Even if you haven’t followed Concord American Legion baseball but are familiar with Concord sports, you’ve probably heard of many players. They are an athletic group that stood out on the links, on the ice and on the field, usually wearing Concord High School uniforms.
Now they’re fitting into the Legion’s senior Post-21 team and, combined with some of the best players from Bow, Merrimack Valley and Bishop Brady high schools, Concord has one of the best rosters in the state, with the hope to make a deep run in the NH Senior Legion State Tournament at the end of July.
Concord’s athleticism was in the spotlight Wednesday night at Rollins Park with double plays, diving catches and an outstanding performance from pitcher Brooks Craigue (seven strikeouts, no walks, four hits and one run allowed in seven innings) in a 5-1 win over Porter Post 65.
The win improved Post 21’s record to 9-2, tying the program’s win total from last season, when Concord finished 9-9 in District A.
The top four teams from the Legion’s two senior ball districts qualify for the state tournament. Concord is well positioned to make that happen, currently sitting in second place behind Merrimack (10-2) with one regular season game ending July 16.
Craigue’s teammates at Concord High — Cam McGonigle (2 for 2, double, two RBI, rush), Kalan Gaudreault (2 for 3, double, RBI, rush) and Dan Revellese (1 for 3, rush) — and the former CHS teammates and recent St. Paul’s graduates Mike Stoddard (1 for 2, two walks, RBI, run) and Trevor Smith (2 for 3, two runs) led the post 21 at the plate, tallying single runs in the first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
CHS player Dawson Fancher double-played at third base, and 2021 Concord High graduate Ryan Kastle ducked into center field.
With a talented and versatile roster, it’s hard to pick just one strength of this club, but if you ask head coach Nate Craigue (Brooks’ father and a former pro who played for Concord High and Post 21 when he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1994), it’s the pitching staff.
“It’s our strength; most teams don’t have four quality starters,” said the elder Craigue. “It’s definitely nice to have so many pitchers.
“Brooks is doing a good job hitting his spots. He pitched a full game with (78) pitches; it doesn’t happen too often. Usually when he throws the ball is in play. He works fast and we played D well.
Brooks Craigue (3-0, 1.00 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 21 innings) leads a strong rotation that includes MV’s Simon Keary (3-1, 0.96 ERA, 16 strikeouts in 22 innings), Smith (2-1, 1.62 ERA, 14 strikeouts in 13 innings), Bow’s Kyle Martin (1-0, 3.75 ERA, eight strikeouts in nine innings) and even more options in the bullpen.
At home plate, Fancher (.522), Smith (.419, five doubles, two triples, 11 RBIs), Stoddard (.415, 15 runs), Craigue (.379), Kastle (.326), Jacob Plante of Concord High (.316), McGonigle (.303, seven doubles, 10 RBIs) are all batting above .300 and have appeared in at least nine games.
And that doesn’t include Ryan Philbrick (former Concord High player and current Cushing Academy player) and two-time All-State first-team pick Nater Wachter, who are also on the list.
Craigue was the 2022 Division I Hockey Player of the Year, Philbrick was the 2021 DI Hockey Player of the Year, and many of the players on the list were part of the 2021 Concord High baseball team that won the Division I title. Some also play at their AAU ball clubs.
There’s plenty of versatility, talent and natural athleticism on the roster, and Coach Craigue’s knowledge of those players helped him sort it out.
“It always takes a bit of time to figure it out, but everyone starts to know their role,” he said. “I’ve been coaching this squad since these kids were 9 years old and I’ve seen them play at all levels. I love our team; I love children.
Station 21 still has seven games to play in District A, not including the Bryan Caruso Memorial Capital City Tournament this weekend.
Post 65 started the season 0-4 but have put on a solid run since then. Weare is 4-7 in District A play and away is watching the tournament close, although Manchester (6-6), Keene (5-6) and Laconia (3-6) are within range from third to fifth place.
Weare doesn’t have the luxury of a deep bench compared to other teams. Weare had 14 players on the roster on Wednesday; Concord has 20.
All but one of those 14 active players (Ryan Ardine of Pembroke Academy) play or played for John Stark Regional High School, many of whom were on the 2021 Division II Championship team.
Austin Hazzard (2 for 3, double RBI against Concord) and Brady Philibotte (1 for 3) are both John Stark graduates and former first-team picks who now play for New England College, while Nate Innerfield (1 for – 3, double, run) was a first-team pick last season.
Alex Moore (pitched three relief innings Wednesday) plays for St. Joseph’s College in Maine and is a former second-team selection, while Chase Philibotte, AJ DeTone and Ardine (Wednesday’s starting pitcher) also won All-State honors last season.
“We’re finally starting to hit like we felt we could after a slow start,” said Post 65 and John Stark head coach Dennis Pelletier. “Three of our losses are by one point and one by two, so we’ve been a tough opponent for everyone we play. It was great to compete against teams that have a hugely larger population base.
Of the 11 games Weare has played so far, seven of them have been against Concord, Merrimack and Keene, District A’s toughest opponents, and Post 65 hopes to enjoy a lighter schedule in the wake. .
This weekend, Concord Post 21 and Legion teams from Exeter, Dover, Berlin, Lebanon, Plattsburgh, NY, and the Northeast Wildcats AAU team from Windham will play in the Bryan Caruso Memorial Capital City Tournament in memory of Caruso, a baseball icon in the Concord area.
The teams will play round robin games Friday night at Memorial Field and Saturday at Bow High School, with the championship round scheduled for Sunday at Bow High.
All matches will last a maximum of 90 minutes.
At 7 p.m., prior to Concord’s home opener against the Berlin Junior Legion, there will be a ceremony to present the 2012 State Championship banner to Fred Caruso, Bryan’s father.
Of the many area teams Bryan Caruso has coached, he spent a few years in the Concord Post 21 dugout and was the head coach when Post 21 won the state title in 2012. Former Concord players this team are invited to attend.