NASHUA — In a Division I semifinal baseball game affording little scoring opportunity, third-seeded Merrimack struck it rich in the eighth, winning a 2-0 extra-inning thriller over second-seeded defending champion Nashua North at Holman Stadium.
The Tomahawks (16-5) will face top-ranked Concord, the 2011 runner up, which beat Manchester Memorial, 2-1, in Thursday's late semifinal. The title game is Saturday, June 16, at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, at 4 p.m.
“In a great game like this you just knew someone would have to make a great play or take advantage of a mistake in order to win. And that's just what happened,” said coach Will Henderson after watching his North team's (16-6) season end.
Merrimack's number nine hitter, Alex Krysiak, lead off the eighth with a double to center and scored from second on an error of Ian Theriault's bunt, who later scored an insurance run, putting an end to a fantastic pitchers' duel.
The semifinal featured a highly anticipated matchup between the division's best righty hurler, University of Hartford-bound Jake Mellin dueling the state's top southpaw, Tom Hudon, heading for St. Anselm College. Both struck out four, with Mellin conceding six hits while Hudon tossed a two-hit shutout.
“I had nothing out there,” said Hudon referring to his fastball, curve and change pitches. “But there's nothing bigger than going up against one of the best pitchers in the state in a big game played on his home field. I was tired and not going to pitch the eighth. But once we scored, I wasn't giving this game to anyone.”
The win was Merrimack's 13th straight. Eleven were shutout victories.
Both aces were quite stingy, making baserunners a precious commodity in the first five innings. Hudon held North hitless until opposing pitcher Mellin managed a two-out single. Hudon broke Mellin's no-hit bid in the first. After allowing second inning singles to Mickey Gasper and Shane Williams, Mellin retired the next 11.
Both clubs fumbled chances in advancing them around the horn. The Tomahawks collected two hits in the second but popped up a bunt and had a runner thrown out attempting to swipe second. The Titans' attempted hit-and-run play turned into an inning-ending double play in the third.
Merrimack stranded three runners in the top of the sixth, loading the bases with one out on singles from Ian Theriault and Jackson King before Hudon's fielder's choice bunt crammed the bases. Mellin's inside heater produced an infield fly and a rally-killing grounder to short.
North created a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning with Kelvin Rodriguez hitting a single and Matt Fortin working a four-pitch walk. Hudon then took a turn jamming an inside fastball to induce a hometown-crowd groaning third-out pop up.
“The matchup held up to the billing,” said Jim Davala, serving as Merrimack's acting head coach as manager Ryan Anderson served a two-game suspension following his ejection from a first-round playoff game. “We had to fight adversity and find a way to score, not getting too high or too low.”
“I saw the pitcher coming and went after it,” said Krysiak. “I didn't have to hit it hard. I just used his (Mellin's) power. It wasn't easy, but we found a way to get it done.”
Concord 2, Memorial 1: Hitless in his first two attempts against Memorial ace Zach Beckwith, Graham McIntire finally got a pitch he could hit, and drove home the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It was a fastball right down the juicer,” said the Concord senior, who scored pinch runner Nate Strozewski from third by lining a single past a drawn in infield. “I was smiling all the way to first base. I was up there swinging to hit.”
“He's a tough hitter to have the infield in on, but you had to in that situation,” said Memorial coach Aaron Abood. Shortstop Kevin Gonzales dove to his right, just missing the ball.
Concord pitcher Eddie Dionne who struck out four and allowed just three hits worked Memorial batters with an 85 mph fastball and a biting curve. Counterpart, Zach Beckwith, who whiffed two and made sevden fielding plays while allowing five hits, kept Concord batters off balance by consistently changing speeds and locations.
“It was tough going at the plate. I got a high fastball and made it count and now we have a chance for redemption,” said Dionne who singled with one out in the sixth and was replaced by the pinch runner. Dionne then set down Memorial in order in the seventh, giving Concord its second straight trip to the championship game.
Concord struck three straight hits in the bottom of the second, but produced one run when Braden Smith plated Dillon Emerson. Three great defensive efforts from pitcher Zach Beckwith prevented further damage.
The Crusaders knotted the score in the fifth when Mike Torres drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on Chaz Newton's bunt and then took third when a 2-1 offering bounced in the dirt, scooting away from the catcher. Bryant Bettez bunted a base hit on the next pitch, a safety-squeeze play plating Torres.
“This game was like our season. We battled from start to finish,” said Abood. “I'm proud of these guys. They've got a lot of fight.”
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Eric Emmerling may be reached at email@example.com.