By Tris Wykes

LEBANON – The Lebanon American Legion Post 22 senior baseball batter knocked a line drive into the outfield Saturday, then took a big turn at first base. He started to return to the bag, hesitated, took a tentative step towards second base, then scurried back to safety.

In the adjacent coach’s box, Rob Woodward was tied in reactionary knots. 

Lebanon American Legion Post 22 senior baseball coach Rob Woodward watches his team. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“Watch it, watch it… get back… no!” the team’s longtime leader spluttered. With action concluded, Woodward gave his head a shake and pushed down on the top of his helmet, as if steeling himself for the next unpredictable play.

“There’s a lot of stuff we need to learn to play ball here, so there’s going to be a breaking-in period,” Woodward said after his team split a doubleheader with Manchester’s Sweeney Post 2. “But when this group gets it, we’ll get it done. You got to be a little bit patient with them, but not a whole lot.”

Famous for his gruff demeanor and willingness to verbal chew on unfocused players, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher has only three returnees from last summer’s team. It wasn’t sanctioned by the Legion because of Covid-19, but essentially functioned in the same fashion.

This year’s senior crop is so young that many of its members refer to Woodward as “Sir” and are clearly intimidated by their 6-foot-3, broad-shouldered boss. 

“What were you thinking?!” Woodward barked at one of his players during last weekend’s scrimmage loss to White River Junction Post 84. The boy responded that he did not know.

“I don’t either!” Woodward said in exaggerated exasperation, then sauntered away.

Saturday, Post 22 captured the opener, 8-4, before losing the nightcap, 5-3. 

Lebanon American Legion Post 22 senior pitcher Jackson Horne delivers against Sweeney. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Lanky Woodsville High product Jackson Horne won the first contest, allowing 10 hits and two walks while striking out four batters and hitting two. Centerfielder Braeden Falzarano of Lebanon High produced a double and a triple and the hosts batted around during a four-run fourth inning that earned them a 5-3 lead.

Hanover High’s Trevor Pierce started the second game on the mound but didn’t retire a batter before exiting with a 3-0 deficit and the bases loaded. Reliever Zach Howland surrendered a sacrifice fly and Lebanon trailed, 4-0, after half an inning, but it pulled within 4-3 after its initial turn at the plate.

Howland got the hook during the fourth inning in favor of Sunapee High’s Harper Flint. The two combined to allow Sweeney (2-2) one hit and one run after the first inning, but Lebanon’s offense couldn’t get untracked. The defense suffered a few fielding errors and Post 22 players several times left bases uncovered and its pitchers remained rooted to the mound after surrendering multi-base hits.

“We got to work on catching the ball more often and getting the signs,” Woodward said. “The game is a little bit quick up here for these guys. 

“It’s all stuff that can be fixed, but this season’s so quick that if you don’t grab it and go, it’s over with. Next weekend, we’ll be halfway through the season and it seems like we just started.”

Said Flint: “I think it’s just nerves. We need to make the right play and not let one mistake turn into a lot of mistakes. We make one error and then we fall apart.”

Lebanon struggled late in the afternoon against Sweeney’s quick-pitching Jacob Plamondon, who delivered throws fewer than 10 seconds apart, and sometimes as fast as six. Lebanon’s batters were left off-balance and only two called for time and stepped out of the box in an effort to break the righthander’s rhythm. 

Post 22’s own pitchers fared well overall, a good sign early in the schedule.

Lebanon American Legion Post 22 senior baseball’s Dominic Nutting, left, congratulates Jordan Chappell upon the latter’s scoring. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“We hit the strike zone quite a few times,” Woodward said. “But we forget how to go at (batters) when we’re up in the count. We correct them and then two innings later, we go back to what we used to do. We’re almost totally new.”

Flint, one of the few returnees, said Woodward has enlisted their aid to pass on the team’s culture and reminders of numerous, small details that come into play at the senior Legion level.

“He has us communicate that so he doesn’t have to do it all the time,” Flint said. “Today was a big step up for us from the first game (a 14-9 loss at Concord), when it got pretty ugly in the field. We just fell short at the end of the second game and couldn’t put a run together.”

Notes: Post 22 shortstop Dominic Nutting needed eight stitches to suture a u-shaped cut on one finger, suffered while sliding into second base and getting stepped on by a Sweeney infielder… Hedgepeth, normally a third baseman, made an amazing catch at shortstop during the second game’s fifth inning, fully extending to snare a looper to his right. The next ball hit to the Hanover High student resulted in an error… Missed by many during the twin bill was the portable toilet normally stationed behind the Lebanon High backstop. Post 22 business manager Pete St. Pierre said he’s hopeful for its return next week… Trevor Pierce’s twin brother, Colin, was Hanover’s starting shortstop this spring. However, St. Pierre said Colin Pierce isn’t playing baseball this summer, instead working to improve his football quarterbacking skills… White River Junction Post 84 assistant Tom Avellino attend the first game and Woodward’s son, Jake, a 2010 Lebanon High graduate and former St. John’s (N.Y.) University pitcher, watched part of the second contest… Hanover’s Wes Stocken played right field during the second game after missing the opener because of an Eagle Scout commitment. The rising senior won a scouting award for a book he wrote on endangered rhinoceroses entitled “One of the Lucky Ones”. It’s part of libraries at schools and towns in Hanover, Canaan, Etna and in his mother’s native Alabama… Flint said he’s headed for Bentley (Mass.) University in a few months and hopes to earn a baseball roster spot during walk-on tryouts.

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Lebanon American Legion Post 22 senior runner Braeden Falzarano beats a pickoff throw back to first base. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.