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Hopkinton denies Littleton a chance to repeat

by Corey McKean
Sports reporter - The Littleton Courier

Littleton celebrates as Brody Fillion (26) crushes a two-run homerun to give the Crusaders a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Corey McKean. (click for larger version)
June 12, 2017
LACONIA — In what will go down as one of the most exciting and best played games of the year in Division IV baseball, the second-ranked Littleton Crusaders and the sixth-ranked Hopkinton Hawks battled it out in the semifinal round of the NHIAA Division IV tournament at Robbie Mills Park in Laconia on Wednesday, May 7.

In a back and forth affair, it was Hopkinton who jumped on the Crusaders early, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning but in the bottom of the third inning, the Littleton offense responded with two runs of their own, knotting the game up at 2-2 heading into the fourth inning. In the bottom of the fourth, Littleton tallied another run to take a 3-2 lead but back came Hopkinton with two runs in the top of the fifth to take the lead back, 4-3.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Littleton's Brody Fillion made Hopkinton pay as he finally saw his first pitch of the game and blasted a two-run shot over the right field fence to put the Crusaders back on top by a score of 5-4, but that is where the Littleton offense stopped and the Hawk offense started to rally.

Littleton remained up 5-4 heading into the top of the seventh inning where Hopkinton's Ben McManus launched a solo homerun to right field to knot the score up at 5-5. The Hawk defense recorded a one, two, three bottom of the seventh to bring the game into extra innings. After a scoreless eighth by both teams, Hopkinton came up in the top of the ninth where the bat of McManus struck again, this time hammering a two-run homerun over the right field fence, giving the Hawks a 7-5 advantage and ultimately earning them the victory.

"Today was just a great, hard fought baseball game by both teams," explained Littleton coach AJ Bray. Derek Walker and Lucas Bray pitched their hearts out today. Defensively we weren't as sharp as usual but we made the big play when we had to. Obviously, Brody's go-ahead homerun in the fifth was the big hit of the day for us. Hopkinton just came up with one more big hit than we did. We had our chances but just couldn't capitalize."

Hopkinton took advantage of a few Littleton mistakes to start the first inning as Colby Marshall reached base off a walk and Larsen Burack reached base off a Littleton error. Both Marshall and Burack came around to score off a double to right center field by McManus, giving the Hawks an early 2-0 advantage.

Littleton struggled to get any offense rolling in first and second innings as the Crusaders were held scoreless and the score remained 2-0 heading into the third inning.

A one, two, three third inning by the Crusader defense brought the Littleton offense out in the bottom of the third where they tallied two runs off two hits and an error to knot the score up at 2-2. Danny Kubkowski got the inning started with a double to right center field and Bray would reach base off an error, scoring Kubkowski. Bray also came around to score off a double by Walker to deep left field, bringing the score even at 2-2 going into the fourth inning.

Another error by the Crusaders started the top of the fourth inning for Hopkinton as Will Rhynhart reached first, stole second and was moved to third off a single by Mike Baer. Littleton, however, battled back to get out of the inning unscathed as the score remained 2-2.

A double by Scott Ridlon started the bottom of the fourth for the Crusaders and Ridlon would be moved to third off a sacrifice fly by Quintin Ross. Jacob Allaire then got the suicide bunt sign but couldn't get his bat on the ball while Ridlon came charging home anyway, diving into home safely to give Littleton a 3-2 lead heading into the fifth inning.

Hopkinton responded in the top of the fifth with a pair of runs to take a 4-3 lead as Dustin Rose and Caleb Yianakopolos both drew walks and both were brought around to score off back to back singles from Tucker Windhurst and pinch hitter Sam Rawson.

Back came the Crusaders once again in the bottom of the fifth as Bray reached first off a single and Fillion would finally see his first pitch of the day after getting hit by a pitch and getting walked intentionally. Fillion took a high fast ball and hammered it over the right field fence for a two-run shot, giving Littleton the lead back, 5-4.

A scoreless sixth inning by both teams brought Hopkinton up to bat in the top of the seventh where McManus answered in a big way, leading off the inning with a solo homerun to right field, knotting the score up at 5-5. Walker would get pulled from the mound after recording 120 pitches, bringing in Bray who closed out the seventh strong, keeping the score tied at 5-5.

The Hopkinton defense held the Crusaders scoreless in the bottom of the seventh, to bring the game into extra innings where the Hawks would come out on top.

In the top of the eighth inning, Littleton recorded a one, two, three inning of their own as Bray started the inning off with a strikeout but Hopkinton's Marshall singled to left field. The Crusaders would then get out of the inning by turning a beautiful 6-4-3 double play to bring out their bats.

Hopkinton would make a pitching change, bringing in freshman Sam Crawford who started the bottom of the eighth shaky, hitting Cy Kezerian with a pitch. Cooper Paradice followed Kezerian up with a bunt for a single, putting runners on first and second with no outs for Littleton. Another bunt attempt by Ridlon that was hit to hard resulted in Kezerian getting throw out at third and back to back strikeouts by Crawford closed the door on the Crusaders, bringing the game into the ninth inning still tied up at 5-5.

A single by Crawford started the top of the ninth for the Hawks but Crawford would be thrown out by Fillion as he tried to steal second. Rose would follow Crawford up with a single of his own and McManus would be the hero for Hopkinton once again, drilling a homerun to right field, which hit off the top of the fence and bounced over, giving the Hawks the 7-5 lead and earning Hopkinton a shot at the title.

"I told the boys after the game they had nothing to hang their heads about. A 16-win season and a trip to the Final Four is something to be proud of. We return seven starters next year so we should be poised to make a run at it again next year," said Bray.

The Hawks were led by McManus with three hits and four RBIs while the Crusaders were led by Fillion with one hit and two RBIs while Walker added a hit and an RBI and Ridlon two hits.

Hopkinton improved to a record of 14-5 on the season and advanced to the NHIAA Division IV championship to play fifth ranked Pittsfield. Littleton finished their season with an overall record of 16-2.

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