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For Post 22, Any Celebrating Must Wait

Lebanon — An undefeated record does not necessarily a happy Rob Woodward make.

With a perfect 10-0 mark and only one team within 3½ games of his American Legion baseball squad in the New Hampshire District A standings, Lebanon Post 22’s coach could be heard from a distance prior to Wednesday’s scheduled game with Concord Post 21 at Lebanon High School. The tone: serious, not celebratory.

Woodward had his charges smiling before sending them off, but with a message: In the face of the program’s most successful start to date, there’s no time for the congratulatory patting of backsides.

“We were just talking to them about how many games in a row we have to finish,” Woodward said after a passing downpour washed out Wednesday’s game. “We told them, ‘We’re 10-0, but you can go from the highest plateau to the bottom of your boot in five days the way the schedule is set up.’ Nothing is safe right now.”

The afternoon gully washer left standing water on the infield dirt and the first-base coaching box while also further clogging Post 22’s schedule. Lebanon will make up Wednesday’s washout today at 5 p.m. in Concord; the contest will kick off an eight-games-in-10-days conclusion to the campaign leading up to the New Hampshire state tournament in Nashua.

Because of that, the message became one of resting and recovering, not sitting back and enjoying Post 22’s lofty status to date.

“They’re very coachable kids, and that’s what we go for,” Woodward said. “Talent, good kids and kids that will listen. They’ve really picked it up quick.

“They’ve hit the ball well. They run the bases pretty good. And they’re into the game.”

There isn’t an undefeated anything anywhere that hasn’t enjoyed a bit of good fortune. Count Post 22 in that category as well.

Lebanon stayed perfect on Tuesday night with a 4-3 win over Keene Post 4 at Monadnock Regional High School. A victory would have doubled Keene’s win tally for the summer and put an ignominious end to Post 22’s fast start, but Lebanon used a handful of walks to erase a one-run deficit in the ninth inning and lock down another W.

“A hell of a win,” assistant coach Dustin Broughton confessed with a grin. “We had our doubts.”

Broughton and Woodward bring more than two decades of combined American Legion playing and coaching experience to the dugout. In their day, when Hartford Post 26 was the Upper Valley’s sole Legion program, both of them could count on seeing a healthy dose of Lebanon faces on the roster.

Not so anymore. Whether it’s because of the changing athletic pursuits of youths or the emergence of Lebanon Post 22 as a solid summer baseball playing option for western New Hampshire, Woodward and Broughton have had to make sure team chemistry gets as much attention as team talks.

Lebanon has been getting contributions from all over the map. Sunapee’s Ben Robinson threw six innings of one-run ball against Keene to give Post 22 a chance on Tuesday.

Stevens’ Chase Hussey has become something of a stopper out of the bullpen, locking down Tuesday’s win as well as Sunday night’s 10-4 over Sweeney Post 2 at Manchester’s Gill Stadium. Newport’s Andrew Houde and Kimball Union’s Ben Bates “have struck out a lot of guys,” Broughton noted.

Aside from the usual Lebanon-Hanover base, Post 22 boasts contributors from schools as far-flung as Woodsville, Kearsarge and Proctor Academy this summer.

“They know that this is a quality Legion place to play ball, and if you’re thinking of going to college, you need to come through this program,” Woodward said, noting Post 22’s level of on- and off-field support. “This is where they want to go.”

Woodward entered the summer figuring 13 wins in 18 league games would be enough to make states. A 3-5 finish should be good enough, but good enough isn’t what the Post 22 coach has in mind. A change in the playoff format — New Hampshire switched from four divisions to two this year, with the top four teams in each making states — also factors into the equation.

“If you’ve got five losses,” Woodward said, “it’s borderline. … You’ve got to stay above that to make sure you get in.”

Never comfortable being the frontrunner, Woodward is finding opponents putting Post 22 in that role. Starting the second time around with some divisional foes, Woodward said he’s noticed opposing outfields playing shallower to combat a Lebanon team that hits well, but doesn’t necessarily own many power bats.

“We’re absolutely not a power-hitting team,” Woodward said. “They do a great job hitting line drives, hitting the holes and stuff. Not a lot of doubles, anything like that. They play the game the way they’re supposed to.”

There’s something else that Broughton has noticed.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of No. 1s with these other teams,” the former Lebanon High pitcher said. “They’re coming at us with what they’ve got and knock us off.”

So the work continues. Even with Wednesday’s rainout, Woodward had four of his pitchers — Rohan Kumar, Jordy Levin, Cam Broughton and Bryar Rouillard — in the outfield with catchers Tanner Simms and Jeff Quimby playing long toss, all the better to have them ready for the busiest 10 days of their summer.

“One hundred percent, it’s taking care of themselves, getting the rest, taking care of the sore arms,” Broughton said.

“Back when we were playing Legion baseball, we used to play 40-plus games. We’re playing 20 now, but we’ve got them all jammed up now, so it’s like when we used to play. You’ve got to be prepared, and you’ve got to be in shape for it.”

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