Concord Post 21 enters Legion baseball tourney on a roll
Post 21 will be one of the eight baseball teams at Nashua’s Holman Stadium tomorrow for the start of the American Legion senior state tournament. But the Concord-based team needed some late-season magic to get there.
Post 21’s finishing kick began last Thursday with a 9-5 win over Bedford Post 54, which also qualified for the state tournament. Bedford opened up a 2-0 lead after one inning, but Concord came back with four runs in the third, four more in the fourth and hung on for the win behind the pitching of Jon Lewis, Seimou Smith and Josh Partridge.
But that was just the beginning of the last-minute theatrics.
After losing to Laconia on Saturday, 6-3, Post 21 needed two wins on Sunday, the final day of the regular season, to reach the tournament. Smith delivered the first win, throwing a complete-game shutout for a 5-0 decision in Keene.
The second contest was in Lebanon, the completion of a July 16 game that had already seen a miracle comeback. Concord trailed 10-2 going into the ninth back on July 16, but scored eight runs to force extra innings, which were cut short due to darkness. It took some time to get the game done on Sunday, but Post 21 eventually pulled out the win, and the tournament berth, with six runs in the top of the 15th for a 17-11 victory.
“At one point we were 5-6 in the middle of the summer and fighting just to get back to .500,” Post 21 Coach Matt Skoby said. “But we were able to win six of our last seven games … and I think overall we’re playing really good baseball right now, which is good for us going into the tournament.”
Post 21, which has players from Concord High, Pembroke Academy, Merrimack Valley, St. Paul’s, Bow and Pittsfield, will certainly enter the tournament with plenty of momentum, but it’s not the only team on a roll. Rochester Post 7, the defending champion, is on a 13-game winning streak.
The top four teams from the state’s two districts qualified for the double-elimination tournament. The District A teams are Lebanon (14-4), Sweeney Post 2 of Manchester (14-4), Concord (11-7) and Bedford (11-7). The District B representatives are Rochester (16-2), Dover (14-4), Hudson (11-7) and Derry (10-8). Concord will face Dover in its opener tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Holman.
Pitching has been the strength for Post 21 this summer, with three Concord High players – Lewis, Smith and Partridge – and Merrimack Valley’s Jake Landry leading the way.
“We really have four very solid pitchers who I feel confident in and I can put any of them on the mound for tournament play,” said Skoby, who has been the assistant varsity coach at Concord High for the last five years.
Lewis had an outstanding senior season for the Crimson Tide this spring and he’s carried it over into Legion play, posting a 1.03 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 35 innings of work.
Chris Gauss, who just finished his senior year at Pembroke, is leading the team with a .418 average and Smith is hitting .402. But Post 21 has gotten offensive contributions from all over the roster, as their .289 team average suggests. Chapin Bassi, who will be a sophomore at St. Paul’s in the fall, is hitting .330, Concord’s Nick Dupre had three hits and three RBI in the win over Keene on Sunday, and his Crimson Tide teammate Brad Murphy had two RBI in the completion of the Lebanon game.
Defense has been the weak link for Post 21, but the team has a solid defensive foundation in catcher Chris Fournier from Bow.
“He’s really been the backbone of our defense. He’s a captain out on the field,” Skoby said of Fournier. “Some of these guys are hard to catch for, I know Partridge’s ball moves all over the place, but I’m never really worried about passed balls when Fournier is back there. He’s also thrown out a ton of guys and has just been really solid for us.”
If the rest of the defense can follow Fournier’s lead, Post 21 might make some noise at Holman.
“For us it’s going to come down to playing solid defense. When we have made mistakes in the field, and our guys know this, the mistakes have hurt us in close games,” Skoby said. “So I think the pitching will be consistent, like it has been all summer, and I think we’ll continue to have good at-bats and score some runs. If we can make plays in the field, too, I think we can go pretty deep.”
∎ The winner of the tournament will advance to the Northeast Regional in Middletown, Conn., scheduled for Aug. 7-11. The Legion World Series will be Aug. 15-19 in Shelby, N.C.
∎ Rochester will try to be the first repeat New Hampshire champion since Jutras Post of Manchester did it in 1996-97.
∎ Post 21 won the state title in 2012 with 11 players – eight from Concord and three from Hopkinton – who had just won high school state championships.
∎ Tomorrow’s schedule begins with Derry vs. Lebanon at 9 a.m., followed by Hudson vs. Sweeney at noon, Concord vs. Dover at 4 p.m. and Bedford vs. Rochester at 7 p.m.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or 369-3341 or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)