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Upper Valley Anglers, down 8-0, roar back to beat Nashua, make COVID league final

  • Upper Valley's Kobe Benoit, center, is mobbed by his teammates after his game-winning walk-off hit in the seventh inning defeated Nashua 9-8 to win their best-of-three semifinal series in the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League tournament in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 13, 2020. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Upper Valley's Jack Loftus rolls past first base after a diving slide as Nashua's Dan Trespacz holds the ball in the air for the call. Loftus was called safe on the second-inning leadoff bunt in the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League tournament in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 13, 2020. Lebanon won, 9-8, to advance to the championship. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Upper Valley Anglers, including assistant coach Rich Parker, celebrate after Jack Loftus crosses the plate to defeat Nashua 9-8 in the best-of-three semifinal series in the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League tournament in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 13, 2020. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Upper Valley's Trey Parker reacts to a safe call on Nashua baserunner Drew Griniewicz tag up to second base following a caught fly ball in the seventh inning in the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League tournament in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 13, 2020. Lebanon won, 9-8, to advance to the championship. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2020 10:17:48 PM
Modified: 8/13/2020 10:17:38 PM

LEBANON — Last at-bat. Two outs. Three runs down. Bases loaded. Best bat on the team at the plate.

Waiting in the on-deck circle, Kobe Benoit expected teammate Jack Loftus would be the guy to get the Upper Valley Anglers to the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League finals.

He was wrong by a factor of one.

Benoit followed a two-run Loftus double by launching a 1-2 pitch to deep right-center field for a two-run, walk-off triple that completed a comeback from an 8-0 deficit, as fourth-seeded Upper Valley upended No. 8 Nashua, 9-8, in a you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it semifinal on Thursday at Lebanon High School.

The Anglers’ return from the depths secured a two-games-to-one series victory and a date in the best-of-three NHCBL championship set starting Saturday.

Excellent Nashua starter Zach Finkelstein — two years into a college baseball career at Montreal’s McGill University — economically silenced the Anglers (15-10) into the sixth when Defenders coach Tim Lunn went to the bullpen. Upper Valley took advantage of two relievers and Nashua’s Achilles’ heel, its defense, to prevail.

“The last pitch, I knew I had to protect,” said Benoit, a recent Lebanon High graduate. “I saw a middle-out fastball and just to go with it. Never pull that; just gotta go with it. That was huge, because that was looking really bad for about five innings.”

Finkelstein’s two-hit pitching and the Defenders’ active bats left Nashua coach Tim Lunn thinking ahead with an eight-run lead. Leave Finkelstein in to secure the win? Get him out early so he could pitch in the finals?

There ended up being no correct answer. Upper Valley tagged relievers Corey O’Day and Varun Lingadal for nine runs — the first two went on the unfortunate Finkelstein’s account — on just four hits. Three of the Defenders’ five errors on the evening came in a five-run sixth that started the engine of the Anglers’ steamroller.

“With an eight-run lead, we should be able to hold that,” Lunn said. “What happened the last two innings was we didn’t make enough plays.”

Nashua (11-13-1) scratched a run off Upper Valley starter Brendan Walker in the second inning, then blew him out in the fourth. University of Delaware-bound first baseman Dan Trespacz delivered the killer shot of a six-run explosion, a grand slam to deep left-center for a 7-0 lead that the visitors extended with another run in the fifth.

Finkelstein, who threw just 55 pitches on the evening, had Upper Valley batters swinging and missing early and often.

“When you’re down 8-0, it’s really hard to come back,” Benoit said.

The Anglers got going in the home sixth with a Nashua infield error and a walk, leading Lunn to pull Finkelstein for O’Day. Upper Valley’s Ben Williams walked to load the bases, and Nolan Gantrish’s single to right got Upper Valley on the board.

It got crazy two batters later. Loftus forced a wild throw from short on a ground ball that plated one run, and his hustle to second base produced another overthrow to bring in two more runs. Loftus stole third base on a Benoit strikeout, and Trey Parker’s RBI infield hit brought Loftus home and the Anglers to within 8-5.

No. 8 hitter Trey Chickering, who started the nine-batter rally in the sixth, did it again with a walk to open the seventh. Lunn removed O’Day in favor of Lingadal, a lefty out of Nashua North who nearly made the Dartmouth College baseball team this spring. Lingadal got two outs before the wheels came off.

Gantrish and Keegan Silovich walked to load the bases. Loftus yanked a double to left-center that cut the gap to 8-7. That brought up Benoit, who found himself one pitch from season’s end when Lingadal’s fastball came calling.

“We practice this stuff day in and day out in BP, hitting the outside pitch into right field,” Benoit said. “Everything that we do in practice leads up to these games, and we just have to put everything together.”

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




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