By Tris Wykes

NORWICH – The Hanover High baseball team’s dream of an undefeated season and an NHIAA Division II title died Friday at the hands of John Stark’s Austin Hazzard during a 4-3 loss.

Specifically, it was the senior’s right hand, which helped him strike out 10 Marauders and limit them to four hits, none after the fourth inning at the Dresden Athletic Fields. The second-round NHIAA Division II playoff result ended Hanover’s campaign at 13-1 while the Generals improved to 11-3.

Hanover High catcher John Hill swings and misses. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

What could have been an all-Upper Valley final for Region 4 instead won’t have any local representation. Lebanon lost at last-place ConVal on a two-out, walkoff home run Thursday. The Cougars and John Stark play today for a berth in the semifinals.

“It’s tough, because this really felt like the year,” said Hanover pitcher Sam Sacerdote, who allowed six hits and no earned runs while striking out six Generals and walking none.”I’m still hopeful, because we’ve got pretty much the whole team coming back next year. We’re going to be pretty good.”

Hanover center fielder Ben Williams, the Upper Valley’s best high school player, said after the game that he’d donned a Marauders uniform for the final time. The sophomore, headed to Connecticut prep school power Avon Old Farms, is saddened to depart without a championship.

“We just didn’t see that kind of competition during the regular season,” Williams said. “We expected them to be that good, but it’s really hard to execute when they have a pitcher working like he did. He had complete command all game long.”

Hazzard allowed only two earned runs and one walk while throwing 67 strikes among his 100 pitches. He hit a batter and uncorked two wild pitches but delivered a masterful performance overall.

“The kid threw really well and he didn’t make mistakes,” said admiring Hanover coach John Grainger, whose team played local foes only because of Covid-19 concerns. “I brought (former Marauders) back to pitch to us during practice, but there’s no pressure then and it’s very different. Our schedule didn’t prepare us for the (postseason).”

Williams said Hazzard got stronger as the game progressed.

Hanover High pitcher Sam Sacerdote, left, listens to assistant coach Larry Ruffing between innings. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“When he started getting us out consistently, you could definitely see the look in his eyes and he was starting to talk a little bit on the mound,” Williams said. “I was like, ‘Oh, here we go.’ 

“He’s the best pitcher we faced all season. He threw a slider, curveball and fastball all for strikes consistently.”

John Stark took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, using a single, a stolen base and another single to get on the scoreboard.

Hanover answered with two runs in its half of the opening frame. Williams sprinted to first on a ground ball bobbled by the second baseman, then stole second and took third on a wild pitch. Wes Stocken drove him home with a single, stole second and third and scored himself on a Mason Gantrish single.

The Marauders pushed their lead to 3-1 during the fourth inning. Gantrish singled and went to second on a wild pitch before scoring on an infield throwing error. The hosts, however, didn’t have another hit the rest of the way and managed their only base runner on another infield error. Hazzard retired the last nine batters he faced.

“We have kids at the bottom of the (batting) order who aren’t used to that kind of pitching,” Grainger said. “They haven’t seen someone throwing 84 or 85 miles per hour.”

John Stark scored three times during the fifth inning, all with two outs. A single was followed by a Colin Pierce throwing error from shortstop, another single and then Brady Philibotte’s seeing-eye double into the left-field corner that left the Marauders shaking their heads.

Hanover High catcher John Hill reaches for a throw while John Stark’s Nathan Innerfield covers his head. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“Sam threw it down and away, almost in the dirt, and (Philibotte) just golfed it into left field,” Williams said. 

Said Sacerdote: “I didn’t think the game was over, but that was probably the turning point.”

Grainger said Friday’s clash should have occurred in at least the quarterfinals and probably the semifinals, given the quality of the teams involved. Instead, the tournaments’s random draw meant that regular-season records were meaningless.

“When you lose and you’re not supposed to, it sucks,” Grainger said. “But there’s this piece of me that knew this was going to be a real challenge. We just didn’t hit and we had one, big costly error and that ended up being the game.”

Notes: A pregame announcement informed spectators that they had to wear masks although the players did not. Compliance was spotty… Hanover will graduate only one senior, Hank Trimble, who spent the entire season with the varsity, and is slated to return 10 juniors and two sophomores… Williams and Sacerdote will suit up for the New England Ruffnecks this summer. The Massachusetts organization touts itself online as a “nonprofit college development program”, which plays both in the region and at tournaments around the country… Grainger has coached at Hanover for six years. The Marauders were 4-13 during his first campaign… Longtime local umpire Pete DePalo worked the plate Friday.

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Hanover High players, including a hatless Hank Trimble, listen to coach John Grainger after the game. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.