WHEN THE 2019 NHIAA baseball season began, one of Bedford High School’s goals was to reach the Division I championship game for a fifth consecutive season. The likelihood of that happening seemed far-fetched in late April.
The Bulldogs allowed 28 runs in losses to Keene (16-6) and Concord (12-10) and were 1-4 two weeks into the season. Bedford has gone 14-2 since then, however, and earned a spot in this year’s title game when it received a complete-game pitching performance from Trevor Anibal and beat 10th-seeded Portsmouth 1-0 in Tuesday’s semifinals.
“We have this tradition in Bedford of competing every single game and once we get into the playoffs, getting hot at the right time and trying to just make a run at it,” Bedford coach Billy Chapman said. “I think it’s silly to count out certain teams at any point in time, especially ones that go deep consistently every year.”
Sixth-seeded Bedford will face fourth-seeded Londonderry in this year’s championship matchup. Those teams will tangle Monday night (7) at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Londonderry moved on by beating top-seeded Concord 4-1 in Tuesday night’s other Division I semifinal.
“We’re a young team and we kind of had to find ourselves,” Anibal said. “We had to find that confidence. A lot of people counted us out and that kind of fueled our fire a little bit. We knew we were a good team the whole time. To bounce back from that 1-4 start was amazing.”
In some ways, this season has mirrored Bedford’s 2015 season, when the Bulldogs started 1-6, but then caught fire and won 14 in a row before losing to Spaulding in the Division I championship game.
Chapman said a 4-3 victory over Pinkerton on May 11 may have given his team the confidence it was lacking.
“I think the turning point for us where I think everyone knew we could do something was probably the Pinkerton game,” Chapman said. “(Anibal) came out and struck out 15 against a very talented Pinkerton lineup. That was a jolt to us and let everyone on the team know that we could compete. We just have to show up in the playoffs and get hot at the right time. A lucky bounce here and there and sometimes you find a way to get there.”
This year’s Division I softball championship game will feature two programs that have never won a title. Top-seeded Exeter (19-1) and third-seeded Winnacunnet (16-5) will meet in Saturday’s Division I final at Plymouth State University (2 p.m.).
Winnacunnet reached the Class L championship game in 1991 and 1992, but lost to Salem each year. This is Exeter’s first appearance in a championship game.
Very little separated these teams when they met during the regular season. Exeter won that matchup 4-3 in 10 innings.
Bow’s aggressive small-ball game got to St. Thomas in the bottom of the seventh inning and a couple of bunts and then a suicide squeeze resulted in a wild finish and 6-5 victory in Tuesday’s Division II baseball semifinals.
The Falcons rallied for three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to pull within 5-4 and set the stage for the final rally.
Freshman designated hitter Matt Lamy had already singled and knocked in a run with a double when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and the score tied, 5-5, with one out in the seventh. Bow coach Ben Forbes called for a suicide squeeze on the first pitch.
“Didn’t want to hit into a double play and be done with the bases loaded and just watch the momentum slip,” Forbes said. “We had them on their heels. I figured, hey, we’ve got a kid with great hands. … The idea was to put it down, score the run, win the game and not hit a line drive to the infield, get doubled off and walk out of their way with a tie and then have to keep going.”
Hollis/Brookline coach James Sartell said college scouts have been checking in on senior shortstop Joe Messina, whose two-run double to deep center field in the bottom of the sixth drove in the winning runs in Tuesday’s 8-6 victory over John Stark. Problem is, Messina has no plans to play college baseball.
“I’m going to Berklee College of Music,” Messina said. “They don’t have baseball. They might have like, ultimate Frisbee. I’m a multi-instrumentalist. I sing, I play piano and I play guitar. I’m going to go in there as a bachelor of voice and hopefully major in performance and songwriting.”
The Division II softball championship game will be played Saturday at Plymouth’s Chase Field (5 p.m.) and will be the rubber match between third-seeded John Stark and fourth-seeded Merrimack Valley. John Stark prevailed 3-2 at home, and Merrimack Valley won 6-5 on its home field.
John Stark is seeking back-to-back Division II titles. The Generals won the program’s first championship by beating Coe-Brown in last year’s Division II final.
Junior Sam Crawford has earned the win in each of Hopkinton’s three tournament games. He started against Winnisquam and Belmont, and pitched in relief against Campbell. His statistics in those three games: 13 2/3 innings, nine hits allowed, 13 strikeouts, no walks and a 1.02 ERA.
Crawford is eligible to pitch Saturday, when fourth-seeded Hopkinton faces sixth-seeded White Mountains in the Division III championship game (1 p.m.) at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. White Mountains will be seeking its second Division III title in as many years.
The Union Leader’s list of the top 10 NHIAA baseball and NHIAA softball programs in the state.
Bishop Guertin (16-6)
John Stark (16-3)
John Stark (16-3)
Merrimack Valley (16-3)