NASHUA – The Souhegan High School baseball team was in trouble.
The first four Hollis Brookline batters reached base to open the second inning, giving the Cavaliers a 2-1 lead with runners at second and third.
Souhegan coach Bill Dod went to the mound to talk to starter Eric Howard, and whatever the longtime coach said, it worked. Howard struck out the side without any further damage and the Sabers’ bats got the lead back for good in the bottom of the inning, on the way to a 9-2 win Monday over HB at Holman Stadium.
Howard went the distance, striking out 15 Cavs while allowing two runs on six hits and a walk. After giving up four straight hits to open the second, the Souhegan senior hurler retired 18 of the final 21 batters he faced.
“He said I was getting 0-2 on every batter and to not give them such a good pitch to hit,” Howard said of what Dod told him on the mound. “That’s a pitcher’s count and you can work with what you can throw. I’ve got to shut them down and give the offense the chance.”
In a game the Sabers (8-7 in Division II) needed, Howard did just that.
“This is a group of seniors that wanted to put a competitive team on the field this year,” Dod said. “Eric is a great example of every senior in this program. He’s a young man who has stepped up from day one.
“I said he was a good enough pitcher, that he could finish with his ability and he had to move his game to that of a pitcher that could get the third strike.”
Robby McCormick was 2 for 4 and drove in three runs for the Sabers while Tim Beliveau hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the second inning that gave Souhegan the lead for good. Terry Dugdale, Bobby Graham (RBI) and Howard (RBI) each scored twice.
Nick Siegel took the loss for HB (10-4), allowing three earned runs on four hits and two walks in two innings. Cam Lafluer pitched three scoreless innings of relief, striking out eight while allowing two hits and one walk. Kyle Gervais finished with two hits and drove in both runs for the Cavs, as they lost for the fourth time in their last five games.
After Howard’s RBI single gave Souhegan 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, Gervais singled to bring home Mitch Frick and Austin Pigott in the top of the second. Tim Rencken followed with a double that put two runners in scoring position and no one out.
But after the conference with Dod, Howard came back to strike out the side and end the inning.
Souhegan retook the lead in the bottom of the second. Tyler Hansis walked, and after an out, Beliveau followed with a shot that hit the top of the brick wall in left field, putting the Sabers back on top 3-2.
Dugdale reached on an error, and after the second out of the inning, was safe at second on a ground ball by Howard. Graham and McCormick followed with back-to-back RBI singles, scoring Dugdale and Howard. Graham then scored on a double steal to make put Souhegan up 6-2.
“It takes some weight off my shoulders, but you’ve still go out there and throw outs,” Howard said of the run support. “No matter what the score is, you’ve got to go at it.
“This was huge. If we didn’t win this game, we’d have a small chance of making the playoffs. Now that we won, we might definitely be in. The fact that we’ve given ourselves a chance is exciting.”
A year ago, the Sabers struggled down the stretch and finished in a tie for the final playoff spot in Division II. Souhegan lost the tiebreaker and a team that had been considered a favorite before the season missed out on the tournament.
“Last year, we had our opportunities and at the end, we just ran out of pitching,” Dod said. “This year, the kids have done an outstanding job of stepping their game up and helping us be where we are.
“All the credit in the world goes to the seniors. We haven’t talked about it a lot, that we stubbed our toe at the end. We wanted to take care of business ourselves. We didn’t want to end up in a tie for 16th and have it happen the way it did last year.”
Souhegan, which is currently 11th in the standings, finished the regular season at Goffstown on Wednesday. HB finishes its season by hosting Con-Val on Wednesday and traveling to Sanborn on Friday.