GOFFSTOWN — Since summer vacation began, Belmont catcher Brace Kaleb practically lived in the batting cage preparing to make a good impression for the college coaches planning to attend Saturday’s sixth annual Junior Games hosted by St. Anselm College and presented by the New Hampshire High School Baseball Association.
Coaches representing 35 New England Area college baseball programs — from the University of Maine to New York’s Sienna College — appraised the play of 37 New Hampshire’s best and brightest baseball talents from shady seats behind the backstop or in sunny bleacher seats next to the dugouts.
Twelve participants earned first team all-state honors this past spring. Another 16 players were second or third team selections. They were divided according to geography, forming East and West teams before playing a doubleheader.
The East squad won the first game, 11-4, with West taking the second, 6-4.
“I’m from a small town and we don’t get a lot of attention from scouts or play with so many great players,” said Kaleb. “I was nervous at the start. I maybe got two balls out of the infield during batting practice. But then I got talking to guys on the team and got more comfortable once we started playing.”
In his first trip to the plate, the second team all-state selection, who hit .350 during the season, knocked a pitch off the left field wall, some 370 feet from home plate. The shot drove home a run and had college coaches wondering about paying Belmont a visit.
Sporting clipboards, radar guns and sunglasses to mask their reactions, coaches from Division I, II and III schools remained tight lipped about their appraisals of these high school players, but it was hard to mask reactions to some outstanding plays like Kaleb’s blast.
There were other notable plays. Sanborn outfielder Grant Wagner made fully-extended diving catch and then ripped a triple of the right field wall.
“It was a good day to play baseball and have some fun,” said Wagner.
Hustling Keene shortstop Lucas Luopa converted a bloop hit into a double and reached base nearly every time he came to bat.
Like Kaleb and Wagner, Luopa hadn’t played before scores of talent evaluators before. He refused to be intimidated.
“The only way I can impress them is to play my game. If they think I’m good enough they’ll give me a look. I have fun playing and moving on the base paths,” said Luopa.
Coaches in attendance took note of left-handed catcher Mitchell Frick throwing out an attempted base stealer at second and then contribute a RBI single. The Hollis/Brookline catcher displayed good fundamentals behind the plate, but few, if any, southpaws catch at the college level.
“I hear that a lot,” said Frick, who hits righty. “I get shot down a lot because of that. But my folks tell me to keep at it. If you know what you want, go and fight for it.”