Preview: Concord Post 21 baseball has top seed heading into weekend legion state tournament

By DAN ATTORRI

Monitor staff

Published: 07-19-2023 9:12 PM

With district play behind them, the Concord Post 21 American Legion baseball players head into this weekend’s American Legion Senior League State Tournament with one goal in mind – defending their title.

Post 21 has had a strong season thus far, boasting an overall record of 22-3, with a 15-2 record and a first-place finish in District A play. Through 25 games (Concord had one final game scheduled against Brattleboro, Vermont, on Wednesday night that was not over by deadline) Post 21 outscored opponents 196-60, averaging nearly eight runs scored and allowing just 2.4 per game.

It’s a performance that head coach Nate Craigue has been pleased with, one that has earned Concord the top seed in District A and a prime-time 7 p.m. tournament opener on Friday against Salem Post 63 (8-10 in District B).

But it will only get tougher once Concord hits the field at historic Holman Stadium in Nashua for the double-elimination tourney.

“I would say District B is stronger than (District A),” Craigue said. 

He pointed out that Londonderry Post 27 (11-7), last year’s runner-up, has nearly its entire squad back from last summer, most of those players coming off an NHIAA Division I title with the Londonderry High School Lancers this past spring.

Nashua Post 3 (16-2) beat Concord in the Legion season opener and has, for the most part, rolled over everyone since.

Portsmouth Post 6 (15-3) has a rich baseball history and has been a regular rival with Concord as early as the Little League level.

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“Portsmouth is an older team. I’ve known these kids in Portsmouth since (I coached) Little League,” Craigue said. “They can hit the ball.”

“Those three teams (Londonderry, Nashua, Portsmouth) are the favorites,” Craigue said. “We’re underdogs compared to them. I don’t want us to be a favorite.”

Even District B’s fourth-seeded Salem, at 8-10, poses a threat. A few players from the Pinkerton Academy team that lost to Londonderry in extra innings in the Division I championship are on the Salem roster, including outfielder Jacob Albert, Brooks Craigue’s future teammate at Merrimack College.

“There’s a lot of talent in this tournament,” coach Craigue said. “Every team has a couple (NCAA) D-I and D-II kids on it.”

With a deep roster and all players available for the tournament, Craigue expects to go with his regular lineup this weekend. There’s talent and depth at every corner of the field, but where Craigue says his team is strongest, is right up the middle.

“I think Brooks only has one error at shortstop,” coach Craigue said. “Cam McGonigle at second base, he could’ve played D-II college ball, and you’ve got collegiate player Nate Innerfield at center field. I would say that’s our strength. To build a team, that’s what you want up the middle.”

Craigue, McGonigle and Innerfield have committed just three errors between them all season, and are the usual 1-2-3 hitters in the lineup.

Craigue leads the team with 28 runs, 26 hits and 25 RBI, hitting .394 in 21 games played, while McGonigle is batting .396 with a .623 slugging percentage and three home runs. 

Innerfield, a former Weare Post 65 and John Stark Regional High School standout who now plays outfield for Endicott College, is hitting .361 with a .505 on-base percentage, drawing a team-high 21 walks, and connecting for a team-high 26 hits and seven triples. 

Rising Concord High senior Mitch Coffey is batting .431 with a team-leading .724 slugging percentage, 25 hits, 20 runs, two home runs and a team-high nine doubles.

With team’s potentially playing as many as seven games in five days, how coaches manage their pitching staff is key.

“I almost have three guys I could consider our No. 1, Matt (Drewes), Brooks and Simon (Keary),” Craigue said. “Simon’s been lights out, he’s lost one game in two years for us.”

Drewes (5-0, 2.39 ERA, 29 strikeouts, 15 runs allowed in 41 innings) and Craigue (3-1, 2.05 ERA, 22 strikeouts, 13 runs allowed in 27.1 innings) were both Division I First Team All-State selections this past season, while Keary (7-1, 1.18 ERA, 33 strikeouts, 16 runs allowed in 41.2 innings) was the ace in the Merrimack Valley High School rotation.

There’s a lot of factors, but for Craigue, “whoever pitches best and plays the best defense wins (the tournament).”

A complete schedule of this weekend’s tournament games is below:

Friday

Game 1 – Sweeney vs. Nashua, 10 a.m.

Game 2 – Laconia vs. Portsmouth, 1

Game 3 – Londonderry vs. Lebanon, 4

Game 4 – Salem vs. Concord, 7

Saturday

Game 5 – Loser G1 vs. loser G3, 10 a.m.

Game 6 – Loser G2 vs. loser G4, 1

Game 7 – Winner G1 vs. winner G3, 4

Game 8 – Winner G2 vs. winner G4, 7

Sunday 

Game 9 – Winner G6 vs. loser G7, 1

Game 10 – Winner G5 vs. loser G8, 4

Game 11 – Winner G7 vs. winner, G8, 7

Monday

Game 12 – Winner G9 vs. winner G10, 4

Game 13 – Loser G11 vs. winner G12, 7

Tuesday

Championship

Game 14 – Winner G11 vs. winner G13, 4

Game 15 – Rematch, if necessary, 7

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