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Legion Baseball Teams Hit the Field

  • Owen Connor of Hartford American Legion Post 26 smacks a line drive Saturday during his team's scrimmage with Lebanon Post 26. Connor, 18, lost his right arm in a mountain bike accident on Sept. 25, 2010. Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Owen Connor of Hartford American Legion Post 26 smacks a line drive Saturday during his team's scrimmage with Lebanon Post 26. Connor, 18, lost his right arm in a mountain bike accident on Sept. 25, 2010. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hunter Perkins delivers a pitch Saturday for Hartford's American Legion Post 26 team. Perkins, who will be a freshman at Hartford High in the fall, allowed two runs in his initial inning of a scrimmage against Lebanon Post 22, but held the visitors scoreless during the next three frames.<br/>Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Hunter Perkins delivers a pitch Saturday for Hartford's American Legion Post 26 team. Perkins, who will be a freshman at Hartford High in the fall, allowed two runs in his initial inning of a scrimmage against Lebanon Post 22, but held the visitors scoreless during the next three frames.
    Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Owen Connor of Hartford American Legion Post 26 smacks a line drive Saturday during his team's scrimmage with Lebanon Post 26. Connor, 18, lost his right arm in a mountain bike accident on Sept. 25, 2010. Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Hunter Perkins delivers a pitch Saturday for Hartford's American Legion Post 26 team. Perkins, who will be a freshman at Hartford High in the fall, allowed two runs in his initial inning of a scrimmage against Lebanon Post 22, but held the visitors scoreless during the next three frames.<br/>Valley News - Tris Wykes

White River Junction — Much of the cream of the Upper Valley’s high school baseball crop was on display during Saturday’s senior American Legion scrimmage at Hartford High. The hosts, Hartford’s Post 26, represented Vermont, while the visitors, Lebanon’s Post 22, carried New Hampshire’s figurative flag.

The scorebook said Lebanon prevailed, but winning wasn’t the priority. At one point, Lebanon third base coach Rick Brown wandered by the Hartford dugout and asked Post 26 boss Jarrod Grassi if he could please have his next few runners steal in order to give Post 22 a sense of how its catchers threw under pressure.

Grassi grinned.

“Sure,” he said. “And you’ll flash the take sign every time we get two strikes on you, right?”

No, the score wasn’t really relevant. Post 26 has already split two league games and Post 22 opens today at Goffstown. So both teams were more of a mind to let everyone get some playing time and tune up for the busy schedule to come.

“We practice almost every night, three hours a night,” said Post 22 coach Rob Woodward, whose 2013 squad overcame a sub-par start to advance to the state tournament semifinals. “We’re not a team that plays by the book or by routine and learning that is a process for the new guys.”

Among those back from last year’s roster are Newport’s Jeff Quimby, Hanover’s Rohan Kumar and Jordy Levin, Kearsarge’s Nick Bailey and KUA’s Ben Bates. Among those who could have returned but did not are former Hanover and current Holy Cross College pitcher Joe Cravero, playing in a Massachusetts league, and former Hanover player Isaac Fleming-Steinberg, who’s out with an injury. Cyrus Rothwell-Ferraris, also a onetime Marauder, is preparing to play football at NCAA Division III Wesleyan (Conn.) University.

Newcomers to the Post 22 program include Sam Barrett, an Andover, N.H., resident who played at Proctor Academy, former Thetford Academy and current Bowdoin (Maine) College player Andrew Cawley and onetime Sunapee High and current Bentley (Mass.) University player Noah Skarin. Perhaps most notably, Newport High rising senior and standout pitcher Andrew Houde has come on board.

Lebanon High students and cousins Caleb and Cam Broughton, along with fellow Raider Tanner Simms, Newport’s Brady Bates and Sunapee’s Ben Robinson, graduated from Post 22’s junior team, which reached the state final last summer. Despite that success, Woodward cautioned that moving up requires adjustments.

“We’re young and the speed of the everything picks up,” Woodward said. “You have to learn the strike zone and how to be in the game, to have that concentration. As a pitcher, it’s not two fastballs and then a curve anymore. You have to learn how to really pitch, how to set guys up.”

Post 26 struggled last summer, but Grassi, who’s also Hartford High’s longtime bench coach, expects a more enjoyable June and July this year. The vast majority of the roster is comprised of Hurricanes, the exceptions including Windsor’s Nick Kapuscinski and Connor Gould. College freshmen and former Hartford players who have returned include Joe Sweeney (Boston University), Dylan Terino (Castleton State) and Patric Roberts (University of South Carolina). The three did not play college ball in the spring.

The big news for area baseball wonks, however, is that 14-year-old Hunter Perkins has finally arrived on a comparatively big stage. A youth baseball sensation for the past few summers, the rising Hartford High freshman not only made the Post 26 team, but is likely to start at first base and be a regular in the pitching rotation. The stocky lefthander allowed two unearned runs during his first inning on the mound Saturday, but followed with three scoreless frames, earning praise from Grassi, who doesn’t dish it out freely.

“Hunter’s been impressive at every level and I don’t see any reason he’s not going to be outstanding here,” the coach said. “He could have a head so big, you couldn’t get a helmet on it, but he gives a good effort and he’s humble. If he keeps on progressing the way he has, he’s going to have a chance to play at a pretty high level after he leaves here.”

Another rising freshman on Hartford’s roster is Tyler Hamilton, who caught his classmate for a time Saturday. A year up the ladder, Jordy Allard and Dylan Spencer are on the team, as are future Hartford juniors Jacob Perkins and Codi Smith. Cam Gaudette, a member of the class of 2014, will provide further experience.

American Legion “is the best baseball you can play around here,” Grassi said. “Our group that won the (high school) state title in 2009, they all played it in the summer. Everything’s better, including the pitching. Kids have built up arm strength and have better location after playing high school in the spring and the kids who come back from college make it more challenging. You see a lot more breaking balls in the summer.”

Notes: Ben Bates said he will attend Endicott (Mass.) College in the fall. … Cawley played for Post 26 last summer, but Grassi said he released the player so he could try out for Post 22 earlier this month. … Quimby is home-schooled and played on the jayvee team at Stevens before suiting up for Newport this spring. He also plays for the Concord (N.H.) Cannons club team, coached by Concord native and former major leaguer Matt Tupman. … Hamilton is the son of Dartmouth diving coach Chris Hamilton. … Grassi said Steve Cerrone, who recently completed his junior year at Hartford High and has been a Hurricanes mainstay for several seasons, is playing for Post 22’s junior team and will attend Phillips Exeter Academy in southeastern New Hampshire starting in the fall.

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

Correction

Lebanon Post 22 pitcher Andrew Houde recently completed his junior year at Newport High School. He was misidentified in an earlier version of this story, and his grade level was incorrect.