MARLBOROUGH — When the Greater Keene 14U Babe Ruth youth baseball team faced off against Nashua in the first game of the District A Tournament Saturday, it was a tight, low-scoring affair that ended in a 3-2 win for Nashua.
While that game was a tightrope walk, Monday’s game was more of a drag race.
In the tournament’s final round at Marlborough School, the teams combined for 24 runs — one shy of matching the other three tournament games combined.
Unfortunately for Keene, its engine sputtered out of the gate, and it could never quite catch up. Nashua blazed its way to a district title, winning 18-6.
Both teams still qualify for the state tournament, which runs Friday through Sunday at Steven’s Park in Stratham. Keene Coach Andy Haas said now that his team has gone toe-to-toe with last year’s 13U state champion twice, he and the players are ready to move on to the next stage.
“We knew it was going to be a tough road, because we had to win two [to win the championship], but we wanted to give [Nashua] a show,” Haas said. “We think we can come get them again.”
When Monday’s game first started, it seemed like it might be another pitcher’s duel. Keene pitcher Cam Olivo and Nashua hurler Elias Bourque both shut out their opponents through the first two innings, with only a slight hiccup for Keene in the second.
With one out and Ryan Bourgeois at third, Abi Gonzalez laid down an attempted squeeze bunt, and due to Keene’s focus on holding Bourgeois and a failure to cover the bags, Gonzalez wound up running all the way to second.
But the Keene infielders made up for their gaffe on the next play, as shortstop Austin Knight, catcher Ian Bergeron and third baseman Noah Kinara executed a rare 6-2-5 double play, tagging out both lead runners to escape the jam.
But the fielding mistakes caught up with Keene the very next inning.
After a single by Bourque and a double by Ian Deluca put runners on second and third with one out, Keene second baseman Owen Aivaloitis fielded a grounder by Colin Holbrook and tried to get the lead runner at home again. But this time, the throw was off the mark, and Bourque scored the game’s first run.
That run seemed to open the floodgates; a two-run triple by Albert De La Rosa and an RBI double by Bourgeois increased the margin to 4-0 in the blink of an eye.
“We kind of shoot ourselves in the foot. We make some mental errors,” Haas said. “It’s not one person’s fault, but the ball gets over our head, we kind of get lost in where it is and I think we get down on ourselves. I think we need to have some confidence that we can beat them.”
Unfortunately for Keene, things didn’t get much better from there.
In the fourth, Luke Lambert took over for Olivo on the mound and got two quick outs to start. But the next six batters all reached base for Nashua — including two walks and two hit batters — and the team ran up five more scores to increase the lead to 9-0.
Lambert was pulled early in the fifth in favor of Rowan Temple, but Temple also struggled to contain the Nashua offense, giving up three runs on a sacrifice fly by Holbrook and another two-run hit by De La Rosa — who finished with a game-high five RBI.
While all this was happening, the Keene offense looked dead in the water against Bourque.
Keene reached base only two times through the four innings Bourque pitched, and both times Keene shot itself in the foot. Knight led the first inning with a walk, but was caught stealing second; and Lambert tried to extend a double into a triple to lead the third, but was thrown out at third base.
Now, in the bottom of the fifth, Keene faced a potential mercy-rule loss in its final game of the district tourney. But Nashua pulled Bourque in favor of Deluca, and things finally started to click for Keene.
The boys in orange strung together a six-run rally, not only escaping the mercy rule but also cutting Nashua’s lead in half.
It started with a one-out single by Wes Frowein, followed with another single by Logan Schmitt, a double by Connor Haas, a walk by Lambert, a single by Aivaloitis and another walk by Joe Gutwein. The last blow of the rally was delivered with a two-out, two-run single by Sam Scheinblum two batters later.
“We made some changes and I think kids just kind of dug deep,” Coach Haas said. “They changed their pitcher, we were able to hit him and string together a bunch of stuff.”
But it was too little, too late, and that was all the Keene motor could muster. The team had three walks and no hits the rest of the game, and the contest came to a close on a 3-6-3 double play that ended the seventh inning.
On the other side, Connor Haas held Nashua scoreless for the first time in four innings in the sixth, but got pelted by the Nashua bats in the seventh.
Nashua strong together one last six-run rally, featuring doubles by Bourgeois and Deluca – the later of whom scored his game-high fourth run.
It was a rough loss, but Coach Haas said the team was still able to learn new things about itself in preparation for the state tourney. He said players like Lambert and Schmitt — who played multiple positions and filled holes wherever they were needed — showed the depth and versatility the team still possesses, even if it came up short of this title.
“Our big takeaway is we found some kids who can play, can back up and play in some positions that we were hopeful they could do,” Haas said.
“We’re just looking forward. I’m not sure if we’re playing Hampton or Dover, but we’re looking forward to Friday night.”