Baseball playoff preview: Concord a 7-seed in D-I, John Stark, Bow, Coe-Brown compete in D-II, five other area teams in D-III and D-IV


Monitor staff

Published: 05-31-2023 9:41 PM

On the final opening day of playoff games, the Monitor’s coverage area has nine baseball teams in action.

In Division I, Concord finished the season as the No. 7 seed and hosts Bishop Guertin, a team the Tide beat, 18-1, on May 15.

Wrapping up the regular season at 14-5 overall, it was a strong year at Doane Diamond for a veteran-laden team. Now Concord hopes to avenge last season’s early playoff exit with a deep run.

For that to happen, the Tide will rely on pitchers Matt Drewes and Brooks Craigue to guide the way. Both have provided steady performances on the mound all season.

“They have both been phenomenal,” head coach Scott Owen said of his top two pitchers after the Tide beat Trinity on April 28. “They don’t walk guys. They pound the strike zone. They compete. They keep kids off balance. Their stuff’s good, but they’re better because they compete. … That’s what every pitcher needs to strive to be. They work fast. They’re fun to watch.”

At the plate, look for Craigue and Nater Wachter to help set the tone, with help from others like Kalan Gaudreault and Armen Laylagian.

“We’re coming to fight. We’re coming to win,” Laylagian said after the Tide beat Spaulding on a walk-off on May 19. “It doesn’t matter if we’re going to get beat up along the way. We’re going to take a punch, and we’re going to roll with it, and we’re going to come back swinging.”

In Division II, John Stark finished in sixth place and hosts Kennett. It took a while for the Generals to find consistency with a relatively young roster, but head coach Dennis Pelletier’s group ended the season on a five-game winning streak. In fact, the last time John Stark lost was a 6-3 defeat to Kennett on May 12.

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Since then, the team’s played some of its best baseball of the season. Pelletier anticipated the turnaround after the Generals beat Laconia, 18-1, on May 9.

“I think once we get this in motion and get going, I’m going to be very happy with how we’re going to be,” he said. “I don’t worry about losing games this past week. It happens during the regular season. You’re getting your team ready and figuring things out. We figured out a few more things again today, so it was great to see.”

One spot below John Stark, seventh-seeded Bow will host Pelham. The Falcons beat the Pythons, 4-3, on the road earlier this season. Like John Stark, 2023’s been a year of ups and downs for Ben Forbes’ team. Also like John Stark, the Falcons concluded the regular season on a five-game winning streak.

Pitching from senior Ethan Gray has helped key the streak, which began with his outing against Merrimack Valley on May 15. He pitched 5⅔ innings, allowing six hits and two unearned runs with two walks and six strikeouts.

“He kept the free passes to a minimum – not hitting kids and not walking guys,” Forbes said after that performance. “That was a good start for him, and that was super important to be able to go out and just not give them a ton of free passes, because they hit the ball a little bit today.”

Rounding out Division II, Coe-Brown takes the No. 9 seed and will play Plymouth on the road. The Bears reached the playoffs after finishing 6-11 last year, head coach Rob Stockman’s first season, and demonstrated significant growth in 2023. Although the team lost six of eight to close out the schedule, their 6-2 start to the season buoyed them into the playoffs.

Still, it’s been three months of growing pains for a program that Stockman’s still working to build up.

“We’re a team in the works,” he said after the Bears lost to Oyster River, 8-0, on May 8. “We’re trying to clean everything up and just change the culture here and make them believe in themselves and working hard and doing the right stuff.”

In Division III, three area teams will compete in the postseason. Bishop Brady snags the second seed after a phenomenal 15-1 regular season and hopes to potentially have a crack at unbeaten Monadnock in the championship game. But before thinking too far ahead, the Giants will have to take care of business to get there. They’ll take on the winner of Fall Mountain-Winnisquam in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

If Bishop Brady makes a run, its pitching will likely be the key reason why. All season, head coach Skip Foy has relied on three starters – Mike Thresher, Owen Thornton and Charlie Bolnick.

“It’s kind of been the first year that I’ve had three starters that I can pencil in every week, because usually we have three games a week,” Foy said last week. “We’ve been able to stay on a rotation all year long.”

Further down the standings, Belmont finished the year winning five of six games and will face Stevens as the No. 8 seed on Thursday. In a season of streaks, the Red Raiders appear to be peaking at the right time. If they can make a run, expect pitcher Liam Waldron to play a large role.

“He’s been our No. 1 for a couple years now, and we ride with him,” head coach Matt LeBlanc said of Waldron after the team beat Winnisquam last Monday. “I have no doubt that he’s going to continue to put in the performances that he’s been putting in all along.”

Belmont will also have the support of Alejandro Jimenez Gonzalez, an exchange student from Spain, who’s been a key spark plug in the dugout for the team. In that Winnisquam game, he had his first varsity plate appearance, walked, stole second base and scored a run.

Meanwhile, the Bears will be the No. 10 seed in the D-III bracket, facing off against Fall Mountain. Although Winnisquam lost to Belmont, 10-5, last week, head coach Fred Caruso didn’t express much concern knowing he’d have ace Anthony Boomer ready to go for the playoffs.

“If they see a (No.) 10 seed coming in, they better be ready,” Caruso said. “But we have to play clean. Our offense isn’t built around the three-run homer or the three-run double. We have to string things together, and we have to create opportunities. If we do that, and we play good defense, then we’re good. We’ll be OK.”

Finally in Division IV, Concord Christian finished the regular season 14-2 and will be the No. 6 seed in the playoffs because of a four-way tie for third place in the standings. They’ll face Mascenic, a team they didn’t face this year, while Pittsfield, the No. 15 seed, takes on Sunapee. The Panthers faced the Lakers twice during the regular season and lost both times, 11-0 and 13-0.

Baseball playoffs begin Thursday.