CONCORD — At this point in any season, the margin of error is razor thin.
In this case, just one bad inning — the Keene baseball team’s only bad inning during this entire playoff run — was all it took to put an end to a memorable Blackbirds season.
Concord put up a six-spot in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s NHIAA Division I semifinal game to pull ahead and punch its ticket to the state final game with a 6-4 win over the Blackbirds at Memorial Field in Concord.
Keene’s starter, senior Zach Mooers, took control of the strike zone for the first three innings, but lost some of his command in the fourth. He gave up a leadoff single to Jarrad Willette, then walked Tyler Wright and gave up another single to Jonah Wachter to load the bases with no outs.
Keene head coach Dan Moylan went out to visit Mooers to try and get things under control before too much damage was done. Kevin McDonough came to the plate and hit a slow-rolling, two-RBI double to get the Crimson Tide on the board, still with no outs in the inning.
Mooers struck out Cam McGonigle to record the first out, but the next batter, Ryan Kastle, tied the game with a two-RBI double of his own.
Ryan Philbrick gave Concord the lead with a single — his second of three hits on the day — and moved to second on the throw home. Then he took third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout to make it 6-4.
“We couldn’t stop it,” Moylan said. “We just couldn’t stop the leak, so to speak. We just didn’t get it done there.”
That score held the rest of the way when Concord’s Donny Cote and Jonah Wachter combined to pitch the last four scoreless innings for Concord. Keene only had one baserunner in those final four innings.
Keene scored the first four runs of the game, two in the second and two in the third, to take a 4-0 lead. The Blackbirds took advantage of Concord’s mistakes to get some runs across. Three errors and three walks put Keene in position to score.
Senior Alex Charles scored on an error to break the ice in the second inning, then junior Jared Schmitt slapped an RBI single through the infield to score Cal Tiani. Schmitt’s single was the Blackbirds’ only hit of the day.
Tanner Payne tried to score from second on the single but was tagged out at the plate to end the inning.
Keene tacked on two more runs in the third, one off a Sharik Khan RBI fielders’ choice with Mooers taking a hard hit at the plate to beat the throw, and the second on a sac fly from Charles to score Liam Conley.
The way Mooers had been pitching, it felt like the Blackbirds were in a good spot up four runs heading into the fourth inning. But in baseball, one bad inning can change everything.
“You have to tip your hat,” Moylan said. “[Concord] kept taking good at-bats. They did a good job of staying in the game. Down 4-0, that’s hard to do.”
“I think it says a lot about them as kids and just their resiliency,” said Concord head coach Scott Owen.
Concord will face Winnacunnet for the state title Saturday at Holman Stadium in Nashua. It’s Owen’s third trip to the title game — all three with Concord. It’s Concord’s first title game appearance since they won it in 2012.
“Any time you make a run, it doesn’t get old,” Owen said. “We’re excited. The kids are excited.
“Keene played a great game,” Owen added. “Their kids came to play. I’m not sure many people would think that they would’ve been in the semifinals, but they were. They’ve got some players over there.”
Keene ends its season at 13-8, making its first appearance in the state semifinals since the 2015 season.
“I’m going to cherish it forever,” Alex Charles said. “You’ll never forget these memories. All these guys I’ve played with since I was nine years old. Now being done, never being able to play with them again, it’s a weird feeling. I don’t know how to fully express it yet because it’s so fresh. It’s just a blessing to have.”
He added that he plans to keep his jersey on as long as possible.
“It’ll probably hit me the most when I’m in bed tonight,” Zach Mooers said. “It was a great year. This simply was one of the greatest seasons of my life. Being able to come back out here and play with some of my best friends and being able to get to [the semifinals], it’s something I’ll truly never forget.”
“In terms of the group of guys, they were a pleasure to coach,” Moylan said. “All the things you look for to represent your community and your high school.”