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H.S. Baseball/Softball: Portsmouth's questions were answered in final

By ROGER BROWN and JOE DUBALL
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 12. 2018 8:36PM
Portsmouth's Calvin Hewtt kisses the championship trophy as teammate Max Malila, left, watches after Portsmouth defeated Goffstown 7-6 in the NHIAA Div. II Baseball Championship game at Northeast Deltal Dental Stadium in Manchester Monday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

When the 2018 season began, Tim Hopley didn’t shy away from the fact that his Portsmouth High baseball team did not resemble the club that had won a Division II title the year before. Hopley knew he had an ace (Trevor Van Allen) and a few bats (Peyton Goodrich, Cal Hewett and Max Malila). Everything else regarding the Clippers’ roster was a roll of the dice.

Two months later, all the uncertainty and inexperience ended up producing another championship on Monday night in Portsmouth’s 7-6 walk-off win over Goffstown in the D-II title game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester.

“That’s a hard way to look at it,” said Hopley when asked if he had ever done more with what was perceived to be less in terms of the experience on his roster. “I look at these guys, and yeah there were 10 first-year varsity guys here, but it was a team that others would look at the front of the jersey and consider to be a ‘favorite.’ There was a lot to prove here during the year, but was it doing more with less? I’m not so sure.”

The Clippers’ inexperience didn’t show in key moments. The rally in the seventh inning started with three players that were junior varsity starters a year ago and sat in the dugout for the 2017 championship. Hunter Leroux-Porter walked, Drew Hudson singled and Aaron Lundgren reached on a bunt single in the seventh before Leroux-Porter eventually scored the go-ahead run. Monday wasn’t the only instance of table setting by those three batters, as Hopley said all three consistently set up the top of the order like that throughout the season.

Leroux-Porter and freshman second baseman Myles Sargent also made some tremendous plays behind reliever Oscar Lalime to keep Goffstown at bay and the game knotted until Portsmouth pounced late. Lalime, also a JV player last year, gutted out four innings of relief under duress that he had never experienced before.

“He can be his own worst enemy at times ... and really get between his own ears. He hasn’t done that here,” said Hopley of Lalime, who Hopley also coaches on the Portsmouth football team. “He’s continued to go out there since the first inning he threw against Bow this year where he gave up six runs. Since then he’s been absolutely phenomenal.

“He came in tonight and figured out whatever the strike zone was, made them put the ball in play and we made those plays defensively.”

The work of Lalime and Portsmouth’s defense was the club’s saving grace as Goffstown rallied back from deficits of 5-0 and 6-4 to make the Clippers sweat. Hopley was thankful the Grizzlies’ pedigree didn’t win out and his Clippers remained steadfast despite Goffstown’s ability to overcome early missteps.

“We’re talking about kids (for Goffstown) that have been on the New Hampshire baseball stage since they were 8 years old,” Hopley said. “They didn’t give up and we knew they wouldn’t. It was just a matter of us keeping our composure and not really letting the thing get away from us when they started mounting a comeback.

“We were able to get key outs when we had to in order to stop the bleeding before it got to the point of us chasing them.”

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EXETER’S BOBBY CLICHE said he wasn’t certain he would be starting on the mound in Monday’s Division I championship game against Bedford until about an hour before the game, but Exeter coach Kevin McQueen knew who his starting pitcher would be long before that.

Although Exeter had everybody available — even Cody Morissette, who was shut down with arm soreness in May, was ready to pitch — McQueen said Cliche was going to be his guy. After tossing a complete game in Exeter’s 5-3 triumph over Pinkerton Academy in the semifinals, Cliche pitched another complete game to lead Exeter to a 6-2 victory over Bedford in the title game.

Cliche tossed 114 pitches against the Bulldogs, which is six under the NHIAA limit. He allowed two runs on five hits, walked two and struck out seven.

“After what he did in the Pinkerton game on Wednesday it made it an easy decision,” McQueen said following Monday’s game. “He’s a gamer. Intense competitor.

“We have depth off the mound,” McQueen continued. “We had a lot of guys we could go to. We have a lot of guys we can trust in this situation, but with the year that he’s had … he was gonna be our guy (against Bedford) because I think he deserved it. We had everybody lined up if needed, but thankfully Bobby was able to get the last couple outs and finish it.”

Cliche, who will pitch for the University of Maine next season, entered Monday’s contest with a 5-0 record and a 2.35 ERA. He tossed two no-hitters during the regular season, including one against a Lexington, Mass., team that qualified for the Super 8 tournament.

“I was mentally prepared to pitch whether I did or I didn’t,” Cliche said. “When he gave me the game ball, I was fired up. I wanted it more than anything. The feeling is almost indescribable. To win a state championship is absolutely amazing.”

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THE NUMBERS are staggering for White Mountains Regional of Whitefield’s championship softball team.

In winning their third straight Division III crown in their seventh straight trip to the final, the Spartans finished 20-0.

Over the last three years, according to assistant coach Chris Leavitt, they are 59-1 and over the last seven years, they’re 132-8. White Mountains will carry a 26-game win streak into next season.

More morsels: Haile Hicks, a niece of head coach Forrest Hicks, was the winning pitcher in Saturday’s final against Belmont — the win was incorrectly credited to another player in the New Hampshire Sunday News — and went 19-0 in the circle this season.

In the team’s four playoff victories, she struck out 46 of the 109 batters she faced, and only three of the seven runs scored against her were earned.

Oh, and she’s a sophomore, which is bad news for the rest of Division III the next two years.

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JOHN STARK of Weare softball coach Gerry Morin admitted on countless occasions, including after the Generals won the D-II softball title on Saturday, that freshman starting pitcher Izzy Nelson never once played like a freshman during the season. Nelson, who struck out 10 in Saturday’s complete-game win, revealed the secret to her focus and success after the win.

“I’ve always really looked up to my dad,” Nelson said. “He’s always told me to take it one pitch at a time. You can’t really win a state championship without being composed like that. He’s really helped me and Sydney (Izzy’s sophomore sister and teammate) learn that we need to keep our heads in the game until the very last pitch.”

Nelson and fellow freshmen Lillian Stogner and Brooke Patnode offered contributions that most teams only dream of from first-year players. The freshman trio thrived due to the instant welcoming and respect they were provided from veteran teammates.

“The three of us really came in with our heads high,” Nelson said. “We kind of knew we had a good organization here and that we were going to be with good people. I felt that from the beginning of tryouts and really knew then that we were going to have a good team.”

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IT TOOK time for New Hampshire Gatorade Softball Player of the Year Abby Rochette to be herself in the circle in Concord’s thrilling extra-inning triumph over Spaulding of Rochester for the Division I softball crown on Saturday. Rochette one-hit the Red Raiders during the regular season, but was tagged for four runs in two innings to open Saturday’s contest.

Rochette, who was also named D-I Pitcher of the Year, made adjustments on the fly to come back with seven scoreless innings to finish the outing. However, the junior’s biggest adjustment might’ve been her comfort level.

“No matter what you say to her, and you’d never get it out of her, but she was a little nervous,” Sawyer said. “I really thought they would play a little more small ball and they didn’t. They were aggressive with Abby.”

The first four zeroes Rochette posted after the rough start still felt shaky, but Concord catcher Abby Corbett saw a noticeable change in the junior’s demeanor over the final three innings. Corbett pointed to her own game-tying two-run homer in the sixth as the turning point for Rochette.

“Abby was having a hard time in the circle getting her pitches down,” Corbett said. “After the momentum changed, you could see her just buckle down. She really came through when we needed her to, like she had all year, and finished the game strong.”

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BASEBALL COACHES don’t always have a big impact on a game’s outcome, but Littleton coach A.J. Bray made a decision that played a significant role in his team’s run to the Division IV championship this season.

After Littleton jumped out to an 8-1 advantage during its 9-4 semifinal victory over Wilton-Lyndeborough, Bray pulled Derek Walker from the mound after two innings. Although Walker returned to the mound to get Littleton out of a jam in the fourth, his low pitch count made Walker eligible to pitch in Saturday’s championship game. He tossed a complete game and limited Newmarket to three hits during Littleton’s 3-1 triumph in the final.

“We decided prior to that game that we were not going to come here without Derek,” Bray said. “The plan was to mix and match (pitchers) depending on who was up in the lineup — unless it was a tight game that went to the seventh inning or something like that. I think I changed pitchers five or six times in that game. It helped that we got off to an 8-1 lead.”

Littleton’s state title was its second in the last three seasons.

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THE NEW Hampshire Softball Coaches’ Association will be holding its annual senior games on Tuesday at Padden Field in Manchester. The games feature the top graduating seniors from each division against each other in a round-robin tournament.

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THE BASEBALL Coaches’ Association of New Hampshire is sponsoring two senior all-star games this month. The Division I and Division II all-stars will play the Maine all-stars on Monday at Holman Stadium in Nashua (noon), and the Division III and Division IV all-stars will face Vermont on June 23 at the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt. (10 a.m.).

jduball@unionleader.com and rbrown@unionleader.com


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