By Jeff Jamrick
---- — MANCHESTER — Given a second chance, Londonderry walked off the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium field Saturday with euphoria replacing the devastation of a season ago.
Twelve months after dropping a heartbreaking Division 1 state title game by one run to Exeter, the fifth-seeded Lancers knocked off third-seeded border rival Pinkerton, 4-1, to win the fifth league championship in program history.
“This is what this was all about,” said senior outfield Ben Byerly, who had two big hits from his spot at the bottom of the order. “We did it not just for ourselves, but for last year’s guys who were in it too. It feels really good.”
Facing a Pinkerton squad that had won six straight and allowed one run or fewer in each of its past five games, Byerly ignited the Lancers in the third, scorching a leadoff triple to left center. Jimmy Zimolka then delivered a one-out single up the middle, followed by Rob Del Signore’s run-scoring double for a 2-0 lead.
“I knew (Pinkerton starter Connor Donahue) was going to come at me on the 1-1 pitch with a curveball,” said Byerly, who added an RBI single in the fourth. “He kind of hung it up there, so I took advantage of it and it worked out for us.”
Hitting just .224 with three RBIs entering the contest, the No. 9 batter knew he was going to come up big.
“He had a great couple swings,” Londonderry coach Brent Demas said. “He didn’t have a great playoff series, but he told me ‘I’m going to make them pay.’ So I said, ‘OK, you’re our guy.’”
With Londonderry starter Tom Corey shutting out the Astros (16-7), the Lancers all but secured matters in a two-run fourth. In addition to Byerly’s hit, Corey lashed a double and Jonny Meskell singled, while Zimolka added his second RBI on a ground out.
“Getting ahead is huge for confidence,” Byerly said. “Sometimes what happens is when you get a team on the ropes, it can start feeling the pressure, and that’s big. And that can cover you a lot in the state champion game.”
The Londonderry defense did its share of work with inning-ending, ground-ball double plays in the third and fourth.
“There’s nothing better,” Demas said of the double plays. “I’ll take them every single time. They were prepared. They knew what we were doing, and had a great week of practice.”
Pinkerton finally got to Corey in the sixth when Nate Rossi drilled a one-out double and scored on Chris Gerossie’s single. But with only eight baserunners in the game, the Astros mounted few challenges.
“We knew runs were going to be at a premium,” Pinkerton coach Steve Campo said. “They did a better job of hitting Connor’s mistakes than we did hitting Tom. He stepped up and pitched a big game. (The Lancers) made plays when they needed to.”