By Tris Wykes

NORWICH – It was only the top of the first inning, but Hanover High baseball coach John Grainer had seen enough Monday afternoon. The sixth-year bench boss bolted from the dugout to the on-deck circle at the Dresden Athletic Fields.

“Wake up!” Grainger screamed at his infielders after visiting Stevens successfully executed a delayed double steal. Undefeated Hanover appeared to have hit the figurative snooze button.

Hanover High’s Ben Williams, left, is congratulated by assistant coach Larry Ruffing after scoring against Stevens. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

A few minutes later, the generally mild-mannered coach raised his eyebrows in reflection. 

“Might be one of the only times this season they give me a reason to yell,” Grainger said with a slight smile.

Sure enough, after pulling within two runs of the Cardinals in their first at-bat, the Marauders scored three times during the second inning and twice more in the fourth, en route to an eventual 11-3 victory. Hanover (7-0) overcame its first deficit of the season and visits Stevens (2-2) on Wednesday for another NHIAA Division II clash.

“It’s good they responded,” Grainger said of his players. “They put a run on the board right away. Baseball’s won on big innings and we put a couple big ones up there.”

Hanover starting pitcher Wes Stocken seemed on edge to begin the game. The junior righthander kicked his heel with repeated force at the clay in front of the rubber, shouted when he thought he’d delivered a good pitch and glared around as if he’d been told dinner would have to wait.

“He’s a pretty emotional player and really into it,” said Grainger, whose 2019 team was 8-9 and exited the playoffs in the first round. “In this game, you have to try and stay on an even keel, because you can’t be that up for seven innings in a row. I told him to settle down and cut it out. You can’t be holding on to every single call by the umpire.

“I wanted to see him tone it down and he did. And he threw better, too.”

Stocken surrendered five hits and three runs, two of them earned, during six innings of work, striking out five Cardinals and walking one. He used fewer combined pitches to retire the visitors during the second, third and fourth innings than he needed to do the job in the opening frame.

Hanover’s Ben Williams, Sam Sacerdote and John Hill, the lineup’s first three batters, each had two hits, as did Mason Gantrish. Williams, who smoked a double and a triple, and Hill also had two RBIs apiece and Declan Flynn drew three walks.

Hanover High’s Joe Davis, right, watches alongside Sam Sacerdote, center, and John Hill. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Hanover has a real chance to go undefeated during the regular season, aided by a restricted, local schedule caused by Covid-19 safety precautions. Grainger said he and athletic director Megan Sobel have tried to find other opponents who might provide the Marauders stiffer completion, but everyone’s booked up or located in parts of the state where the school district doesn’t want its teams to currently venture.

That means a Hanover team hoping to win the program’s first-ever state title has no idea what the playoffs might bring. Which foes and individual opponents should they monitor and try to scout? Grainger has worked the phones in an attempt to survey the landscape, but that only goes so far.

“The general consensus is that it seems to be sort of a down year, talent-wise,” he said. “That’s good for us. It’s a good year to be good. That’s what happened in 2018 when we went to the (division semifinals). There was us and three other teams that were good.

“But it’s hard to tell, because all the (Division II) teams are playing down, playing a lot of Division III and IV teams.”

Stevens starter Zack Bundy pitched four innings Monday, allowing seven hits and six runs, three of them earned. The junior righthander struck out one Marauder and walked two. The Cardinals had seven hits, two of them by Owen Taylor, committed four errors and surrendered five stolen bases.

Notes: Hanover’s home field backs up to steep drop-offs on both sides, meaning almost any foul ball requires retrieval from wooded areas or an adjacent industrial parking lot. Monday, Stocken went down the hill to get one ball and wound up shagging four before climbing back up the incline – and then having to chase a fifth ball clipped over his head… Despite their physical and cultural distance from any genuine ranches or cowboys, the Hanover players cued up almost exclusively country music on their field’s sound system… Taylor is the only Stevens player with varsity experience prior to this season.

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Hanover High pitcher Wes Stocken delivers against Stevens. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.