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Tough season doesn't dampen future for Raiders

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Junior Garrett Gilbert started every game for the Red Raiders this season. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
July 01, 2013
BELMONT – Nothing came easy for the Belmont High School baseball team this spring. That didn't stop the Red Raiders from battling until the very end.

Despite a 3-13 season that saw Belmont fail to follow up a seven-win campaign in 2012 despite graduating just one senior off that team, the Raiders played tight games down the stretch. That included a 13-12 loss to eventual state runner-up Somersworth on the road.

"It's tough when you get a good group of guys that battle," said BHS coach Matt LeBlanc. "Think about how easy it would've been for these guys to quit. They showed up every day and worked hard. They took a lot of pride in playing and competing. They weren't going to bow out just because things weren't working out their way. That part is going to be hard to replace. You hope the underclassmen saw the seniors doing that and can develop that same drive to want to compete and work hard."

Not being able to post the wins necessary to reach the postseason was a disappointment, especially for a team that had seven seniors on the roster.

"I hate it for the guys, I feel awful for them," said LeBlanc. "I can handle it, I get another season. The hardest part for me was seeing the guys have to go through this. We had consistent offense and defense. We just weren't as consistent on the mound. That was what we thought would be a position of strength for us this year. Last year we played a ton of low scoring, close games. This season, we thought if we could replicate that pitching then we could win games with our offense improving. We met a lot of our offensive goals and went beyond them."

There were some expectations that Belmont would be a contender this spring, as the team graduated just one senior from a 2012 team that proved to be a tough out.

"When you only lose one senior, you think you're going to be coming back strong and ready to go but that just really didn't end up being the case," the coach explained. "But at the same time I'm not going to say that we had a 3-13 season this year and we should just expect another season like it because that's not how I feel."

Despite graduating seven seniors, there are still some solid underclassmen who will play an even bigger role next spring. Junior Brent Minery wound up being one of the team's better hitters this season while classmate Jason Taylor was everywhere and started the majority of Belmont's games. Junior Garrett Gilbert started every game for the team, showing pop in his bat with a home run. Fellow junior Ryan Pluskis also returns and will look to improve consistency on the mound as a top of the rotation guy in 2014. Sophomore Joey Levesque saw action as a freshman and moved into the lineup regularly this season. Freshman Caleb Drouin came up from the JV team late in the year and proved he has the demeanor to be a mound presence next spring.

"We certainly have goals with these guys," LeBlanc said. "If you look at our schedule this year, we only played two teams that didn't make the playoffs (Franklin, Prospect Mountain). We had a tough schedule and I thought we hung in there the best that we could. This is a very good area for baseball and I think that was proven this year."

LeBlanc lauded assistant coach Sean Malone for his work again this spring, as he's been on the bench for Belmont for two seasons after coaching the JV squad in 2011.

"I said during the sports awards that Malone is by far the most important individual in the program," LeBlanc explained. "Essentially he's a volunteer and he's so dedicated. Sean is very, very good at delivering the message and he's very good with these guys. He's just very good at what he does and it's nice as a head coach to have someone like that. The guys really respect him."

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