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Post 22 Aces Debut

Concord — Prior to yesterday’s 10-2 New Hampshire American Legion state tournament-opening win over Derry Post 9, Lebanon Post 22 endured a number of roster setbacks as left fielder-pitcher Ben Bates suffered an eye injury during batting practice and starting right fielder Rohan Kumar grew ill prior to first pitch at Concord’s Memorial Field.

Luckily for Lebanon, Joe Cravero more than made up for the ailments. The Holy Cross-bound pitcher struck out a season-high 12 in eight innings of shutout ball, giving up four hits and three walks as Post 22 (9-6) won for the ninth time in 11 games.

Lebanon, District A’s No. 3 seed, got into the playoffs — and had two losses erased from its record — after Manchester Post 79’s season was wiped out because of a roster violation. If there was any doubt Post 22 belonged in the postseason, it was vanquished Friday as Lebanon shellacked District B runner-up Derry (13-6) behind Cravero’s brilliance and an 11-hit, eight-walk offensive assault that helped produce eight or more Lebanon runs for the third straight game.

Lebanon beat Keene, 8-0, and Bedford, 8-5, to conclude the regular season, completing an 8-2 turnaround after starting the year 0-6.

“A 10-2 game? I think we showed we deserve to be here,” said Cravero, who also contributed two doubles, two RBIs and two runs to the offense. “It was huge for us to come out here and battle and get a (result) like this.”

Lebanon coach Rob Woodward is tired of hearing about perceptions of a gift-wrapped entry into the tournament.

“We might have gotten in (as the No. 4 seed) anyway,” he said. “We don’t even think about Post 79 (because) we did a heck of a job to get here. Any time you start 0-6 and then go 8-2 and end up in the playoffs, that’s something special.”

Post 22 will face the winner of today’s game between Concord and Londonderry on Sunday at noon back at Memorial Field. The Post 21-Post 27 contest, along with the Gofftstown-Nashua game also originally scheduled for Friday, were postponed until today due to a rainstorm that peppered southern New Hampshire yesterday. Light-but-steady precipitation fell for most of the Lebanon-Derry contest, intensifying in the late innings as parts of the field puddled.

Cravero allowed the lead runner on in two of the first three innings but recovered in a big way, retiring the side in order in the fourth and fifth and striking out 10 through five innings.

“Joe was Joe today,” Woodward said. “He showed why he’s going (to a Division I college). He threw good pitches, kept the ball down, struck people out and kept it going (through the eighth). At the same time, I don’t want to give all the credit to Joe because we also put on a hitting clinic today.”

Cam Blewitt went 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs, Dalton Campbell was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and a run, Cyrus Rothwell-Ferraris had four runs, a double and four walks and Jordy Levin went 2-for-3 for Post 22, which blew a close game open with a four-run sixth off of left-handed Derry starter Andrew Herlihy (62∕3 innings, seven hits, five runs, four earned, three walks, three strikeouts).

Lebanon added five insurance runs while batting around against relievers Riley Cahill (four walks) and Rick Casey (four runs, two earned) in the top of the ninth.

“We’ve been battling at the plate all year and had some tough at-bats (early in the season),” Cravero said. “It’s coming together at the right time for us.”

Leadoff hitter Rothwell-Ferraris got Post 22 going in both the first and sixth, drawing a walk and scoring from second on error in the first for a 1-0 lead that held for five innings.

Rothwell-Ferraris doubled to lead off the sixth, the first of four consecutive Lebanon hits that included opposite-field, RBI shots to right by Blewitt and Campbell sandwiched around Cravero’s run-scoring double to right-center.

“I told the guys not to pull the ball against (Herlihy) because he’s probably won a lot of games this year getting hitters to ground to shortstop,” said Woodward. “They did a good job taking it the other way.”

Blewitt’s RBI single to center made it 6-0 and chased Herlihy in the seventh before first reliever Cahill got out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth. Cahill departed favoring his throwing arm after facing one batter in the ninth, and Lebanon poured it on against fill-in Casey.

Blewitt, Cravero and Campbell combined for three straight hits for the second time in three innings, Liam Gantrish reached on a throwing error, Casey hit Levin and Nick Bailey consecutively and Rothwell-Ferraris drew an RBI walk with two outs to cap Post 22’s five-run ninth.

Blewitt pitched the bottom of the ninth and allowed the first four Post 9 batters — all pinch hitters — to reach, including Kyle Albertelli’s two-run single to down the left field line for Derry’s lone runs of the game. No. 9 hitter Joey Murphy hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.

Extra Bases: Blewitt injured his ankle warming up prior to Lebanon’s regular-season finale against Bedford last Saturday and was replaced effectively by Isaac Fleming-Steinberg. Woodward would not confirm who will start Sunday, saying, “We have some options.” … Kumar, a previous reserve who played himself into the starting lineup late in the season, was replaced by Chase Hussey in right after growing suddenly ill just before first pitch. Hussey went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt and a walk. … Rothwell-Ferraris drew a full-count walk in the seventh and stole second on the same play, hustling all the way to take advantage of a passed ball on ball four. … Derry’s Jamie Collins broke his bat both while reaching on an error in the third and while popping out in the sixth.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.