By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – Playing with a chill in the air that called October to mind, the Lebanon American Legion Post 22 junior baseball team took a step towards extending its summer campaign Friday. The hosts pinned a 12-4 defeat on Keene Post 4 during their penultimate game of the regular season at Lebanon High.
The 22s, who improved to 6-10, must now defeat visiting Salem Post 63 at noon Saturday in the regular-season finale and hope other cards fall favorably, allowing them to claim one of District A’s final two state tournament berths.
That eight-team, double-elimination event begins next week at Manchester’s Gill Stadium. A fourth-place finish would give Lebanon a matchup with District B champion Exeter (11-5) in the first round.
Keene is 7-8 but has to play at Exeter and Londonderry on Saturday, while Merrimack is 6-10 and visits Dover (8-6). Nashua (13-1) and Berlin (12-2) have already clinched the district’s first two tournament berths.
“Everything’s shook up with rain days, so we’re going to go out tomorrow and do our job and see how it plays out,” said Post 22 coach Chauncey Wood. “These kids, I made them aware of what we were playing for tonight, and they rose to the occasion.”
Hanover High student Freddy Mierke delivered yet another quality pitching start, allowing four hits and four runs, only one of them earned, while striking out seven batters and walking two during a five-inning outing.
“He’s learned to be more efficient,” Wood said. “In the beginning of the (season) he was going four or five innings with 100 pitches. Now, we’re getting into the sixth and even into the seventh. He’s getting ahead and staying ahead and realizing, when the situation allows it, to use his defense.”
Mierke, who played on Hanover’s JV team this spring, said he wasn’t expecting to pitch as much as he has during the summer but views it as a great opportunity. An outfielder when not on the mound, Mierke said his control and pitch movement have increased during the Legion season.
“I went back to the basics today,” he said. “I realized I had sped up my motion, so I worked on slowing it down.”
Fellow Marauder Ian Smith pitched the final two innings, utterly confounding Keene with his off-speed offerings and allowing no hits while striking out two foes and walking none.
“Ian’s got a deceptive move to the plate and he hides the ball well,” Wood said. “He obviously isn’t going to overpower anybody, but something about it is hard to hit.”
Lebanon High’s Bennett Hewett had three hits, a walk and an RBI. Another Raider, Bodie Benoit, delivered two hits and two RBIs. The game was tied, 3-3, during the third inning, but Post 22 jumped ahead, 6-3, during its next at-bat.
“I usually have a lineup the night before a game, but the last four or five games, we’ve had to wait until game time to make one, just to see who’s here,” Wood said, noting that players come and go because of vacations and other commitments. “Our shortstop today (Oliver Sperry) got here three minutes before the game.”
Salem is 4-12 but Wood, for one, won’t be taking Saturday’s opponent for granted.
“At this point of the year, records don’t mean anything because the senior tournament is done and everybody’s loading up on seniors,” Wood said, referring to senior-level players who are young enough to retain junior eligibility. “We are the only team keeping true to our beginning-of-the-year roster. We have nobody who played senior much.”
Notes: Lebanon competed without starter Spencer Cunningham, who injured his back this week while weightlifting… Post 22’s senior team missed qualifying for the state tournament for the first time in recent memory this season. The juniors have also been reliably consistent in reaching the postseason… Valley News reporter Seth Tow brought his Daschund-Minature Pinscher mix, Ollie, to the contest and held him under one arm like a football while conducting postgame interviews. Olly is a rescue from Texas who’s experiencing some separation anxiety, so Tow totes him around whenever possible. No word on whether his canine pal will attend hockey games during the winter.
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