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For Post 22 Juniors, A Short, Sweet Win

Dustin Broughton, coach of the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion team, exhorts his troops during the third inning of last night's 5-1 victory over visiting Lincoln Post 13. The result pushed Lebanon to 14-2 this summer.
Valley News -- Tris Wykes

Dustin Broughton, coach of the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion team, exhorts his troops during the third inning of last night's 5-1 victory over visiting Lincoln Post 13. The result pushed Lebanon to 14-2 this summer. Valley News -- Tris Wykes

— It took the threat of thunder and lighting to silence the Lebanon Post 22 junior American Legion baseball team’s bats Thursday night at Lebanon High. Holding a 5-1 lead over Lincoln after five innings, the hosts prevailed when the umpires first delayed and then called the contest off because of rumblings and bright bolts high above.

The result clinched a berth in next month’s state tournament for Lebanon, which is 14-2 overall and 11-2 in division play. Post 22 has two games remaining in the regular season, and its finale at Plymouth next week could decide the division title.

“I think we’ve got a legitimate shot at a (state) championship,’’ said coach Dustin Broughton, who has guided the team since its founding three years ago and who took it to the postseason for the first time last summer. “We have the talent needed and we’ve got some depth at pitching, which is important if you’re going to make it through the (five-day state) tournament in Concord.”

Broughton’s bunch excels on the hill and in the field, which plays into the Legion style. That’s dictated by the use of wooden bats, which limit offense in comparison with the high school game, and mean that teams are less likely to rally after falling behind by more than a few runs.

“There’s a lot smaller sweet spot on the wood barrel, so you have less chance of getting a hard knock than with the carbon fiber bats (in high school),” said Post 22’s Chase Hussey, who suits up for Claremont’s Stevens High in the spring.

Lebanon’s Cam Broughton didn’t have much trouble finding the sweet spot Thursday night, however, smacking two hits and driving in three runs. Brady Bates of Newport had a hit and an RBI and Hussey also had a hit.

The hosts went down 1-0 in the third inning after pitcher Josh Weiss surrendered a triple and then balked when the runner moved to steal home.

Lebanon answered with two runs in its half of the third inning and three more in the fourth. Weiss allowed three hits and an earned run while striking out five batters and walking two. The Enfield resident and Kimball Union Academy student is one of his team’s top hurlers, along with Hussey. Offensively, Cam Broughton and Tanner Simms, a catcher from Lebanon, have often led the charge.

When not pitching, Hussey plays third base, with Broughton beside him at shortstop, cousin Caleb Broughton (Dustin’s son) at second and Bates at first. Thursday night’s outfield consisted of KUA’s Levy Byrd, Hanover’s Sam Hastings and Sunapee’s Ben Robinson.

“We started out slow the first couple weeks, but then the kids get more comfortable with each other and the coaches and the program overall,” said Dustin Broughton, whose team has won 10 consecutive games. “We’re starting to gel and play better because guys are communicating better and working together better as a team.”

Tryouts for Post 22’s senior and junior baseball teams attracted more than 40 players earlier this summer, about 10 more than last year. The organization is becoming more robust and reflective of an inclusive, regional approach.

“It’s grown in popularity and we’ve had some success, which is attracting more and more kids,” coach Broughton said. “It’s a little bit of a gut check, because you have stars from all the different towns coming together on one town and it challenges them and makes them play and work a little harder.

“They push each other and you see them improve over the course of the season.”

Cam Broughton, who will be a junior at Lebanon High in the fall, said that although he could have split time between the junior and senior Legion teams, he chose to remain on the lower level to gain more playing time and enjoy the squad’s camaraderie. Bumping along in a school bus to games all over the Granite State gives the boys plenty of time to get to know each other.

“We have pretty good team chemistry and we rarely fight,” Cam Broughton said. “That’s surprising, because we have kids from all over. We talk to each other about everything. School, girls, baseball.”

When the talking stops and the action begins, Lebanon usually prevails. It may be based in one town, but it represents a good chunk of the Upper Valley.

“I play the best kids and I play to win,’’ Dustin Broughton said. “I put out the best lineup with the kids who are peaking at that point and I don’t look at where they’re from. We’re not Hanover or Lebanon or Newport. We’re Post 22 and we’re one team.”

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