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Lebanon Baseball Earns Revenge in First-Round Win

Lebanon — Watching as his younger brother gutted out an NHIAA Division II first-round baseball classic with No. 9 St. Thomas Aquinas on Thursday, Lebanon High graduate Cooper Hardy offered a confession: If the eighth-seeded Raiders pulled out a walk-off win over the Saints, “it’s gonna be hard to stay off the field.”

True to his word, Hardy hit the diamond — taking the indirect route around the back of the Lebanon dugout, mind you — to offer congratulations after Lebanon’s 6-5 extra-innings win over STA at Lebanon High. Junior Cam Broughton ended a game featuring three Raider comebacks with a one-out RBI triple to plate Austin Pelletier with the deciding run.

The Hardy boys possess institutional memory. Cooper and his younger sibling, Grayson, were part of a Lebanon team that fell to St. Thomas in a 10-inning state final two years ago. The Saints had also ended Lebanon’s season in the playoffs on two other occasions since 2009, once in nine frames.

The past and present both fueled the now-senior Grayson Hardy to a 151-pitch win. So did three Tanner Simms runs — two in adverse circumstances — and a leaky St. Thomas defense that committed five errors to gift the Raiders (11-6) four unearned runs.

“That was the sickest baseball game I’ve been a part of two years ago,” the younger Hardy admitted.

“I think we’ve had them four years in a row, and they’ve gotten the best of us three times. We got them back this year.”

Hardy got stronger as the stakes grew. Although he walked nine (one intentionally) and hit two batters, five of his six strikeouts came after the fourth inning. He saved the best one for last.

The Raiders trailed 1-0, 4-2 and 5-4. Each time St. Thomas (10-7) took a lead, Lebanon came right back in its next at-bat, junior Simms playing a role each time.

“Before today, I’d been struggling at the plate,” said Simms, who singled twice and walked as part of a 2-for-3 day. “I changed a few things during batting practice, and I was a lot more confident. I was ready.”

Simms tapped hard-throwing STA righty Kevin Gould for a first-inning single to follow a Caleb Broughton double with Lebanon in an early 1-0 hole. Broughton scored and Simms took third on an infield error, and Dave Albright’s one-out RBI sacrifice fly plated Simms for the Raiders’ only other lead of the afternoon.

St. Thomas scored three in the third for a 4-2 cushion. The key shot — a two-run Ryan McKenna homer to right-center field — was initially called a ground-rule double by the first-base umpire. An ensuing conference got the ruling right, even if it didn’t make Lebanon coach Doug Ashey happy at the time.

But, again, Lebanon responded. With one down, Simms at second and Grayson Hardy at first, Gould threw away a Pelletier grounder trying to cut down Simms at third base. The junior trundled home, knocking over STA catcher Logan LaRochelle in the process. Another error scored Hardy to tie the game at 4-4.

“My coach was telling me no, but I looked back and saw the ball was far from the third baseman,” Simms said. “I just ran home. The catcher was there; I slid, it hit me in the back and I scored. A lot of adrenaline.”

A Gould RBI single in the fifth put the visitors up again. And, once more, Lebanon answered: Simms walked, moved up on a wild pitch, advanced on a Hardy grounder and scored on the back end of a Pelletier safety squeeze bunt.

“That was by design, a little bit,” Ashey said. “I didn’t want to give an out away there at home. That would have been the second out. That erases your guy in scoring position.”

Drawing on both muscle and memories, Hardy stranded STA runners at second base in the fifth and seventh frames. With his pitch count mounting but Ashey willing to give his senior ace one more chance, Hardy intentionally walked McKenna with two on and two out in the eighth before burning a 2-2 fastball past swinging St. Thomas designated hitter Ryan Bennett to escape the jam.

“We talked about it yesterday, because that kid’s known for hitting, and he hit a ball 600 feet off me,” said Hardy, referring to McKenna’s earlier circuit clout. “I don’t really blame (Ashey) for that call.

“As a pitcher, that was terrifying. But the team was able to pick me up. It was a great job of sticking in and always battling.”

Pelletier reached on an error to open the home eighth, stealing second base in Lebanon’s only such attempt of the game. Cam Broughton drilled the next pitch over the head of St. Thomas right fielder Griffin Coate and, after a late start, Pelletier scored the winning run without a throw.

Fungoes: Lebanon visits No. 1 Goffstown — an 11-0 winner over No. 16 Pembroke — in Saturday’s quarterfinals. The Grizzlies took a 7-3 win at Lebanon on May 7 in the teams’ only meeting. … St. Thomas stranded 11 runners compared to Lebanon’s four. … Gould threw well in defeat, fanning six, walking one and limiting Lebanon to five hits, throwing 110 pitches. … Unofficial game time was 2 hours, 21 minutes.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.