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Gates, Pembroke baseball get past Merrimack Valley, 4-1

  • Pembroke Academy's Jeremy Caruso, left, dives for the ball as Merrimack Valley High School's Riley Linehan, right, successfully steals second base during a game in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke Academy's Jeremy Caruso, left, dives for the ball as Merrimack Valley High School's Riley Linehan, right, successfully steals second base during a game in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke Academy's Gus Connolly is safe at first base during a pickoff attempt in a game against Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke Academy's Gus Connolly is safe at first base during a pickoff attempt in a game against Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke Academy's Autrey Gates throws a pitch during a game against Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Pembroke Academy's Autrey Gates throws a pitch during a game against Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley High School's David Drouin throws a pitch during a game against Pembroke Academy in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley High School's David Drouin throws a pitch during a game against Pembroke Academy in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley High School's third baseman Brooks Kimball, left, tries to tag out Pembroke Academy's Seth Gonya, #20, during a game in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley High School's third baseman Brooks Kimball, left, tries to tag out Pembroke Academy's Seth Gonya, #20, during a game in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.

    (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

  • Pembroke Academy's Jeremy Caruso, left, dives for the ball as Merrimack Valley High School's Riley Linehan, right, successfully steals second base during a game in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Pembroke Academy's Gus Connolly is safe at first base during a pickoff attempt in a game against Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Pembroke Academy's Autrey Gates throws a pitch during a game against Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley High School's David Drouin throws a pitch during a game against Pembroke Academy in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley High School's third baseman Brooks Kimball, left, tries to tag out Pembroke Academy's Seth Gonya, #20, during a game in Penacook. The Pembroke Academy Spartans defeated the Merrimack Valley Pride by a score of 4-1; Monday May 20, 2013.<br/><br/>(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

The Pembroke Academy baseball team couldn’t touch David Drouin. It didn’t have to.

The Merrimack Valley pitcher struck out 16 batters, but one inning came back to haunt him, as the Spartans’ plate discipline allowed them to take advantage of Drouin’s wild spell in the fourth and earn a 4-1 victory in a matchup between two of Division II’s top teams.

“I still don’t think we’ve played our best, but I think this propels us north to continue to get better,” said Pembroke Coach Josh Coughlin, whose team improved to 12-4. “We’ve been swinging the bat, and then to face one of the best in the state, and to fight and to compete, the confidence goes up a little bit.”

The meeting between the Spartans and Pride (10-5) had an added dramatic context in that both teams were starting their aces, as Pembroke gave the ball to senior Autrey Gates. While Gates did his part to hold down the Pride hitters, Drouin was overpowering. The MV senior blitzed through the first three innings, recording all nine outs by strikeout and allowing only two baserunners, on a walk and an error.

“The bottom line is, David Drouin is one of the best in the state,” Coughlin said. “He came out throwing strikes, gassing us.”

A crack finally formed in the dominant right-hander’s armor in the fourth, however, as Drouin had trouble finding the plate and the Spartans, sensing their opportunity, waited him out. Drouin bookended a Seth Gonya walk with a pair of strikeouts, but then issued a free pass to Martinez, with Gonya (who had stolen second and third) scoring when ball four went off the catcher’s glove and to the backstop. The struggles continued, as Gates and Mike Barnum walked to load the bases, and Jeremy Caruso walked to bring in Martinez for the second run of the inning.

Drouin pulled himself together to notch his 12th strikeout to end the inning, but the damage was done. Forty-six pitches, five walks and two runs, and the Pride had gone from cruising to stuck in a hole.

“For us, it was one inning,” MV Coach Sean Wheeler said. “Walks have been not an issue all year. … Obviously, the first couple of innings (Drouin) was lights out. Then I thought after that he pressed a little bit. Obviously, those five walks killed.”

Pembroke had its most productive offensive inning in the fifth, as Gus Connolly walked, Shane St. Onge picked up the team’s first hit with a single up the middle and Mike Martinez drove in both with a double down the left field line – the Spartans’ second, and final, hit of the day.

“My kids never give up, they’ve got a lot of heart, they’ve got a lot of fight,” Coughlin said. “They kept attacking.”

Given the lead, Gates closed the deal. He allowed an unearned run in the fifth but allowed only one hit in the final three innings, finishing with six strikeouts and only four hits allowed.

“He’s our leader, and he’s been our leader since he was a sophomore,” Coughlin said. “He’s going to go out there and compete against anybody. … I put the ball in Autrey Gates’s hand against anybody in this state.”

Gates acknowledged that the opportunity to go against Drouin stirred his competitive side, even in a good-natured way – the two were American Legion teammates a season ago.

“I’d say the adrenaline gets a little higher. I think it helps me, when I play a guy that I know,” Gates said. “The way we fought has really been the story of the season, especially against big guys like that.”

MV threatened to seize control of the game immediately before the Pembroke rally, as the Pride got a leadoff single by Riley Linehan in the third and put runners at the corners when Gates fielded Andrew Peick’s bunt, tried to get the lead runner and threw it into center field. Gates slipped out of trouble, however, getting back-to-back strikeouts and, after walking Drouin, forcing a flyout to right that ended the threat.

“I thought we’d have other opportunities,” Wheeler said. “It changes the whole (game). They come in and they have a little high off that, we get a little down on ourselves for a couple of innings. We were hopeful that we’d have more opportunities, but they weren’t there.”

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