team what’s expected.”

“The competition’s a lot better than New Hampshire,” perhaps Nashua’s best player, Brett Anderson said. “We saw a lot of good pitchers, and had a hard time adjusting.”

Bottom line: Nashua wasn’t in New Hampshire anymore, where the talent level in Legion ball is way down from several years ago. For example, in the state tourney,Nashua could give up 12 runs in two innings and still come out with a win like it did vs. Concord. You give up 12 runs, period, in two games, let alone, one, in the Northeast Regional and you’re toast.

“We knew coming in it was going to be a huge difference in terms of the competition we were going to face,” Lunn said. “I think we were there. … (Wednesday) we showed we could compete at this level against some top arms.”

But not beat those top arms. That’s what you need to be able to do.

Finkelstein has had big game experience, helping McGill University win a Canadian National Championship last fall. Now, unfortunately, he won’t have to tell McGill coach Casey Auerbach he might be late for preseason workouts that begin this weekend.

“It takes consistency,” Finkelstein said when asked what it takes to win in a tournament like this. “If you go out there and do the routine stuff in baseball, it’s not like other sports. You don’t have to do the crazy things you see in other sports.

“If you can field the routine ground ball, get the timely hits, have smart at bats, throw strikes, get a little luck, things can go your way. All these teams are good teams, and I count us as one of those.”

But what Nashua also needed to do was have the same “good team” mentality of its Stamford opponent. The Connecticut state champ was bludgeoned by that familiar 11-1 score in the tourney opener vs. Cumberland, R.I.on Thursday. The next day, they took it out on Nashua, rather than the other way around.

“Obviously there’s no tomorrow, you have to have a one-game mentality, one pitch at a time,” Stamford manager Kevin Murray said. “We’re here for the long haul. Great teams every day, great arms, you have to go one pitch at a time.”

And Nashua found out the pitching difference, with just five hits combined in the two games.

That’s really all you need to know.

“Overall the bats went quiet this week,” Lunn said. “We swung it pretty well in New Hampshire in the state tournament, we swung it well pretty much all summer. We just didn’t have it. … It was a learning experience for the kids and a learning experience for myself, too.”

Class, unfortunately, dismissed.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK, or tking@nashuatelegraph.com