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Upper Valley Anglers offense flexes in COVID league semifinal opener

  • Nashua's Drew Gryniewicz reacts to being called out at third base on a tag by Upper Valley's Sam Sacerdote in the second inning of their New Hampshire COVID Baseball League semifinal in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 11, 2020. Upper Valley won, 9-5, in the first game of the best-of-three series. (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, right, is congratulated by teammate Kobe Benoit after Loftus's solo home run in the third inning of the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League semifinal against Nashua in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 11, 2020. Upper Valley won, 9-5, in the first game of the best-of-three series. (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 Nolan Gantrish edges towards the end of his pitch count in the sixth inning of the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League semifinal against Nashua in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 11, 2020. Upper Valley won, 9-5, in the first game of the best-of-three series. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Upper Valley Anglers head coach Rob Woodward, right, and his team tip their hats to Nashua after their 9-5 semifinal win in the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League playoffs in Lebanon, N.H., on Aug. 11, 2020. (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: 8/11/2020 10:37:42 PM
Modified: 8/11/2020 10:37:35 PM

LEBANON — To be a defender, one must first defend.

The Upper Valley Anglers took full advantage when the Nashua Defenders fell short of their moniker on Tuesday evening, earning a 9-5 victory in the first game of a best-of-three New Hampshire COVID Baseball League semifinal at Lebanon High School. Five Nashua errors in the game’s first three innings enabled the fourth-ranked Anglers (14-9) to extend rallies and build an 8-3 cushion that the eighth-seeded Defenders (10-12-1) couldn’t challenge.

Game two is Wednesday at Nashua’s Bishop Guertin High School, with a 5 p.m. first pitch.

The Anglers slapped nine hits off Nashua starting pitcher Isaac Zhang in those first three frames to build their big lead. That was plenty for Upper Valley starter Nolan Gantrish, who surrendered eight hits over six innings but worked himself out of trouble when needed.

“I came in and just wanted to throw strikes, not give them anything that was easy,” Gantrish said. “I hit two guys, but other than that I made them earn it with hits. They earned it some, but not enough to win.”

Upper Valley leadoff hitter Ben Williams reached base four times, scored twice and drove in two runs. Catcher Jack Loftus had the blast of the night, a solo home run on the first pitch of the home third to signal the four-run rally that ultimately secured victory.

“What let us down was we just gave them a few too many outs in certain situations,” Nashua coach Tim Lunn said. “Couple of miscues, couple of errors in the infield, those things just prolong those innings, make our pitchers throw a little bit more but also give them second chances.”

The Defenders’ defense deserted early.

Zhang singled and scored in the top of the first inning to get the visitors on the board. Upper Valley leadoff hitter Ben Williams responded quickly; his routine grounder bad-hopped over Nashua shortstop Zach Rioux, and Williams hustled into second base before another infield error on a Loftus grounder brought him home.

A Nashua misplay also contributed to a three-run Upper Valley second. Trey Parker doubled and Andrew Hadlock singled to put runners on the corners.

Sam Sacerdote plated Parker with a one-out sacrifice bunt, which Williams followed with a ringing RBI double to left.

Gantrish made it 4-1 with a single that bounced past the Nashua right fielder, giving Williams more than enough time to trot home.

“It doesn’t really matter who our opponent is; we go at it with a sense of pride and a sense of fire,” said Williams, the rising Hanover High sophomore. “We want to show that we’re the best-hitting team out there. We want to show that we’ll stay aggressive.”

The Defenders nicked Gantrish for a pair of runs in the third, aided by two hit batsmen, but the Bridgton Academy-bound hurler got out of the jam by stranding the potential tying run at third base.

Loftus then greeted Zhang’s first pitch of the home half with a blast that snacked a car windshield well beyond the left-center field fence for a 5-3 advantage.

Four more Upper Valley hits, a Parker sacrifice bunt and two more Nashua errors later, the Anglers sat atop a comfortable 8-3 cushion.

“Against a team that puts the ball in play like that,” Lunn said, “you can’t give them second chances.”

Corey O’Day threw two hitless innings of relief for Nashua, and Rioux allowed a run in an inning of work.

Better for the Defenders, however, is both kept below 30 pitches and can throw again on Wednesday or, if needed, in a deciding game on Thursday back at Lebanon High.

The Anglers finished with 11 hits. Bottom-of-the-order batter Sam Sacerdote contributed two hits, two runs and two RBIs, the first on a sac bunt in Upper Valley’s three-run second frame.

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




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