Lakers Back at Full Sail
Sunapee Rallies Past Gorham to Reclaim State Title
Sunapee's D-IV team holds up their first place plaque following their victory over Gorham at the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester on Saturday, June 14, 2014. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)
Sunapee pitcher Jack Weinberger fires a shot during Saturday's NHIAA Division IV championship game against Gorham at the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester. (Alan MacRae/Valley News)
Manchester — Where to start when describing the Sunapee High baseball team’s 6-5 victory over Gorham in Saturday’s NHIAA Division IV title game? How about at the end, when the Lakers’ James Fitzgerald was asked to sum up his club’s comeback during a contest with more twists than a Swiss Alps highway.
“Surreal,” Fitzgerald offered after a brief pause, and he was right on the money.
This was a contest that included a grand slam that wasn’t, some subpar baserunning and spurts of even worse pitching. The crowd at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium saw the Lakers rally from a 4-0 lead, but almost blow it in the seventh inning, when Sunapee started to storm the field in jubilation, only to have to scurry back into the dugout in collective chagrin.
“They nearly gave their old coach a heart attack,” said Sunapee bench boss Thomas Frederick, whose squad triumphed after losing in last year’s semifinals. The Lakers won their third title in four years.
The cardiac stress began early, as Lakers starter Jack Weinberger sat down the first nine Huskies, but second-seeded Sunapee stranded seven runners during the first four innings. Meanwhile, the wheels fell off for Weinberger in the fourth frame, when he was one out away from retiring the side before allowing, in order, a single, double, three walks and another single. By the time sophomore reliever Ben Robinson arrived to record the inning’s final out, the Lakers trailed, 4-0.
“You have to wonder if the day is going to go your way, but you have to stay positive,” Frederick said. “I told them we’ve scored four runs in an inning before and just because we’re on a different stage, that doesn’t mean someone can’t step up. And someone did.”
First in that category would be Robinson, who allowed an unearned run and two hits while striking out four Huskies and walking none during 31⁄3 innings of critical relief. Not only did he staunch the flow of Gorham runs in the fourth, but he gave his team time to collect itself.
“He’s really worked on his pitching,” said Fitzgerald, who played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Mascoma before he and his mother moved to Sunapee to be closer to her job. “He doesn’t throw as hard as Jack, but he throws a lot of strikes. He came in confident and got the job done, even though he’s an underclassman.”
Robinson atoned for a first-inning baserunning blunder in which he stopped at second after taking off on a hit-and-run scenario in which Weinberger dropped a single into shallow right field. Had Robinson continued, he could have jogged to third base.
The next batter struck out and the one after that hit a line-drive shot at Gorham third baseman Ben Bowie. The sophomore had been moving to his right to cover the bag when Robinson took off with the pitch, but somehow reversed his momentum and lunged back into the hole, knocking the ball down and grabbing it for an inning-ending force out.
Robinson’s miscue couldn’t match one that came only minutes earlier, when Gorham’s Brian Veazey tried to stretch a single into a double and was out by such a long distance that the crowd had time to groan not once, but twice. Once when the senior rounded first at full speed and again when he attempted what looked like a diving tackle of Lakers second baseman Will Austin.
But back to the fourth inning, when Robinson was involved in another interesting play, this time with two outs and the bases loaded. Before grounding out to first, he belted a foul ball that not only cleared the right field fence, but landed outside the stadium on South Commercial Street, narrowly missing a grand slam.
“That would have made my day a whole lot easier,” Frederick joked.
Despite the narrow miss, the Lakers were by then taking a toll on Gorham’s pitching. Starter Veazey, a diminutive left-hander, issued a walk, a single, another walk and a hit batsman to start the fourth. The eighth-seeded Huskies escaped by picking Bryson DesChamps off first and, after Tyler Sanschagrin entered in relief with one out, inducing a foul pop out and Robinson’s ground out.
“That’s what we’ve done all year, beat down the starting pitching to get to the bullpen,” Frederick said. “Our patience paid off.”
Sure enough, Gorham unraveled. Sanschagrin recorded two outs before issuing three consecutive walks, forcing in Sunapee’s first run. One might have thought he was done for the afternoon following the third out, but No. 4 marched back to the hill for the next inning.
This time, Sanschagrin gave up two singles and two walks before finally and mercifully being replaced by left fielder Sam Oullette. The last batter he faced was Fitzgerald, who desperately wanted a hit, but was disciplined enough to take a strike before watching four consecutive pitches sail past and outside the zone.
“I wasn’t looking for a walk, but he didn’t give me anything I would have wanted to swing at,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald’s pass loaded the bases with the score 4-2 and one out. Next up was DesChamps, who drew another walk for an RBI and a 4-3 score, and Mike Platt, who singled to bring in Cole Cruz, who had singled earlier in the inning. Matt Coughlin also walked, forcing home Fitzgerald with the go-ahead run, and Austin followed with a sacrifice fly for a 6-4 lead.
Sunapee needed only three more outs, but they didn’t come with particular ease. Robinson retired the first two batters in the Huskies’ seventh but the next batter hit a grounder to shortstop, which prompted a low throw toward first baseman Fitzgerald.
As the ball arrived, the Lakers dugout began to empty, with several reserves hopping the railing in front and taking a couple steps onto the grass before realizing that Fitzgerald had been unable to dig the ball out of the dirt.
An error was charged on the throw, but Fitzgerald blamed himself.
“I was pretty shocked after that one,” he said. “I missed a ball to win the game. The next guy hit a triple, so it was pretty much going to be my fault if they tied it up.”
Robinson buckled down, however, and retired Sanschagrin, who grounded out. This time, the throw smacked directly into Fitzgerald’s mitt and the Lakers’ celebration was on for real.
“A lot of people were talking about how (Gorham) was not very good, but we knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park,” Fitzgerald said, pun apparently not intended. “If we had put up 10 runs on them in the first inning, people would have said we beat the No. 8 team. So coming back to win is a lot better feeling than blowing them out.”
Notes: Gorham finished 13-9 and Sunapee 17-3… Fitzgerald plans to join his brother, John, a former Mascoma three-sport standout, at Keene State College, where he hopes to play basketball. … The Lakers lost division title games in soccer and basketball earlier this school year. … The players’ head shots were shown on the stadium’s video board in right-center field each time they came to bat. … The person working the hand-operated scoreboard in the left field corner struggled mightily. Twice, the score was incorrect for prolonged periods of time, and the hits were sometimes off as well. In addition, the electronic indicators of the balls and strikes were occasionally wrong. … Attendance was estimated at 500. … One member of the three-man umpiring crew pulled up to the stadium in a vehicle with the vanity license plate MR MAGOO, presumably a reference to the severely nearsighted 1950s television cartoon character of the same name. … A public address announcement informed the crowd that 47 percent of NHIAA participants are girls.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.