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Lebanon Juniors on the Rise Again

  • Post 22's Evan Spaulding dives back into first base Sunday during a junior American Legion baseball game against visiting Alton. The Stevens High product and his teammates won the contest, 14-4, before beating New London, 10-0, later in the day.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes

    Post 22's Evan Spaulding dives back into first base Sunday during a junior American Legion baseball game against visiting Alton. The Stevens High product and his teammates won the contest, 14-4, before beating New London, 10-0, later in the day.
    Valley News — Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jacob Tetley, a Woodsville High product and a member of the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion team, delivers against visiting Alton on Sunday at Lebanon High. Post 22 won, 14-4, before beating New London, 10-0, later in the afternoon.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes

    Jacob Tetley, a Woodsville High product and a member of the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion team, delivers against visiting Alton on Sunday at Lebanon High. Post 22 won, 14-4, before beating New London, 10-0, later in the afternoon.
    Valley News — Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Steve Cerrone of the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion baseball team, center, accepts congratulations for scoring Sunday from Bryar Rouillard, right. Tommy Jenkins, left, heads for his turn at bat. Lebanon beat Alton, 14-4, and New London, 10-0, in a pair of games at Lebanon High and improved to 5-2 this season.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes

    Steve Cerrone of the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion baseball team, center, accepts congratulations for scoring Sunday from Bryar Rouillard, right. Tommy Jenkins, left, heads for his turn at bat. Lebanon beat Alton, 14-4, and New London, 10-0, in a pair of games at Lebanon High and improved to 5-2 this season.
    Valley News — Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Post 22's Evan Spaulding dives back into first base Sunday during a junior American Legion baseball game against visiting Alton. The Stevens High product and his teammates won the contest, 14-4, before beating New London, 10-0, later in the day.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes
  • Jacob Tetley, a Woodsville High product and a member of the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion team, delivers against visiting Alton on Sunday at Lebanon High. Post 22 won, 14-4, before beating New London, 10-0, later in the afternoon.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes
  • Steve Cerrone of the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion baseball team, center, accepts congratulations for scoring Sunday from Bryar Rouillard, right. Tommy Jenkins, left, heads for his turn at bat. Lebanon beat Alton, 14-4, and New London, 10-0, in a pair of games at Lebanon High and improved to 5-2 this season.<br/>Valley News — Tris Wykes

Lebanon — The Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion baseball team made quick work of two foes Sunday, routing Alton, 14-4, and New London, 10-0, each in only five innings. Despite a new head coach and numerous new players, the squad hopes it’s heating up in time to repeat last season’s long run into the state tournament, which begins July 25 at Manchester’s Gill Stadium.

“We’ve got good pitching, pretty good defense and we’re smoking the ball now,” said first-year coach John Grainger, a Colby-Sawyer College assistant during the spring. “These guys want to get better, and they listen and they buy into what I’m teaching them. If they didn’t want to do that, we could forget about it.”

Only five players, Stevens High’s Chase and Colby Hussey and Bryar Rouillard and Kimball Union’s Tommy Jenkins and Levy Byrd, returned from last year’s team that surprisingly landed in the state tournament title game. Much of that team, including Lebanon’s Cam and Caleb Broughton and Tanner Simms, Sunapee’s Ben Robinson, Newport’s Brady Bates and KUA’s Josh Weiss, ascended to Post 22’s senior roster, but the junior holdovers and replacements looked sharp Sunday.

Byrd had four hits, four RBIs and three stolen bases in the opener against Post 72 (2-5), when Lebanon also received four hits from Chase Hussey and three from Steve Cerrone, late of Hartford High and headed for Phillips Exeter Academy in the fall. Hanover’s Will Smith and Stevens’ Evan Spaulding each reached base four times, and 13-year old pitcher Trey Parker, the son of Dartmouth College men’s golf coach Rich Parker, allowed three hits, three walks and three earned runs while striking out four foes.

The second game, a rain makeup from last week, saw Cerrone crank a two-run triple, Lebanon’s Kyle Kopecky deliver two hits and an RBI and pitcher Jacob Tetley, of Woodsville High, surrender three hits and no walks while striking out six batters. Post 22 (5-2) drew 10 walks against Post 40 (3-5), which is comprised in part of players who compete for Sunapee High and Kearsarge during the spring.

“It’s a good day,” said Grainger, a 29-year-old Keene, N.H., native who played high school and college ball there and is now director of fitness at a local health club. “In both games, we came out a bit flat, but then we buried them, which is what good teams do. It’s great to see that, especially going into the meat of our schedule.”

Post 22’s squads are slated to play 19 games during their 28-day regular seasons. The junior club has a division showdown Tuesday with visiting Plymouth (4-2), which won the teams’ first meeting on its home field. However, Tommy Jenkins, a 16-year-old catcher from Hartford who attends KUA, said the current roster is developing a swagger similar to that of its 2013 predecessor.

“We have the same sort of attitude, in that we want to win and we think we will win,” Jenkins said. “It’s a younger team, so I’ve had to take more of a leadership role. I have to set an example and talk more, stay loud and make sure the other guys are up.”

Grainger said he aims to run the junior program more like one at the college level than in high school. Lebanon’s players are expected to show up two hours early for fielding and batting practice, and one veteran was benched Sunday when he arrived late. Post 22 usually takes only one day off per week, the rest of them filled with games and practices heavy on fundamental instruction and repetition.

A recent example was double-play combinations, in which the coaches worked to teach exact throwing release points and footwork around second base. It was a clumsy exercise at first, but the players improved rapidly. They also made headway on bunt defense, another Grainger pet project, along with consistently cutting down the lead runner.

“We may only use a certain (defense) once in a season, but when we do, it could be huge,” the coach said.

Other differences between Post 22 and its opponents are the support it enjoys from its sponsoring Legion post and its attention to detail before the first pitch is even thrown. Foes tend to arrive at games in their own vehicles and saunter into the outfield for random games of catch. Lebanon pulls up as a team, riding in a rented school bus, its players in possession of donated meal money and lugging bats and other gear, all paid for by their local Legionnaires.

“I think this is the best Legion program in the state,” Grainger said. “You see other teams that are on their own for almost everything, but our kids don’t pay a dime.”

Said Jenkins: “We get a real sense of appreciation for the (Legion post), and there’s a responsibility that goes with that. They take care of everything we need, and we just have to show up and be ready to go as a team.”

Post 22’s players adhere to an exact schedule of warmup drills before they can play ball. There are multiple hitting stations to attend, fielding practice to complete and, before that, careful stretching as a team. Again, the level of expected intensity and preparation is similar to that one sees among college players, not those who have yet to earn driver’s licenses.

“We show up early, we work hard and we win,” Jenkins said. “I think if everything falls together, we could make another run in the tournament.”

Notes: Donations and the sale of food and merchandise at a Saturday doubleheader featuring the homestanding Post 22 senior and junior teams raised roughly $1,700. … Among those who played on the junior team last year but who are not back are Hanover’s Sam Hastings, Lebanon’s Chase Dulac and Noah Mayes and Norwich’s Chris Alberigi. … Junior team assistant Dan Griswold was previously the softball coach at Mascoma High.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.