Manchester beat Hampton 7-3 in the winners’ bracket final of the state Babe Ruth Baseball (13-15) Tournament, and after the game, manager Mickey Hanagan delivered some news to a handful of spectators.
“I told them last year we went to the 14-year-old World Series and this year we’ve got a better overall team,” said Hanagan. “In all three phases — pitching, offense and defense — we’re better than last year.”
No one on the state level will disagree with Hanagan.
In three state tournament playoff wins to date at Michele Park in Salem, the Tom Woodlock All-Stars have outscored their opponents by a 35-3 margin. Manchester pounded Nashua 10-0 in a five-inning mercy rule game in round one, then routed A.J. Laramie of Laconia 18-0 in five innings in the second round.
Hampton gave Manchester a seven-inning battle Monday, but three runs just wasn’t enough against Manchester’s potent offense.
“We have depth at every position,” said Hanagan. “No matter what the starting lineup is, the six players on the bench could start for teams across the state. In our first game against Nashua, I played nine players. The next day, the six kids who didn’t play against Nashua all started against Laconia and we scored 18 runs. Every kid on our roster can play and hit the ball hard.”
Last year, Hanagan coached the Manchester 14-year-old Hanagan All-Star team and guided the team to a 12-0 start after winning the regional crown in Westfield, Mass. In the regionals, Manchester won all five games, including four of them by one run. The team earned a World Series berth to Moses Lake, Wash., where it lost its first three games before salvaging a 7-6 win over Tualatin Hills, Ore., in the final game of the round-robin format.
The 1-3 record prevented Manchester from reaching the semifinals.
“We just didn’t play well as a team in the World Series,” said Hanagan. “We had a chance to win every game, but we were our own worst enemy at times, booting the ball around.”
Hanagan has 10 returning players from last year’s World Series team. “I remind them that we’re very capable of getting back to the World Series this summer,” said Hanagan. “If we show up to play and make the routine plays, we have the experience and talent to make another run at the national title.”
It starts with pitching. Hanagan has last year’s three starters back, righthanders Pat Swanson, Drew Merrick and Matt Reynolds. Last year in the district, state and regional tournaments, all three starters registered seven-inning complete games at least twice.
In the state tournament this week Swanson pitched a one-hitter against Nashua, Merrick struck out eight batters against Laconia, and in six innings, Reynolds fanned six and walked no one against Hampton.
Hanagan also has Nick Salcito, a member of the NHIAA Division I champion Londonderry Lancers, Jason Derome and lefthanded 14-year-old Declan Knieriem at his disposal. “We’ve got three solid starters and at least three other guys who can get you a key out or battle out of a jam in relief,” said Hanagan.
Along with Salcito, Hanagan said Riley Denver (Memorial) and Merrick (Trinity) played varsity high school baseball this spring. Reynolds (Memorial), Jonathan Robinson (Memorial) and Brian Sutton (Central) played on their junior varsity team.
The heart of Manchester’s defense is solid behind catcher Nathan Hall, shortstop Salcito and centerfielder Joey Silva, who has great speed. “Silva is our leadoff hitter and he covers a lot of ground in the outfield. He’s very reliable” said Hanagan.
Sutton and Reynolds share duties at first base and, Robinson and Denver platoon at second base. When Salcito pitches, Denver can switch to short. When Swanson is pitching, Hanagan can plug in Derome at third base. Merrick and Knieriem are interchangeable in left field and Nicholas Duhaime and Kyle Jutras take turns manning right field. Nick Sullivan and Eric Langley are role players who can pinch-hit and run in key situations.
“Everyone on the team gets along with each other and chemistry is something every team needs to be successful,” said Hanagan, now in his 50th Babe Ruth season. Hanagan has coached in 13 World Series tournaments.
Manchester will play for the state championship Thursday at 5 p.m. at Michele Park in Salem and will enter the New England Regional Tournament as the host team beginning Aug. 2 at Gill Stadium.