NASHUA — A five-hitter by Aaron Denis, some clutch baserunning by Robert Sheldon and a little inspiration from Sam Fuld drove Dover Post 8 to a regional berth Tuesday.
“It was a total team effort and we needed it to beat a very good club,” said Dover coach Jake Bishop after the Garrison City nine edged Derry Post 3-2 for the New Hampshire American Legion Senior Baseball Tournament championship at Holman Stadium.
Dover will have about a week to celebrate its crown before turning its attention to the Northeast Regional Tournament at William J. Pomfret Stadium at Palmer Field in Middletown, Conn. Dover will face the Connecticut state runner-up on Thursday, Aug. 7 at noon in its opener of the double-elimination tournament.
Earlier Tuesday, Derry eliminated Manchester’s Sweeney Post, 9-5.
Denis, a 6-foot-3 righthander who posted a 5-3 record and a 3.29 ERA for Wentworth Institute of Technology of Boston, Mass., during his freshman season this spring, pitched well despite a shaky start. Before he yielded Derry’s first hit in the third inning, Denis hit two batters in the first inning and walked the leadoff hitter in the third inning.
He came away unscathed as he retired Chace Spears on a pop-out to end the first frame and got Jamie Collins, a proven clutch hitter for Derry this season, to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play to escape a third-inning jam.
“I realized early on that my off-speed pitch was ineffective,” said Denis. “So I decided to go more to my fastball, locating it inside and out.”
Before the game, Bishop said his team received a surprised call from former Dover Post player and major league outfielder Sam Fuld, currently with the Minnesota Twins.
“Our coaches were talking about having Sam call the team before the game and sure enough he did (from Kansas City where the Twins played Tuesday),” said Bishop. “He (Fuld) called coach (Kevin) Coppinger and we put him on speaker phone.”
Bishop’s son, T.J., said the team was both surprised and stunned to hear from Fuld, who played on the last Dover Post team to win the state title in 2000.
“He (Fuld) just told us to approach the game like any other game,” said T.J. “He wished us good luck and told us to bring the state title home.”
Dover staked Denis to a 1-0 second-inning lead on consecutive hits from the last three batters in the lineup. J.T. Bishop singled with one out, Mike Wasserman pushed Bishop to second with a base hit and Jared Gagne delivered him home.
In the fifth inning, Sheldon was mainly responsible for scoring Dover’s second run. He started the inning with a walk and stole second. With two outs and Sheldon still at second, Anthony Lupi grounded to deep short. Derry shortstop Joey Murphy ranged to his right to get to the ball, but his long throw to first base pulled first baseman Collins off the base by several feet.
Sheldon, to his credit, kept running home and by the time Collins saw him, his throw to the plate was late.
“That was a big run, but the game was still early,” said Denis. “Derry is just a gritty team and I knew I had to keep pitching well.”
Derry scored an unearned run in the home fifth with one out when Dover right fielder Robert Sheldon collided with center fielder Gagne on a deep fly to right center. It was ruled an error because the ball was catchable, allowing Kyle Albertelli, who singled and was sacrificed to second, to score.
Derry had a golden chance to tie the game later in the inning with runners on first and second and one out. Collins lofted a deep fly to right, and second base runner Murphy galloped to third after tagging from second.
But acting upon an appeal from Dover, umpire Don Micucci ruled Murphy left his base early and called him out, ending the inning with Dover still holding a one-run lead. “I didn’t see it that way, didn’t agree with the call,” said Derry coach Dylan Mullin. “That was a big moment in the game.”
Dover scored its eventual winning run in the sixth inning when throwing error on a grounder by Sheldon allowed Gagne to score from third base. Gagne had reached on a double.
Denis, who retired the side in the sixth and seventh innings, faced a tall task when he took his 3-1 lead into the home eighth.
“We knew entering the game that Derry’s top five batters in the lineup are all deadly hitters,” said Dover coach. “We had to get out of that inning with the lead.”
Murphy started the inning with a single and rambled to third base after Denis’ pick-off attempt soared past first base for a two-base error. Collins made him pay one out later with an RBI single and later took second base on a wild pitch. With Collins representing the tying run, Denis faced and met the challenge of retiring cleanup hitter Chris Gerossie on a pop-up and No. 5 hitter Spears on a fly out.
“Aaron comes off the field yelling “they’ve got 6-7-8 coming up next inning and I’m finishing this game,’” said Bishop. “Aaron knew he got through the meat of their order in great shape.”
Denis added “I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s the state championship game and I wanted to finish this game.”
He retired the first two batters in the ninth, walked Albertelli and finally celebrated the win with his teammates after Lupi caught a pop-out in foul territory to end the game.
Denis, who fanned three batters and walked two, was presented with the Chris Tonery Award as the Most Outstanding Pitcher in the tournament. Gerossie was awarded the Gubby Underwood Most Valuable Player trophy.
“He’s deserving of the honor because he’s a great hitter,” said Denis of Gerossie. “Getting him out in that eighth inning with the tying run on base was huge for me and the team.”
Derry Post 9, Sweeney Post 5: In the early game suspended Monday night because of rain, Derry scored six runs in the seventh inning to pull away. Albertelli had the key blow with a three-run double. Collins finished the game with two RBIs. Gerossie, Spears, Mahoney and Ben Curry each had an RBI. Nolan Flynn had a two-run double for Sweeney and teammates Kevin Gonzales, Aaron Mersereau and Peter Abood each drove in a run.