Baseball: Undermanned, Belmont battles against one of the state’s top pitchers

Belmont shortstop Max Ryder gets pushed off second base by Monadnock base runner Ben Dean on a force play on Monday, May 13, 2024. Dean was called out to end the inning.

Belmont shortstop Max Ryder gets pushed off second base by Monadnock base runner Ben Dean on a force play on Monday, May 13, 2024. Dean was called out to end the inning. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Belmont shortstop Max Ryder gets pushed off second base by Monadnock base runner Ben Dean on a force play on Monday, May 13, 2024. Dean was called out to end the inning.

Belmont shortstop Max Ryder gets pushed off second base by Monadnock base runner Ben Dean on a force play on Monday, May 13, 2024. Dean was called out to end the inning. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Belmont shortstop Max Ryder gets pushed off second base by Monadnock base runner Ben Dean on a force play on Monday, May 13, 2024. Dean was called out to end the inning.

Belmont shortstop Max Ryder gets pushed off second base by Monadnock base runner Ben Dean on a force play on Monday, May 13, 2024. Dean was called out to end the inning. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Belmont shortstop Max Ryder gets pushed off second base by Monadnock base runner Ben Dean on a force play on Monday, May 13, 2024. Dean was called out to end the inning.

Belmont shortstop Max Ryder gets pushed off second base by Monadnock base runner Ben Dean on a force play on Monday, May 13, 2024. Dean was called out to end the inning. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Belmont pitcher Michael Collette pitches against Monadnock on Monday, May 13, 2024.

Belmont pitcher Michael Collette pitches against Monadnock on Monday, May 13, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 05-13-2024 8:08 PM

Modified: 05-13-2024 8:25 PM


BELMONT — Going into a game with key starters out certainly wasn’t the most ideal scenario for head coach Matt LeBlanc as his Red Raiders (9-2) prepared to face Monadnock (12-2) in a battle between two of Division III’s top teams on Monday. And even though Belmont ultimately fell short, 8-5, there was much to feel encouraged by.

Junior Michael Collette made his first varsity start, and while he ended up allowing five runs, he pitched into the sixth inning and struck out six batters.

“It’s a great learning process for us; we know now that we’re even deeper than what we thought,” LeBlanc said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Michael again. He pitched a great game. I thought he looked great. I thought Jaxson Embree looked good in his inning of work. Like I said, we’re a lot deeper than we thought we were, which is going to bode well for us moving forward.”

At the plate, the Red Raiders had to go up against Ben Dean, committed to play Division I college baseball at the University of Dayton. Dean’s upper-80s fastball posed a challenge for most of Belmont’s hitters, but in the bottom of the fifth inning trailing 3-1, junior Anakin Underhill demolished a first-pitch fastball from Dean over the left field fence to tie the score.

“That was impressive,” LeBlanc said. “Dean is a great pitcher, and Anakin jumped on that ball, and that thing was an absolute shot, no doubter right off the bat. That’s what he’s capable of. That’s his third homer of the year, and he’s our offensive leader. He’s just a dangerous, dangerous hitter. It was great to see it. It was the right time for it, to tie it up 3-3. That’s a nice clutch hit.”

Monadnock subsequently responded with five runs in the top of the sixth, building a lead ultimately insurmountable for the Red Raiders.

Now 9-2, Belmont still finds itself in the top quadrant of the Division III standings, and the team will play five games over the next 10 days to wrap up the regular season.

Monday wasn’t necessarily the most desirable outcome, but it gives LeBlanc’s group the chance to refocus on where it needs to improve if it wants to put itself in a better position to compete for a D-III championship once the playoffs begin.

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“We need to clean some things up defensively. We’re young enough where we kind of get in our own head sometimes, and so that can be a problem, maybe overthink things a little bit and get lost in the moment sometimes in a big situation,” LeBlanc said. “But they’re improving. I’ve seen some improvement over the year with that. We have some freshmen starting. Got some freshmen getting significant playing time, and they’re coming around. They’re gelling with the team. I think that we need to just remember who we are and what we’re capable of and just keep pressing forward.

“They got talent, but they got heart. They’ve been playing together for a long time, various different levels, and so they trust each other, and they know that at any point they can turn around, and that’s what happened today.”