MILLINOCKET, Maine — The start of the high school playoffs are still a week away, at least officially.
Unofficially the battle for playoff position is in full swing, and Stearns of Millinocket earned a major victory on that count Monday with a 13-3 five-inning win over Penquis of Milo.
Both teams entered the contest among the top four in Eastern Maine Class C, and the victory should put Stearns — 12-2 with games left against Houlton and Schenck of East Millinocket — in strong position to finish second in the division behind George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, the only team to defeat the Minutemen.
And second place means Stearns could host as many as two games in the regional tournament.
“We told the kids that this game was the biggest game of the season for us,” said Stearns coach Brandon Portwine. “Maybe the George Stevens game earlier was at the time, but right now this was the biggest game because if we could win this it would secure us No. 2 throughout the playoffs. That’s something we really used as a motivational tool.”
Penquis (10-3) already has experienced one of its best baseball seasons in three decades, and still is in solid shape to earn a top-four finish that would earn coach Jeremy Allen’s club a home quarterfinal.
But Stearns leadoff hitter Jason Levasseur and his mates were too much for the Patriots for the second time this spring, as the senior second baseman hit a triple and three singles with four RBIs to spark the Minutemen’s 13-hit attack.
“I’ve been in a slump, but today I just saw the ball real well,” he said.
Third baseman Kurt Hamilton added two singles and three runs scored in support of Aaron Cyr’s five-hit pitching, while No. 9 hitter Alan Langley doubled and singled and catcher Max Bouchard doubled, walked twice and scored three runs.
“The past four games we’ve had 10 hits or more, twice with 13 hits, once with 12 and 10 in the other game,” said Portwine. “One through nine in our offense have all been hitting. It hasn’t just been the usual suspects, it’s been multiple hitters and guys at the bottom of the order, too.”
Cyr, a junior righthander, improved his pitching record to 4-1 by scattering five hits, striking out three and walking three in five innings. He mixed both his pitch selection and arm angles, relying on a sidearm slider as one of his most effective offerings.
“I was just trying to throw strikes,” he said. “Everything was pretty much working, so I was just trying to throw strikes so they couldn’t hit it.”
Stearns spotted Penquis a 2-0 lead in the top of the second on an RBI double by Justin Artus and a run-scoring single by Chad Badger, but the Minutemen sent nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the inning and scored five runs on six hits off Penquis starter Kiel Larson to take control.
Cory Barnett highlighted the rally with a two-run double to right-center, while Bouchard doubled home a run and scored on a wild pitch and Levasseur added an RBI single.
Stearns scored three more runs in the third , two on a triple to deep left by Levasseur after an RBI single to center by Cyr.