By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – Chauncey Wood, coach of the Lebanon American Legion Post 22 junior baseball team, tried to rally his troops Saturday. Boy, did he try.
Wood cajoled, pleaded, barked and educated. The bearded Orford resident called half a dozen gatherings during his squad’s regular-season finale against visiting Salem Post 63, but the pep talks went for naught during a 16-14 loss that eliminated the hosts from state tournament contention.
Lebanon was no doubt galled to lose to District B’s last-place team at such a critical stage. However, its already-young roster was depleted by injuries and absent vacationers and Wood was disappointed but philosophical afterwards. Post 22 suffered several emotional slumps that proved its undoing.
“It’s the story of our whole season,” said Wood, who watched his 6-11 club commit eight errors and run the bases poorly. “We have one bad inning and our heads go down and they struggle to get back.
“I came in from every direction to figure out how to get them going, but sometimes the hardest part of coaching is reaching your kids. Today was one of them days, but we figured things out during the last inning and just came up a little short.”
Lebanon scored four runs during its final at-bat and had runners on second and third before Nick Brill ended the game with a soft liner the Salem third baseman caught with a dive. Post 22 stranded 12 runners and often seemed tired and flat while playing what amounted to its second elimination game in fewer than 24 hours.
“This has been an emotional, roller-coast kind of year and it takes a toll on a young group like this, which isn’t used to pressure situations,” said Wood, who oversaw a defeat of visiting Keene Post 4 on Friday night. “But this is how you build character and now they’ve been through it, so they’ll do better the next time around.”
Post 22 led, 3-0, after an inning, 4-2 after three frames and 7-4 upon the fourth inning’s completion. Salem (5-12) initially looked overmatched but turned the tables with seven runs during the fifth inning and five more during the sixth.
“Someone take charge of this team, please!” Wood exorted, staring at a sea of blank faces midway through the fifth. “Stop hanging your heads. You’re still in this game.”
Lebanon rallied for three runs during the sixth inning and those four tallies in the seventh, but the defensive damage had been done.
“At the beginning of the season, we had a lot of kids who didn’t have the necessary baseball IQ,” said Wood, who’s also the Lebanon High coach. “Although we didn’t end it the right way, our baseball IQ is getting better. We’ve become more versatile and the last two games we hit the ball well.”
Brill, whose team had not lost a game in which he pitched this summer, got the start but only lasted three innings before pulling a hamstring and moving to third base. The Grantham resident allowed four hits and three runs, two of them earned, while striking out three batters and walking two.
“He couldn’t turn on the ball at the plate or run like he usually does,” Wood said of No. 23. “He’s had a great season on the mound, but as soon as he started forcing the ball because he couldn’t push off his back leg, we knew something was up.”
Brill was replaced by Bennett Hewett who allowed no hits and five runs, only two of them earned. He issued four walks and recorded two strikeouts. The hosts’ last two pitchers, Ian Smith and Owen Aubin, combined to surrender five hits and eight runs, just two of them earned, although Aubin walked five batters during the three-hour contest.
Left fielder Shea Curley led Post 22’s offense with four hits and an RBI. Zander Doyle had two hits and three RBIs, Brill had a hit and drew two walks and Jackson Cote drew four bases on balls.
“We’re rebuilding and every (Legion program) goes through something like this,” Wood said of his program’s down year record-wise. “This just happened to be the year that we dealt with that, but we have a lot of young talent and I think it’s going to get better from here.”
Notes: Lebanon played for a second consecutive day without starters Spencer Cunningham (injured back) and Ben Achmoody (vacation). Two other starters, Oliver Sperry and Easton Wykes, were out of town Saturday… Doyle, a student at Holderness School in Plymouth, N.H., finished the Legion season without a strikeout… Brill is also a speedy soccer forward and is expected to have an impact on Lebanon High’s varsity in the near future… Lebanon High student and Post 22 reserve Matt Eylander earned the widely-used nickname “Mr. Beast” this summer, perhaps in relation to the American stunt YouTuber with 65 million followers… Post 22 assistant Jon Hamel, formerly Newport High’s baseball and girls soccer coach, now runs the Kearsarge baseball program.
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