Rochester Post 7 won last year’s American Legion senior state tournament, and Rochester may be the favorite to win this year’s tournament as well. Of course you won’t hear Rochester coach B.J. Gagnon say that.
Rochester finished the season with a 16-2 record — the best record in the state — and will enter this week’s tournament having won its last 13 District B games.
“I think you go into every tournament hoping and expecting to play your best baseball, but we don’t have any idea how strong the teams from the other district are,” Gagnon said. “We may not even see the same pitching we saw from teams in our district games.
“It’s who can get through that tough five-game stretch. You have to get some timely hits, but it really comes down to who picks up the baseball — you can’t kick it around — and whose pitching shows up.”
This year’s tournament kicks off Thursday at Nashua’s Holman Stadium. The double-elimination tournament includes the top four teams from District A, and the top four teams from District B. Thursday’s games: Derry (10-8) vs. Lebanon (14-4), 9 a.m.; Hudson (11-7) vs. Manchester’s Sweeney Post (14-4), noon; Concord (11-7) vs. Dover (14-4), 4 p.m.; and Bedford (11-7) vs. Rochester (16-2), 7 p.m.
The New Hampshire state champion will advance to the Northeast Regional, which will be held Aug. 7-11 in Middletown, Conn. The American Legion World Series will be played Aug. 15-19 in Shelby, N.C.
Bedford is the last New Hampshire team to reach the American Legion World Series. Bedford advanced in 2011.
Concord and Bedford won tiebreakers against Laconia and Milford to qualify for the tournament. All four teams finished with an 11-7 record in District A. Concord needed victories over Keene and Lebanon on Sunday — the final day of the regular season — to qualify.
“We were 5-6 at one point, so we do have a little momentum,” Concord coach Matt Skoby said. “I coached at Concord High, so I’m familiar with some of the Rochester players and the Dover guys. There will be a lot of teams in contention.
“Bedford is a team that could surprise some people. It’s defense and pitching. The team with the deepest pitching staff will prevail. That’s why I think Bedford could be dangerous. I saw four of their pitchers and I thought they were all pretty good.”
Rochester returned nine players from last year’s team, and Gagnon said Post 7 is a little deeper on the mound than it was last summer. Rochester may get a boost with the return of catcher Anthony DiPrizio, who suffered a wrist injury early in the season. Gagnon said DiPrizio may be healthy enough to play Thursday.
“We’ll have to make sure he can’t hurt his wrist any more,” Gagnon said.
Rochester will be attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back state championships since Manchester’s Jutras Post in 1996-97.
“I was expecting the kids to play well, but I wasn’t expecting 16-2,” Gagnon said. “I don’t know that anybody expects 16-2. If we bounce around with a little energy and have some fun, I like our chances of going deep into the tournament.”
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The eight-team junior legion tournament will begin Friday at Manchester’s Gill Stadium.
The junior tournament will also use a double-elimination format. Friday’s matchups: Dover (10-5) vs. Lebanon (9-5), 10 a.m.; Alton (9-5) vs. Rochester (13-2), 12:30 p.m.; Windham (8-6) vs. Sweeney Post (11-4), 3:30 p.m.; and Bedford (10-5) vs. Salem (10-4), 6 p.m.
The junior tournament’s Northeast Regional will be held Aug. 9-11 at Gill. The New Hampshire state champion and runner-up will qualify for the Northeast Regional.
The field will also include two teams from Massachusetts, two teams from Rhode Island and one team from both Connecticut and Maine.
Nashua won last year’s junior legion title.