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Hanover baseball tough to size up after unexpected playoff run in ’18

  • Hanover High coach John Grainger watches ninth-grader Josh Bucci work through his pitches during practice in Hanover, N.H., on March 22, 2019. The Marauders made it to the Division II semifinals last season. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A stray baseball rests on the basketball gym floor during practice at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., on March 22, 2019. Several inches of snow fell earlier in the day, blanketing fields across the Upper Valley. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Hanover High baseball team, including Latham Allison, left, and Trevor Pierce warm up before the start of practice in Hanover, N.H., on March 22, 2019. The Marauders made it to the Division II semifinals last season. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover High eleventh-grader Noah Gantrish pulls in a grounder during drills in the school gym in Hanover, N.H., on March 22, 2019. The Marauders made it to the Division II semifinals last season. (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
Friday, March 22, 2019

HANOVER — Tuesday was New Hat Day for the Hanover High baseball program, and so the Marauders lined up, each clutching $25 in hand, and were issued either fitted or stretchy lids, depending on preference and availability.

“You’re a 7½?” fourth-year coach John Grainger asked one lad. “I don’t think you’re as big as you think you are. Try a 7¼.”

But what label best fits Hanover? Rebuilding? Reloading? Likely NHIAA Division II playoff participants or observers?

It’s hard to tell a year after the Marauders surprised fans by reaching the state semifinals for the first time in 13 years. Gone are former division rivals Goffstown, Portsmouth and Windham, each of whom moved to Division I. Stepping up from Division III are Stevens and Kearsarge. So where does that leave Hanover?

“We’re very hopeful we can do this year what we did last year, if not better,” said junior pitcher Joey Perras, who appears to have overcome an arm injury suffered early in last summer’s American Legion season. “What we did last year was impressive and hopefully we’re getting some more respect for baseball. I think before, we were thought of as kind of a second-tier sport here at Hanover.”

Hanover graduated six seniors, five of them starters, and the biggest loss was pitcher and third baseman Moises Celaya, the team’s ace and owner of a 1.88 earned-run average. Pitchers David Lehmann and Marcus Hampers also exhausted their eligibility, as did first baseman Braxton McNulty and fleet center fielder Charlie Goodrich.

Grainger, a former Keene State standout and a personal trainer at an area fitness club, said he thinks a top-eight finish and hosting a first-round playoff game is a realistic goal. His team, scheduled to open April 8 at Bow, has soaked in his hitting lessons for the past three years and should be solid at the plate.

Pitching? After Perras and classmate Nolan Gantrish, who finished last season as the team’s shortstop, there’s not much in the way of proven material.

“We need all the pitching we can get,” said Grainger, who’s hoping to get 40 innings apiece from starters Perras and Gantrish. “I worry that without it, some games might get out of hand. The freshmen coming in are raw and they make things look a lot harder than they need to be, but they’re ahead where our freshmen classes have been in the past.”

The positional locks are senior Jack Loftus behind the plate and classmate Kegan Silovich in the outfield. After that? Well, it would be nice to play Gantrish at shortstop again, but he pitches better when he’s not also carrying a fielding load. Perras can play outfield and first base when not on the mound and senior Sam Gallimore figures to pitch as well, but there are many questions to be answered in the next two weeks.

“We got lucky last year with some guys taking on new positions,” said Grainger, who oversaw McNulty’s move from catcher to first base and the outfield debut of Hampers, whose ability to deliver there and as a pitcher were crucial to the Marauders’ 13-6 record. “But we have good athletes, and that’s the most important thing.”

Grainger said he’s more worried about getting his players time on an actual baseball field than whether the program has enough talent. It boasts 23 underclassmen and many of the 11 freshmen played in AAU competition last year.

“It would be overly optimistic to say we’ll be as good as last year because we just don’t have the pitching,” Grainger said. “But our schedule could set us up well.”

That’s a polite way of noting that the slate includes previous lightweights such as Merrimack Valley, Oyster River and Pembroke, and two each with Stevens and Lebanon. The reality is that a weakened division might allow Hanover to post a similar record as in 2018.

“Last season was a pleasant surprise but this year I know we’re going to have some freshmen and sophomores starting,” Grainger said. “We hit way better last year than I thought we would. I think our approach there is really working, so we’ll see if that can carry us again this year.”

Notes: Hanover’s game schedule features a gap for spring break between April 12-22, which worries Grainer a tad. “What’s going to kill us is if we can’t get that first week of games in,” he said. “Then they get rescheduled for May and we end up with what we had last year, which was playing 12 games in the last three weeks.”… Celaya had a strong season as Colby College’s football punter and Goodrich walked on to the Naval Academy’s lightweight crew team and has progressed to the program’s top boat. … Former Hanover High athletic director and head baseball coach Mike Jackson is a Marauders assistant this season. … Silovich had his wisdom teeth out this week, giving the Strafford resident some time off practice.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.