ROCHESTER — It took longer than expected, but the Seacoast 11-year-old 70-foot Cal Ripken baseball team secured its spot in the state championship with an 8-7, 10-inning win over Londonderry on Tuesday.
Seacoast survived an early deficit, an hour rain delay, and extra innings to edge out the defending state champions. They will square off with Londonderry, which beat Dover 3-2 on Wednesday, again at 5:30 on Thursday, a game that was played after press time. Win or lose, Seacoast has earned a spot in the New England regional tournament as one of two state finalists.
“After the rain delay it was like we were a different team,” said Seacoast Coach Glenn Palm. “Something just clicked.”
Seacoast fell behind 3-0 right out of the gates, after a pair of errors led to three Londonderry runs in the first inning. But when the rain and lightning came in the second inning, it put a charge into the Seacoast players.
“Our energy level after the delay was a stark contrast to before the delay,” Palm said. “It almost felt like we started a new game.”
In the third inning, Seacoast bounced back with three runs of its own to knot the game, before adding two more in the fourth and a single run in the fifth to take a 6-3 lead. It looked like the game might get away, however, when Londondery put up four runs in the top of the sixth to go ahead 7-6.
“Our kids didn’t panic. They went out and tied it up,” Palm said. “Then it became a pitcher’s duel for a while after that. For no runs to score between these two teams for three innings is pretty impressive. That’s not something you would usually see.”
Alex Santora got on in the bottom of the 10th inning for Seacoast and stole second base before Murphy Wall singled to drive him in and give Seacoast the 8-7 win.
Jake Pleau finished 3-for-5 with an RBI while Jones Vicinus knocked in a pair of runs. Mason McDonald and Ryan Zumbach added an RBI each. Vicinus pitched two innings for Seacoast, while Santora toed the rubber for three. Palm said Timmy Knight, who is usually the team’s closer, came in for five strong innings.
“It was a tie game, so he ended up having to go five innings and he didn’t let up a run,” Palm said. “He was big for us.
“You can’t be anything but proud of these kids,” he added. “Our kids and Londonderry. That was incredible baseball, and that’s really what you want.”
Londonderry is the two-time defending state champion. With Tuesday’s win, Seacoast only had to win one out of two games on Thursday to secure the title.
“Every time we play Londonderry it’s a close game,” Palm said. “We knew from last year we could compete with the top teams in the state. Londonderry, Keene, Exeter, Dover — there are a lot of really good teams we have to play, and sometimes you think you are good, but you don’t really know until you play the games. But we are as good as I thought we were, and we have shown that so far. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Wall, Knight, Santora, Vicinas and Braden Nowak are leaders on the mound for Seacoast. On the offensive side of the ball, speed on the base paths makes this team dangerous.
“A single for a lot of these kids is really a double or a triple,” Palm said. “We’re not alone in being aggressive on the base paths, but it is definitely a strength.”
Some of the pressure from Thursday night’s game was relieved when Palm found out that New Hampshire would be sending three teams to the regional tournament. Dover — as host of the regional tournament — will be a part of it, as will both Londonderry and Seacoast. Seacoast will go in with a higher seed, however, if they are able to win on Thursday night.
The regional tournament will kick off in Dover on July 21.