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New England Roundup: New Hampshire

6/22/2011

Considering the contest's national significance and how the seven-inning bout played out, there's just one way to sum up the Division II baseball final.

It was sensational.

New HampshirePortsmouth High prevailed in a thriller – a game played in 2 hours, 8 minutes but over the course of two days – to stun Seacoast rival St. Thomas Aquinas High of Dover. The Clippers clinched a 9-6 win at the home of Double-A baseball's New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

The last title game of the NHIAA's “Super Saturday,” a June 18 quadruple-header at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, ended with No. 1 seed Portsmouth (20-0) celebrating a fourth consecutive crown and national record-extending 83rd straight win.

“What the program has accomplished and what we've gone through, and the attention (the win streak) has earned, to get to this point and not finish it with a win, that wasn't something I was prepared to deal with,” Portsmouth coach Tim Hopley said. “It was a real important game for us.”

Three storylines from the much-anticipated matchup:

Strange time to start. The game was scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m. Portsmouth ace and Northeastern-bound Keegan Taylor didn't fire the first pitch until 10:23.

The last out wasn't recorded until 12:45 Sunday morning.

STA-Portsmouth followed the Division IV final, delayed 50 minutes by thunder. Weather was just one factor contributing to the lengthy game that pushed back the main event's scheduled start time.

“We gave both teams the option of coming back (to play Sunday). It was late. But everybody preferred to get it in,” NHIAA executive director Pat Corbin said. “We had a tremendous crowd. For the kids, they'll always be able to say, 'We're the ones that played the latest game in the history of New Hampshire.'”

Dueling aces. Five summers ago, they were the Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers for Portsmouth's Little League World Series team that reached the U.S. semifinals. As the clock approached 1 a.m. Sunday, STA ace Jordan Bean and Taylor squared off in the game's key sequence.

Bean, the headliner of the celebrated Little League squad, was tagged for a sixth-inning run that knotted the game at 6-apiece. Taylor stepped to the dish with the bases loaded and two outs.

He hit Bean for a triple down the right-field line. Andy Johnson made a diving stab at the liner, which scored Kyle DiCesare, Aidan O'Leary and Connor McCauley, the former LLWS catcher.

Taylor closed out the Saints in the seventh. He also closed his high school career 25-0 on the mound.

“This is the icing on the cake,” Taylor said. “This is the way anybody imagines going out, having a game like I had.”

Deja vu. This wasn't the first time STA (12-8) suffered a heartbreaking finish in a title game against Portsmouth.

“It had such similarities as 2009, to tell you the truth,” STA coach Marc Schoff said. “We had a lead in the fifth in that (championship) game, too.”

Early Sunday morning, the seventh-seeded Saints took a 6-5 lead into the home sixth. They erased a five-run deficit with six runs over the fourth and fifth frames. They tagged Taylor for a five-spot in the fifth.

Johnson's two-run double scored Bean and Pete Mucher to catapult the Saints into the lead. Nick Gardner's two-run triple and Bean's RBI single were also key hits in the rally.

History, however, repeated itself.

In the 2009 final, the Saints erased a 7-2 deficit and took a one-run lead with six runs in the fifth.

But the lead didn't stand. Mike Montville, now a Maryland Terrapin, unloaded a 400-plus-foot three-run homer to left field in the home half of the frame.

“We knew they were going to hit us. We had to him them back. We did,” Schoff said of this year's game. “Then they hit us back. They had the last punch, unfortunately.”

Division I: Nashua North High clinched its first crown with an 11-6 win over Concord High. The showdown included 28 hits, 36 baserunners and two player ejections.

Top-seeded North (19-4) sent 12 batters to the plate in a six-run third inning. Brandon Karkhanis and Adam Leith had RBI squeeze bunts. Sixth-seeded Concord (14-8) built an early 3-0 courtesy of RBI singles by Pat Cannon, Ed Dionne and Graham McIntire.

North's Matt Fortin finished with three hits and three RBI. Mike Muise and Concord catcher Nick LaCasse were ejected for their heated exchange after Joe Breen executed North's third squeeze play.

Division III: Third-seeded Campbell High of Litchfield avenged two regular-season losses to No. 1 seed Somersworth High with a 4-2 win in the final.

Trailing in the sixth, 1-0, Campbell (16-4) clinched its second title in three seasons with a four-run sixth inning.

Sophomore Nick Freson – who ripped the winning hit in the semifinals when his team was two strikes from elimination – broke the tie with a squeeze bunt. The play scored Chuck Neild.

Nick Mariano and Josh Jacques reached base for Somersworth (18-2) in its last at-bat. But both runners were stranded by Cullan Baker, who scattered seven hits, struck out six batters and issued two walks.

Division IV: In the only final featuring the top seeds, No. 1 Sunapee High survived surrendering 15 of the game's 18 walks to top No. 2 Colebrook High, 13-9. The teams combined to score nine runs in the first inning, a frame that also included a 50-minute thunder delay.

Sunapee (19-1) scored nine of the next 10 runs, highlighted by an RBI single from Troy Fowler, who later belted a run-scoring triple. A squeeze bunt by Cody Hastings helped Colebrook (18-2) build an early 3-0 lead.

SOFTBALL SUPREMACY

Division I: Taylor Carbone defined what it means to be a pitcher helping her own cause.

The junior hurler for Hudson's Alvirne High had four hits, three RBI and two runs scored June 14 at Southern New Hampshire University. Alvirne ousted Concord, 6-0.

Second-seeded Alvirne completed its first championship campaign 20-3. Concord, the No. 4 seed, closed at 17-5. The shutout was Carbone's 12th of the season.

Division II: Jenna Marchione locked up Laconia High's first crown with an eighth-inning double against Hollis/Brookline High June 14 at SNHU. The hit scored Susannah O'Brien for a 5-4 win.

O'Brien reached base on an inning-opening error. After Marchione twice missed on bunt attempts, she was forced to swing away. Her hit to left field was nearly snagged by Lia Bobek.

Just one inning earlier, in its last at-bat, second-seeded Laconia (18-2) knotted the game at 4-apiece.

Eight-seeded H/B (15-5) was three outs from winning in regulation. Sarah Drazin snapped a 3-all tie with a hit in the visiting seventh.

Division III: Pitching and power propelled Litchfield's Campbell High past Somersworth, 8-0, in the June 14 final at Plymouth State University.

Senior ace Julia Nolan tossed a no-hitter. Sophomore slugger Chelsea Caynon clocked a three-run home run. Top-seeded Campbell finished 18-1.

Nolan didn't allow a hit in four tourney games. She tossed three no-hitters on her own, and combined with sister Allie on the fourth no-no.

Sixth-seeded Somersworth (14-6) loaded the bases in the sixth. But Nolan, who fanned 10 in the game, induced an inning-ending pop out.

Division IV: Sophomore Katelyn Austin recorded seven strikeouts and scattered five hits as Bethlehem's Profile School, the No. 4 seed, celebrated its first championship. The Patriots beat third-seeded Groveton High, 2-1, at PSU June 14.

Profile (17-3) plated runs in the third and fourth innings. A groundout by Caroline Eyman scored Julia Eyman for a 1-0 lead. A fourth-inning bunt by Kelsey Ford forced a throwing error that allowed Powers to race home.

Shauna Randall had the only RBI for Groveton (17-3). Her third-inning hit scored April Smith.

SEVEN STRONG

There's only been one champion in the seven years of NHIAA boys' volleyball. It's Salem High.

The top-seeded Blue Devils continued to dominate the sport, winning their seventh straight crown June 11 at Nashua North. The Blue Devils beat second-seeded Londonderry High, 3-1.

Salem (17-1) secured the title on the strength of big games from Joe Gallant (13 kills), Zach Meisner (13 kills), Alex Gomes (32 assists) and Joe Dube (eight aces).

Londonderry (15-4) was paced by Jared Schwalbe, who tallied 12 aces. Matt Hersey had eight kills.

WEEKEND WARRIORS

Nick Athanasopoulos, a senior at Swanzey's Monadnock Regional, was a heavy favorite heading into the NHIAA boys' decathlon June 18 and 19 at Nashua South High.

He didn't disappoint. Athanasopoulos, who built a comfortable lead after Day 1, finished with 6,394 points to clinch the title.

Exeter High junior Hillary Holmes won the girls' heptathlon. She totaled 4,358 points.

GUERTIN FINDS ITS COACH

Travis Cote, the seven-year head football coach at Manchester West High, is now guiding Nashua's Bishop Guertin High, the three-time defending Division II champion.

Cote filled the post vacated by Tony Johnson, who built BG into a six-time king in 17 seasons at the helm. Johnson has doubled as the school's athletics director for the last four years. The official reason for Johnson's departure from the sideline was to focus his full attention on AD duties.

“Obviously, I have big shoes to fill,” Cote told New Hampshire GameDay, which first reported the story. “When I met with (Johnson on June 14), we talked about moving forward with the football program. He said, 'I'm not here to micro-manage you. I want you to feel comfortable. You can do whatever you want. You can keep guys, or build a new staff. It's your call. It's your program now.'”

While at West, Cote posted a deceiving 29-46 record. From 2008-10, the program felt the effects of Bedford student-athletes leaving West to attend the new Bedford High.

A longtime Division I program, West went 4-26 in that span, which included a drop to Division II this past season.

“The opportunity came,” Cote, who led West to the Division I semifinals in 2005 and 2007, told GameDay. “It was an opportunity I was interested in and wanted to move forward with.”

Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He can be reached at marc.thaler@gmail.com. You can read his blog, "New Hampshire GameDay" and follow him on Twitter @marc_thaler.