DIVISION III QUARTERFINALS: #5 Conant 9, #4 Campbell 7

Orioles rally for spot in semifinals

Conant scores 8 runs in sixth inning to defeat Campbell 9-7 in D-III quarterfinals

It didn’t look good for the Conant baseball team.

Facing a 6-0 deficit entering the sixth inning of Saturday’s Division III quarterfinals against Campbell ace Connor Sahlin, the Orioles quest for a return trip to the D-III semifinals looked to be in serious jeopardy.

But Conant rallied for eight runs in the sixth and tacked on another in the seventh for a 9-7 win to advance to Wednesday’s D-III semifinals against No. 1 Laconia at 7 p.m. at Southern New Hampshire University. Laconia went 15-1 in the regular season and defeated eighth seeded Winnisquam 4-2 in the quarterfinals.

Conant had done very little in two other games with Sahlin on the mound and while the Orioles had some hits through five innings on Saturday, they couldn’t generate any runs. Then it all changed.

The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth on a CJ Bilodeau single and back-to-back walks to Kyle Carland and Devin Drouin before a fielders’ choice groundout finally got them on the scoreboard.

A walk to Eddie Clark marked the end of the day for Sahlin and Conant took advantage. Kyle Dupuis singled home a run to make it 6-2. Ryan Aho’s groundout brought home another run and Devin Springfield’s two-run double pulled the Orioles to within one. Josh LeBlanc singled and Bilodeau followed with his second single of the inning to knot the game at six.

Carland’s two-run double gave Conant the lead for good.

“They were just fired up to be there,” said Conant coach Brian Royal. “They had the will to win.”

Campbell got one back in the last of the sixth to cut the Orioles’ lead to just 8-7, but Springfield’s RBI single in the seventh returned the Conant advantage to two. And LeBlanc was not about to give it up.

“I was confident he could hold on to it,” said Royal.

Outside of the fourth inning, LeBlanc had held the Cougars offense at bay. Campbell scored its first six runs in the fourth, all with two outs and aided by an error that would have limited the damage to just two runs. Of the seven hits that LeBlanc allowed, four came in the fourth. He also had five strikeouts and issued just one walk.

“It did get a little hairy there when they scored six runs,” said Royal.

Entering the fourth, both LeBlanc and Sahlin had shutouts going. The two also went against each other in the first meeting of the season, won 4-0 by Campbell on April 19. The second meeting was a little more lopsided with the Cougars making quick work of the Orioles, 12-1.

But it is not easy to beat a team three times in one season and Conant proved that correct — winning the most important one.

And Royal had a feeling his team would see Campbell again. After dropping both regular season meetings, Royal anticipated having to face the Cougars and Sahlin again.

“We knew what to expect,” said Royal. “We had faced Sahlin twice.”

Both teams were 12-4 in the regular season, but because Campbell swept the two earlier games, Conant had to settle for the fifth seed and the trip to Campbell for the quarterfinals.

During the preliminary round, Conant cruised to an 11-5 win over No. 12 Gilford. The Orioles scored nine runs in the second and added two more in the fifth. Springfield had a bases loaded triple in the second and Drouin knocked in two and scored twice. Clark picked up the win, pitching the first 4 1/3 innings.

Last year, Conant lost to eventual champion Hopkinton in the semifinals after losing a late lead in the sixth. The Orioles are the only team returning to the Final Four from last year.

“I have nine seniors and every one of them wants it bad,” said Royal. “They know what happened last year. They know that feeling and don’t want that to happen again.”

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