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Another Sport, Another Title Game for Sunapee

Holderness, n.h. — Sunapee right-hander James Fitzgerald didn’t quite approach the seventh inning of the Lakers’ 2-0 win over Pittsfield with a yawn and a shrug, but he wasn’t exactly chewing his nails off behind the cover of his glove, either.

And why should he? Not after playing key roles in Sunapee’s Final Four victories in both soccer and basketball earlier this school year, both at fan-filled neutral sites. Three more outs are just three more outs, after all, no matter the setting.

Three batters and 13 pitches later —10 of them strikes — the ballgame was over, and the Lakers had punched their ticket to yet another finals appearance.

“Today was my last day of high school,” Fitzgerald noted after finishing off his complete-game, five-hit gem. “I just told myself that it was not going to be my last day of high school baseball.”

Fitzgerald’s seventh inning was a microcosm of his afternoon effort: Pound the strike zone with a mixture of fastballs and curve balls, and never forget a real estate agent’s most important mantra: location, location, location.

“I don’t throw extremely hard, but I focus on throwing strikes, and for me that’s really important,” he said. “Today I had a real good feel for the strike zone with both of my pitches, and that was probably the most important thing. For me, accuracy is definitely key.”

Sunapee (16-3) entered the game as the No. 2 seed, despite two regular-season losses to No. 3 Pittsfield (15-4). And while Fitzgerald was on the wrong end of a 9-3 home decision to the Panthers on May 19, Lakers coach Tom Frederick pointed out that his team “couldn’t catch a cold that day.”

Played at Plymouth State University’s Panther Park under a steady, light drizzle, Fitzgerald and Pittsfield counterpart Kris Perkins, a senior lefty, kept things moving briskly. Both pitchers are fast workers, and not until Sunapee’s Mike Platt led off the bottom of the third with a lazy fly to left did the ball leave the infield— for either team. All told, the game took a mere 1 hour, 28 minutes to play.

Perkins, with an excellent curve ball and a hard fastball that tails away from right-handed hitters, had twice conquered Sunapee this season. On Thursday, however, the Lakers were determined to think long-term when it came to solving the Panther senior.

Despite facing the minimum 10 batters through 41⁄3 innings, Perkins was often forced to work deep into counts, and in the bottom of the fourth, Sunapee finally capitalized. With one out, Ben Robinson took a curve ball off the ear of his batting helmet, Jack Weinberger’s dribbler to third was booted, and cleanup hitter Cole Cruz followed with a walk to load the bases.

Next up, and in position to do himself a huge favor, was Fitzgerald, and he did just that by stroking a ground single between third and short to plate Robinson with the game’s first, and ultimately winning, run.

“(Perkins) is a legit player,” Frederick said. “He’s one of the toughest starters, if not the toughest starter, that we’ve faced. Today, we just really tried to work him a bit, see if we could tire him out a little. Fortunately, it paid off just enough.”

The Lakers appeared to have added to their lead later in the inning when Jack Weinberger crossed the plate after Bryson DesChamps’ squibber — which resulted in a throw being launched into right field — but the run was erased from the scoreboard when DesChamps was called out for runner’s interference. This despite leaving behind a trail of seemingly straight and true footprints, to say nothing of the sound of his cleated foot smacking off the first base bag.

Rally killer? Momentum changer? If so, somebody forgot to tell Fitzgerald. Pittsfield’s top of the fifth was as close to Fitzgerald’s cool as ice seventh-inning performance as any other inning. Strikeout. Strikeout. Ground out to first.

“I loved our composure,” Frederick said. “Our guys did not worry about anything but the next inning, and Fitz went out and put up a zero.”

Sunapee added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth inning after Platt led off with a booming triple to the 375-foot marker in left field on a high Perkins curve ball on a 1-0 count. Matt Coughlin’s subsequent fly ball to right was dropped, and Platt raced home for the 2-0 lead.

As effective as Sunapee was in taking advantage of the few scraps Perkins offered, the Laker defense was equally adept at snatching opportunity away from Pittsfield. On four separate occasions over the game’s first four innings, Sunapee eliminated runners from the bases.

In the first, Fitzgerald picked Perkins off first moments after he had grounded a single to left; in the second, Jed Eastman was doubled off second by Sunapee shortstop Cruz after a Branden Smith line out; and in the third, Maxwell Tuttle was gunned out by Robinson trying to steal third (Eastman lined a single to right on the very next pitch), before Laker left fielder Alex Gioldassis threw a strike to Robinson to throw out Eastman at plate two batters later.

“We played great defense today,” Frederick said. “The kids made big plays at critical times. You know, early in the year, we really struggled in the field, but this team just keeps getting better and better.”

Both Fitzgerald and Perkins went the distance. Fitzgerald allowed five hits, struck out six, and walked two. Perkins allowed just two hits, also struck out six, and walked four.

Sunapee will play the winner of today’s semifinal between No. 8 Gorham and No. 4 Colebrook on Saturday at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester. The Lakers did not play either team during the regular season.