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Lisbon soars into Final Four

Class S Baseball Playoffs

Lisbon shortstop Kyle Fifield, who had four hits on the day, looks to make a tag on Littleton’s Nate Landry at second base. The ball, however, squirted loose. Michael Beniash. (click for larger version)
June 10, 2009
LISBON—They were disappointed in how the regular season played out. Same goes for their No. 11 seeding.

Sure doesn't matter now.

The Lisbon Panthers are returning to a familiar destination: the Class S Final Four.

After dethroning defending champion Colebrook last Wednesday in the opening round, the Panthers were solid from start to finish at home in Saturday's quarterfinals, never trailing as they roared past the 14th-seeded Littleton Crusaders 9-4.

Now, Lisbon can forget all about its 7-9 mark in the regular season. It is just two wins away from the school's fifth baseball title in six years.

"This is a very big step for this group of kids," said second-year Lisbon coach Jeremy Aldrich, whose squad fell in the first round last season, ending a run of four straight titles from 2004-07. "Now we will see what happens. We have a golden opportunity ahead. We'll try to take advantage of it."

The Panthers are scheduled to battle seventh-seeded Pittsburg today at 4 p.m. at Plymouth Regional High School. Pittsburg took two from Lisbon earlier in the year.

Gorham and Newmarket, meanwhile, meet in the other semifinal. The winners will face off Saturday for the title at Merchantsauto.com Stadium in Manchester at 10 a.m.

"This feels great," said Lisbon senior Kyle Fifield, who was the winning pitcher against Colebrook, and then went 4-for-4, had three runs and two-RBI against the Crusaders. "Last year, we didn't wake up until it was too late. We learned our lesson and we knew what could happen if we didn't show up. Coming into this, we knew we were better than an 11 seed. And the playoffs are a whole new season."

Lisbon, which reeled off six losses in seven games at one point during the year, tweaked its lineup and made a defensive switch with two games left in the season. Since, then Panthers have won four straight contests in convincing fashion, and led by their seniors, have a newfound desire to take the ride to the finish line.

"They're playing with a chip on their shoulders," Aldrich said. "We got a group of seniors and they know this is it for them. They are feeding off of it and really pushing the other players and I think that's been the difference. I don't know that we felt that urgency in the regular season, but they're ready now."

The energy in the dugout was palpable long before the first pitch against Littleton.

The Panthers carried the momentum into the first inning as they plated three runs, two coming on Fifield's two-RBI single up the middle.

"That's big for us to score first. When we do, the team seems to carry itself differently," Aldrich said.

Lisbon, which smacked 14 hits off Littleton pitchers Maddox Morneau (charged with six runs and was chased with the bases loaded and no outs in the third in the loss) and Jeremy Leavitt (three runs in four innings), then tacked on three more runs in the third for a 6-2 cushion. After Littleton rallied to make it 6-4 in the top of the fourth, the Panthers sealed the triumph with one in the fifth—on a stand-up triple from Matt Champagne followed by Hale Fitzgerald's double—and two more in the sixth.

Littleton, which downed Hinsdale 11-8 in the first round, was again haunted by its defense, though the Crusaders turned in two highlight reel plays in the contest.

"Defensively, we didn't execute like we knew we were going to have to," said Fillion.

During the Lisbon's first-inning uprising, Champagne reached on a single and stole second. Fitzgerald's sacrifice bunt attempt came back to Morneau, who then threw to third for the apparent out. However, LHS' third baseman couldn't handle the ball as Champagne slid in. The miscue set up runners on second and third for Fifield's two-run hit.

In the third, Lisbon's Jamsie Myers slapped a routine grounder to third, but the ball skirted through the third baseman's legs, setting up a string of three straight Panther hits, a walk and another RBI single that helped the Panthers to a 6-2 lead.

On the bright side, center fielder Skyler Bourque quelled a possible RBI opportunity by ranging back and reaching for a deep, fly-ball out off Fitzgerald's bat in the bottom of the second that seemed to rally the Crusaders (they scored two in top of the third on Aaron Clark's RBI infield single and Leavitt's sac fly).

In the bottom of the fourth, LHS' third baseman turned a double play by tagging the lead runner from second and throwing out the runner at first.

But trailing 7-4 in the bottom of the sixth, Littleton's lack of defense again reared its ugly head. The Crusaders allowed two runs to score on a passed ball and a wild pitch.

"What hurt us all season hurt us today," said Fillion. "If we're going to go to the playoffs and beat teams, I don't care who it is, you're not going to get away with wild pitches and passed balls with runners at third base."

Morneau had three of Littleton's eight hits, while adding two thefts, an RBI and a run. But Lisbon hurlers Brandon Chase and Myers, meanwhile, combined to limit the Crusaders' attack.

Chase allowed four runs on seven hits, while Myers helped his starter escape a fourth-inning jam in which Chase had yielded two runs and left with two runners on. Myers then worked the final three frames of scoreless ball.

"Jamsie did a very good job coming in and shutting the door again for us," Aldrich said.

Lisbon had four batters notch multiple hits. Champagne finished 3-for-4, an RBI and two runs, Rollie LaCoss went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and Ericson Smith added two hits and an RBI.

"We went to bat with confidence and we took the right approach today," Fifield said.

As for Littleton, which won a handful more games this season that the previous two years, it still has plenty of work left to do to create what Fillion feels can be a much stronger program in the future.

"It's nice to reach the quarterfinals, don't get me wrong, we want to get to the point where you can win a preliminary game and not have everybody think you won the World Series," he said.

"It's nice to get here. The kids worked pretty hard, but I bet right now, some of them wish they worked a little bit harder."

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