Lebanon Is In Playoffs

Lebanon — A failed appeal of an eligibility ruling opened the door on Monday for Lebanon Post 22 to return to the New Hampshire American Legion senior baseball playoffs.

State officials informed Post 22 business manger Peter St. Pierre on Monday morning that Lebanon had a date at this weekend’s state tournament at Concord’s Memorial Field. The invite came at the expense of Manchester Post 79, which was forced to forfeit its season after violating the state’s roster-making rules.

Post 22 would likely have missed states had Manchester won an appeal sent to national authorities. Instead, Lebanon bumped up to third place in New Hampshire District A and will meet District B runner-up Derry Post 9 on Friday at noon in the first round of the double-elimination championship. It will be Lebanon’s third trip to senior states in five years, but its first since 2011.

“We found out this morning, too, that it was official; I found out when I was at work,” said third-year Lebanon utility player Cam Blewitt, of Claremont, prior to Monday night’s practice at Lebanon High School. “My dad was looking online, and he saw the standings posted online, so we were pretty excited. We all got a text later on.

“It was great. Starting off 0-6 and ending 8-2, it takes a lot to do that. So it’s pretty special to make it to the playoffs.”

St. Pierre said Lebanon — which closed out its 8-8 season with wins over Keene on Friday and Bedford on Saturday — learned late last week of the issue involving Post 79, which beat Post 22 twice during the 16-game regular season. All of Post 79’s results were erased from the record by the violation, leaving Lebanon at 8-6 entering states.

“We have a deadline to get paperwork in, and the chairman reviews it all and, if he sees a problem, gets back to the team to let them know about it,” St. Pierre said Monday morning. “In this case, (Post 79 was) late in getting its paperwork in, so the chairman didn’t have time to get back to them. They had played games with an illegal player. The chairman said he had no choice based on the rules — they had an illegal player, so they had to forfeit the games.”

New Hampshire American Legion baseball committee chairman Gary Webster, of Hudson, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The New Hampshire league handles the building of Legion rosters on a school-enrollment basis. Each team claims a base school from which to recruit players and can also pull from other schools in its vicinity. The program must add the grades 10-12 enrollments for each school represented on its roster, a number that cannot exceed 5,000.

Manchester Post 79 has Manchester Central, Trinity High and the Derryfield School as its bases, but added a player from Manchester West when Manchester’s Jutras Post 43 decided not to field a team this season. Post 79 also added a released player who attended Concord High, which pushed the team past the 5,000-enrollment threshold.

According to a Manchester Union Leader story last week, Post 79 appealed to the national office after being informed of the violation by state authorities. That appeal was denied over the weekend, and St. Pierre got the word of Lebanon’s invitation first thing Monday morning. (The schools contributing to Post 22’s senior roster — Lebanon, Hanover, Stevens, Newport, Kearsarge and Kimball Union Academy — add up to an enrollment of 3,585, St. Pierre said.)

“When we first heard about it, we were told they were forfeiting all their games and they were done, but later on we found out they appealed and that whole process,” Blewitt noted. “We knew, if we won out, we’d have a pretty good chance with their whole situation. We ended up losing two of our last 10. We kinda needed to win nine, but we won eight. Good enough.”

Without the help, Lebanon — despite the torrid conclusion to its season – might have been on the outside looking in.

Entering Monday night’s final evening of games, Post 22 was looking at no better than a tie for the fourth and final slot at states from the district, behind Concord Post 21 (14-1), Post 79 (9-6) and Laconia Post 1 (9-7). Had Goffstown Post 16 (9-6) beaten Manchester at St. Anselm’s College on Monday night, Lebanon would have been eliminated from the picture. (The game was cancelled in light of the ruling against Post 79.)

“I talked to (Post 22’s players) after the game on Saturday that we won,” St. Pierre said. “I congratulated them, told them I was really proud of them. We started out 0-6, and most teams would tank with that. They went 8-2 the rest of the schedule. I told them good things still could happen and not to think the season was over yet.”

Sweeney Post 2, Manchester’s other New Hampshire senior squad, is the big loser in the Post 79 decision. Giving up a win and a defeat from its regular-season encounters with its intercity rival, Sweeney went from 8-8 and in contention for states to 7-7 and out of the picture on a tiebreaker with Laconia. Goffstown nudged Lebanon for the district’s second seed by sweeping their two-game season set.

Coach Rob Woodward scheduled Monday’s workout regardless of the fate of Post 79’s appeal.

“We had a few kids that had played and a few that didn’t, and they didn’t know how the competition was,” Woodward said of Post 22’s slow start and fast finish. “We just came together and started hitting the ball.”

The decision also marks a first for Post 22, which will send its junior and senior teams together to states for the first time. Already assured of a berth in next week’s state tournament in Concord, the Lebanon juniors can clinch the regular-season District A2 title with a win over second-place Plymouth Post 66 at Plymouth State University tonight.

“Everyone seems happy,” Blewitt said. “The whole last week when we were playing, we knew we had to win to get in. Once we managed it, we were pretty excited.”

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