CONWAY — If there is a better division in baseball than Division II, Josh McAllister, head coach of the Kennett High squad would be surprised.
“This division is awesome,” he said Sunday, the day after the No. 7 seeded Eagles fell 6-4 on a walk-off two-run home run at No. 2 Hollis Brookline in the quarterfinals. “Four of the six first-round games were decided by one run. The quarterfinal game between No. 1 (Bow) and No. 8 (Coe-Brown Northwood Academy) was decided by one run (Bow won 6-5), and the No. 2 versus No. 7 game (Hollis-Brookline and Kennett) ended on a walk-off home run. As much as it was gut-wrenching to lose on a walk-off, the parity in our division is awesome. There are a lot of really good baseball teams. At the start of the season, I believed there were probably a dozen teams capable of winning the championship and it felt that way in the tournament. Anybody can beat anybody. We were one of those teams.”
McAllister gave credit to this group of seniors (Derek Dascoulias, Devon Ouellette, Ethan Robitaille and Dylan West) for helping put the program back on the map.
“Devon and Ethan were with me as freshmen and we won a total of five games their first two years,” McAllister said. “We won 27 games the past two years and a lot of that is due to this senior class for changing the culture and setting the expectations for how hard we work. They’ve left their mark and set the program in place for the future.”
The Eagles spent most of the season without Devon Ouellette, who was named All-State Second-Team in 2018 for his shortstop play and lightning-quick bat but was lost to an ankle injury.
“There was definitely a trickle-down effect not having him,” McAllister said. “Riley (Fletcher) had to move from third to shortstop. I got to play Brady King at third, but he never got the reps because of the weather and we had played him in the outfield all of pre-season. Having Devon at the top of the batting order just made our lineup larger.”
Kennett scored 29 more runs this season in one fewer game than in 2018.
Fans were treated to an exciting playoff game in 80-degree temperatures on Saturday. The Cavaliers scored single runs in the first and second inning (on a home run), but Kennett got on the board with a run in the top of the third to cut the deficit in half. Brady King singled to open the inning; Parker Coleman and Zach Smith followed with walks. King scored when Robitaille ground into a fielder’s choice.
H-B built the lead to 4-1 with two runs in the bottom of the fourth, but Kennett prevented the damage from being even worse when centerfielder Ethan Ouellette threw home to catcher Dom Jones to get an out at the plate.
“Nate (Grames, pitcher) gave us six innings,” McAllister said. “He was up in the zone early. You’ve got to give the Hollis-Brookline kids credit, they swing the bats. Nate threw 106 pitches, which is high for him. (The Cavaliers) took good pitches and wasted them. They had five lefties in their lineup, the first four batters were lefties.”
He added: “Nate is such a bulldog. He kept us in the game.”
Grames went six innings, scattered eight hits, walked two and struck out three.
Kennett had trouble with the H-B one-two punch of Brandon Hsu and Henri Boudreau. The Eagles struck out a season-high eight times.
“We spent a lot of time looking at fastballs,” McAllister said. “(Hsu and Boudreau) threw 22 first-pitch fastball strikes against Plymouth. We knew what to do but we didn’t execute. It had been our philosophy all season to hunt for that first fastball and hit it.”
KHS knotted the game at 4-4 in the sixth inning with three runs. Robitaille drew a walk and scored when Fletcher’s two-out single got under the centerfielder’s glove. Ethan Ouellette drove in Fletcher with a single and was pinch run for by Justin Olson. Chase Spencer followed with one of the at-bats of the season.
“Chase had a 15-pitch at-bat,” McAllister said. “It was probably the most impressive at-bat I’ve seen. (Laughing) If he had done that (at home) we wouldn’t have been able to finish the game. We would have been out of game balls. He fouled off seven pitches in a row at one point and then drew a walk.”
West pinch ran for Spencer. The Cavaliers tried to pick him off but the ball got away allowing Olson to scamper home with the tying run.
The Eagles went down in order in the top of the seventh. McAllister went to the bullpen to Robitaille.
“Ethan has been great for us,” he said.
The leadoff hitter singled, attempted to steal on a bunt that was popped up. Jones made a great play to make the catch for an out, forcing the runner back to first.
“The next kid hit an absolute blast to centerfield,” McAllister said. “I’m still not convinced it didn’t bounce over the fence, but it was called a home run. It was gut-wrenching. Our guys, to their credit, handled it really well. They recognized that they had just played in a really good baseball game. They held their heads high and finished the season the right way. It’s not easy but only one team in the playoffs ends its season with a win. We’ll get back at it in January trying to be that team next year.”
Kennett reached the Elite 8 with a walk-off win of its own, coming Thursday in a 3-2 victory at home of No. 10 seeds Merrimack Valley.
The Eagles scored twice in the bottom of the first inning on run-scoring singles to left field by Fletcher and Ouellette, and that looked like all the offense Dascoulias needed. The hard-throwing righty didn’t have his best stuff but worked six innings, scattering there hits, walking three, hitting one and striking out 6.
The Pride was able to knot the game in the top of the fifth inning with a bases loaded infield error leading to two runs. The Eagles never got rattled, even after seeing the go-ahead run tagged out on a picture-perfect relay to home plate in the bottom of the inning. Smith walked, stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Robitaille. Grames followed with a fly ball to left. Smith tagged up and darted home. In a bang-bang play at the plate he was out.
“We’re been aggressive all season and I wanted to stay that way,” McAllister said. “I was afraid it might come back and bite me.”
Robitaille worked a perfect seventh inning, getting a line out to Parker Coleman in left field, a ground out to Noah Barrows at second and then a strikeout.
“This is why we play, right,” McAllister asked the MV coaches as he headed to the third base coaching box to start the bottom of the inning.
Jones reached on a leadoff infield error and advanced to second on Brady King’s sacrifice bunt which he beat out. Coleman followed with a base hit to right to load the bases with Eagles. Smith who stepped to the plate next, said he jumped on “a fastball,” driving in the winning run and was quickly mobbed by his teammates to celebrate.
McAllister, who loves the game, admits he’s sad to see the season end.
“I’m bummed because there is no practice tomorrow,” he said. “I’m really lucky to have such a great bunch of kids. Not only do they compete on the field, but they’re great to be around.”
The top four seeds are left in the tournament. Hollis-Brookline will play No. 3 John Stark at Memorial Field in Concord on Tuesday at 4 p.m. and No. 1 Bow will play No. 4 St. Thomas in the nightcap at approximately 7 p.m.
The finals are slated for Monday (4 p.m.) at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (home of the Fisher Cats) in Manchester.