There were many reasons for those involved in the Londonderry Post 27 Junior American Legion baseball program to look back on the 2018 season with pride and optimism for future campaigns. But complacency isn’t anywhere to be found in the Londonderry Junior Legion baseball picture, and improvements are always possible.
The local junior legion crew – coached by Jake Ratka and his assistant Ben Byerly – notched a strong regular season record of 12-6 to bag the third seed in New Hampshire Junior Legion District B en route to the state tournament at Leary Field in Portsmouth.
There at that seacoast venue, the local team went 1-2 but could have won the state tourney title had a few things gone slightly differently. The top thing on that short list was the absences of several of the squad’s top players who elected to play for their Amateur Athletic Union teams on day one of the New Hampshire junior tourney – Saturday, July 21 – instead of for their Post 27 contingent which was getting involved in the big double-elimination event on the seacoast.
As events turned out, Londonderry Post 27 got an excellent pitching performance from lanky righty Nolan Lincoln but nowhere near enough hitting – with several of its top hitters out of the lineup and at AAU games instead – that afternoon and the locals wound up dropping a frustrating 2-0 decision to Jutras of Manchester. One or perhaps two hits for Londonderry could have easily made that a Post 27 win, but instead the local club moved within one loss of the end of its campaign.
To their credit, those teammates showed up for game two against host Portsmouth the next afternoon, but owing to New Hampshire American Legion rules they were barred from playing because they’d missed game one. So they made up a cheering section instead.
Londonderry battled its way to an 8-3 victory that steamy Sunday afternoon, but without several of its stars in the lineup for game three during the early afternoon of Monday, July 23, the local hardball squad fell to Dover by a 5-2 count and was knocked out of the tournament. Dover went on to win the state title.
So, despite the fact that the Post 27 Junior Legion team enjoyed a strong summer season, finishing up with a 13-8 overall record and putting forth a fine showing at the state tourney despite the fact that it was missing key players, it was plain to Post 27 Legion general manager Jim Blake and others that some important tweaks needed to be made in order for Londonderry Legion baseball to stride toward the future in the best possible shape.
That latter fact was also borne out by the fact that the Post 27 Senior Legion baseball team struggled through an extremely tough 2018 campaign, due in some part to the fact that several pivotal players chose not to play Legion ball at all but just AAU.
The issues and situations were discussed during a meeting last Thursday night, Aug. 2, at Londonderry High with program administrators, players, and parents in attendance. During that event, it was announced that coach Ratka will take over the Senior Legion team next summer and his assistant Byerly will lead the Junior Legion squad.
Other changes being made with the Post 27 program mirror somewhat the alterations made in recent years by the Nashua Post 124 program, which enjoyed great success this summer.
Players will be asked to play either Legion ball or AAU ball, and the Post 27 administrators will strive to get their teams scheduled in more AAU-type “showcase” events which give players additional chances to appear before scouts and college coaches.
“People seemed okay with it, and (LHS varsity baseball coach Brent) Demas stressed to everybody that if they want to play AAU that’s fine, but it’s going to be one or the other,” said Byerly, who played his high school ball in LHS Lancer garb.
Regarding his own promotion to head man of the Junior Legion crew, Byerly stated, “I’m excited and ready to go. I’ve wanted to be a head coach for some time now, so this is great news for me.”