Nashua claws its way past Exeter for state Legion crown
NASHUA – Max Mello had one thought and one thought only in his battle Tuesday against Exeter Post 32 reliever Collin Burleigh.
“Just don’t strike out again,” he said, referring to three earlier fans. “Put the bat on it and put it in play.”
And Mello did just that, grounding hard off the glove of Exeter Post 32 second baseman Christian Petry, the ball bouncing several feet away as Nashua’s Jake Smith scored all the way from second to give local Post 124 a 3-2, nine-inning state title win.
Nashua entered the day needing to win just one of two possible games, and fortunately they took care of things in Game 1, albeit a little longer than desired.
“It was a long game, but this is what you play for right here, a state championship,” said Smith, who led off the bottom of the ninth with a double just inside the right field line.“You’ve just got to bear down. You’ve just to keep fighting and digging, it’s well worth it in the end.”
It was an epic battle that took two extra frames, but for Nashua, the tourney’s top seed, the wait was well worth it. It wasn’t nearly as long as the wait in between Legion state titles, as the last one came in 1998. Nashua will now head to the New England Regionals in Worcester, Mass. at Holy Cross College’s Fitton Field at Hanover Insurance Park beginning next Wednesday.
But scratching and clawing for Post 124 was nothing new. The locals were down 1-0 and 2-1 and drew even each time.
“It’s something that we’ve done all season,” Nashua manager Tim Lunn said. “Every single game that we’re in, whether we’re down or up, nobody quits. Especially when we’re down. Chip away, chip away, and grind out.”
The heroes were many. There was reliever Varun Lingadal, who is playing his final summer of baseball and in his last Holman Stadium appearance would toss five innings of scoreless relief, spelling starter Henri Boudreau. With the no decision, Boudreau is still a combined 12-0 with high school (Hollis Brookline) and summer ball.
“I was feeling good, pumping strikes,and my team was making the plays behind me,” Lingadal, headed to Dartmout College in the fall, said. “It worked out”
There was Brett Anderson, who scored two runs and nearly prevented Exeter from plating it’s second with a diving attempt in left field. There were infielders Nik DiLorenzo (third) and Hunter Routhier (shortstop) who made a couple of great defensive plays. Zach Finkelstein, who drove in the game tying run in the fifth, had double digit hits in the tourney but also tossed a one hitter the other night was named tourney MVP.
Boudreau had control issues (five walks, two hit batsmen, a wild pitch) and that helped Exeter grab a 1-0 first inning lead on a Josh Morissette sac fly.
Nashua evened it against Exeter starter Harrison Lendrum – he tossed 7.1 gritty frames – on Direnzo’s bases loaded walk in the bottom of the first.
Exeter regained the lead on Owen McKiernan’s shot to left center that just went off the glove of the diving Anderson with a runner at third and two out. But again, Post 124 evened things with an unearned run (Exeter committed five errors) driven in by Finkelstein’s bloop hit in the bottom of the fifth.
Then the drama just kept going. Lingadal was in trouble in the sixth with the bases loaded and two out but he struck out Burleigh to end the threat. Exeter left 10 men on.
“We needed to get a bigger lead,” Exeter manager Tim Mitropoulos said. “Against a good team, you let them hang around. … I think we missed a few opportunities early on.
“Good battles all the way around. It was just a good baseball game. They’ve got a good program, and I bet they’ll win a few games at the Regionals.”
After Smith’s leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth, Routhier tried to bunt him to third but fouled off a two-strike bunt attempt for a strikeout.
Enter Mello, the leadoff man, who got ahead in the count but was haunted by those three earlier strikeouts. But when he grounded sharply up the middle, another thought entered his head.
“I thought we might just win,” he said, “if it takes a lucky bounce.”
In Nashua’s eyes, it bounced all the way to Worcester.