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Concord Post 21 ousted from state American Legion tournament by Laconia Post 1

CONCORD – Concord Post 21 began the state American Legion tournament by seeing how great things could be when its top strength was present. It took two days for Concord to see how grisly things got when it wasn’t.

Linchpins all season, defense and pitching failed Post 21 at the worst time, leading to an 8-4 loss to Laconia Post 1 yesterday that ended Concord’s attempt at a second straight state title only three games into the tournament at Memorial Field.

The frustrations of an early exit were spread out over two days for Concord, which fell behind 8-2 Sunday night before rain forced the game to be suspended until yesterday morning. Post 21 scored two more runs before seeing the game, and its season, come to a close.

“It’s disappointment because I think that we didn’t play up to our capabilities in this tournament,” Coach Bryan Caruso. “You have to be very tough, (with) thick skin in order to go out here and win something like this, and at times, I don’t think we were. We were definitely a little bit tougher last year, maybe we were a little bit hungrier last year.”

The game ended yesterday morning, but Caruso said the loss was set in place a day earlier, when a 5-3 afternoon loss to Lebanon deflated Post 21 in its first game following a tension-filled 2-1 win over Londonderry on Saturday.

Concord had to take the field again that night to keep its tournament hopes alive, and Caruso said the spark from before wasn’t there.

“The Lebanon game (Sunday) set the tone for us,” he said. “Even (I) thought it was hard to come back and say, ‘All right, we’ve got to play another nine-inning game, and an elimination game.’ ”

Concord had beaten Laconia twice during the regular season, but Post 1 was a stiffer challenge with elimination on the line. Post 21 took a 1-0 lead in the second when Evan Vulgamore scored on an error, but Laconia scored a pair of runs in both the second and third innings to take a 4-1 lead and chase starter Eddie Dionne, who Caruso said was showing fatigue.

“What we did not think was going to happen happened, which is that our pitchers looked tired,” he said. “I’ve coached Eddie since he was 12 years old. I’ve seen him pitch probably 100 games, and it just looked like the innings are catching up to him a little bit.”

Dillon Emerson came on in relief, and after Concord cut the gap to 4-2 when Vulgamore (3-for-5) singled in Matt McCormack in the top of the fifth, it was the defense’s turn to let Post 21 down in the bottom half. A throwing error and dropped popup allowed three more runs for Post 1, and Brian Baca (double) and Trevor Chapin (single) had back-to-back hits to score Ryder Arsenault with a fourth and put Concord in a deep 8-2 hole.

The rain picked up two innings later, giving Post 21 what felt like little more than a stay of execution.

“This is a completely different game if we look up and we come in here today and it’s 5-2 to start,” Caruso said. “We were so down (Sunday) that this thing was wrapped up and we were on our way home. … I did not like (Sunday) night how, when we got down, our body language and everything on the bench (was).”

The wait, however, seemed to re-energize Post 21, which chipped away in its first time at-bat after the stoppage. Emerson walked and Chris Fournier singled to left, and McCormack drilled a double over the left fielder’s head to score both and make it 8-4 and pull Concord within range of a rally.

Caruso acknowledged that the suspension gave his team a chance to put the situation in the proper perspective, and that the Post 21 squad that showed up yesterday was different than the one that walked off the field Sunday.

“I think guys got to recoup and think a little bit (that) ‘This could be the last time I put this jersey on, or last time I play baseball ever,’ ” he said. “I think when that sets in a little bit, the guys came out with a little more energy.”

Concord kept up the fight in the ninth, as Autrey Gates and Shane St. Onge (who pitched 3 2∕3 scoreless innings) hit singles, but a pair of strikeouts and a popup to short ended Post 21’s final chance. The ending was fitting, considering how the tournament as a whole had gone for its host. The bats were cold throughout for Post 21, and when the pitching and defense weren’t there to bail them out, the task became too much to ask of the defending champions.

“We had a bunch of comeback wins (last year) because we battled everybody. We made them work for every out,” Caruso said. “Looking back (this year), we really didn’t get it going on full cylinders.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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