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No hits, all glory for Winnisquam Bears

Winnisquam's Jordan Cote (17) runs to Nick Lyford after completing the final out of Saturday's 2-0 victory over Somersworth in the Class M State Championship, played at Merchantsauto.com Stadium in Manchester. Matt Perloff. (click for larger version)
June 16, 2010
TILTON — The celebration may have come a play later than expected for the Winnisquam Regional High School baseball team, but one play was a wait well worth the reward the boys finally brought home.

Jordan Cote led the Bears in a game for the NHIAA history books, no-hitting previously-unbeaten Somersworth as Winnisquam captured the Class M state title in a 2-0 victory Saturday morning at Merchantsauto.com Stadium in Manchester.

Winnisquam's trip to the title game was no picnic. Taking the second seed after a stellar 14-2 regular season, the Bears were nearly bounced out in the first round by Conant, but survived an 8-7 decision to go on and face Berlin, routing the Mountaineers 12-0 to punch their ticket to the semifinals, taking on Hopkinton. There, Winnisquam's lone inning of productivity at the plate proved to the be the difference, collecting their only three hits of the game in a two-run fourth while Nick Lyford and Jordan Cote combined to shut down the Hawks 2-0, pitting them against top-ranked, 19-0 Somersworth for the title. It would be the second time the two teams faced each other this year, having met on April 14 when the Hilltoppers edged out a 5-4 win.

Though Winnisquam wasn't without its offense, it was control problems on Somersworth's side that gave the Bears the early edge. With two outs in the second inning and Matt Roy on first following a base hit, Winnisquam rung up three straight walks, first to Cody Smart and Jordan Riberdy before Kyle Virgin drew the bases loaded free pass, forcing home Roy to make it 1-0.

The Bears' bats set the stage in the third, with Cote and Kyle Pratt notching back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. Pratt then tried to steal second, but the Bears got an even bigger break when the throw down was dropped, the error further aggravated as Pratt slid right into the Hilltopper covering the bag, breaking up the play altogether. That gave Cote time to race home, plating the second run of the morning to make it 2-0.

The Bears were lights-out on defense early on, with Cote leading the charge from the mound. Fresh off a two-inning, five-strikeout relief appearance in the semifinals, the junior hurler had Somersworth batters baffled all morning, getting plenty of support around him with big plays from Lyford over at first, as well as Virgin at second and Justin Keith at short.

Winnisquam's only hiccup came in the fourth. Cote's command briefly escaped him, issuing back-to-back walks for his first baserunners of the night and prompting a mound visit from Head Coach Fred Caruso. Cote settled down to get the next batter to fly out, then mowed down another Hilltopper for the third out to get the Bears back on track.

Winnisquam had a shot to expand their lead in the sixth as Roy picked up an infield single, moving into scoring position on a bunt by Justin Dorr. Riberdy laid down another solid bunt two batters later, but while the throw to first went high and wide, the first baseman was able to get a glove on Riberdy as he tried to race by, ending the threat. The Bears would almost strike again in the seventh following an infield single by Virgin, but an unassisted double play at first quelled the threat.

That brought Somersworth up for the bottom of the seventh, Winnisquam just three outs from the title. Cote got the first batter to fly out to Matt Descoteaux in left and the next to ground out to Roy at third, giving the Bears one more out to make. That seemed to be the case as Cote struck out the next batter, but the celebrations would screech to a halt when the ball ended up in the dirt, forcing a throw to first that was misplayed, putting a runner on base. Deterred but hardly shaken, Cote got the next batter to hit a hard grounder back to the mound, which he'd toss to first for the long-awaited final out.

Cote finished with eight strikeouts, allowing only three balls out of the infield and never allowing a runner past second base. The junior hurler finished the final two rounds of the tournament with nine innings, no hits and four walks while fanning 13.

Cote also had the biggest day at the plate, going two-for-four with a run scored, while Roy finished two-for-three with a run scored and Virgin reached base all three times he went up, earning the lone run batted in.

The baseball title is a long-awaited first for Winnisquam Regional High School. They reached their only previous state championship game in 1962, when they were still known as Tilton-Northfield. The no-hitter a rarity for a championship game in itself, the Bears' shutout victory is also the first in Class M since 2001 and only the seventh in the last 34 years.

Winnisquam, who ultimately finished the season 19-2, had six seniors on its title team: pitcher/first baseman Nick Lyford, catcher Cody Smart, rightfielder Justin Dorr, second baseman Kyle Virgin, shortstop Justin Keith and outfielder Matt Smarkel. That leaves the Bears with some big holes to fill in 2011, but with a strong core of young contributors expected back, the newest champs will look to make some more memories next season.

Martin Lord & Osman
Martin Lord Osman
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