HAMPDEN, Maine — On an evening when patient batters proved draining to starting pitchers, Cody Miller opted for early offense at the plate.
And he was rewarded with two home runs and all five of his team’s RBIs as Hampden outlasted Brewer 5-4 in an American Legion Zone 1 baseball clash at Bordick Park.
“I’ve been struggling all year with my hitting,” said Miller, who will be a junior at Hampden Academy in the fall. “I knew this was a big game so I came out determined to get a hit, and it worked.”
Miller hit a first-pitch fastball from Brewer righthander Pat McEwen for a two-run home run to left in the bottom of the second inning.
He then provided what proved to be some needed insurance in the fifth, blasting an 0-1 pitch just beyond the 357-foot mark on the fence in left-center for a three-run homer that gave the Riverdogs a 5-1 cushion.
“[McEwen] threw a slider and I just waited on it,” said Miller. “I didn’t think it was going out at first.”
The win leaves Hampden and Brewer tied atop the Zone 1 standings, each at 13-4 entering the final weekend of the 20-game zone schedule.
Those teams are battling 12-5 Steamboat Petroleum of Waldo County and 11-5 Bangor for the first-round byes in next weekend’s Zone 1 tournament that go to the top two teams in the final regular-season standings.
“There’s so much parity in this zone,” said Hampden coach Jason Folsom, “and that’s why the records are so close.”
Lefthander Brennan Perry earned the win for the defending Zone 1 champions, scattering four hits while striking out nine and walking six before leaving in the seventh after a 123-pitch performance.
“Brennan’s an outstanding pitcher, and we talked about being patient at the plate and making sure we got quality at-bats,” said Brewer coach Chris Morris. “But he did a great job of pounding the zone and throwing strikes.”
Perry was backed by errorless defense that featured back-to-back gems by center fielder Shawn Smith and shortstop Cody Johndro after Brewer advanced the tying run to second with one out in the third and Hampden holding a 2-1 lead.
Smith ranged to his left to make a diving catch of a fly to right-center for the second out, then Johndro backhanded a grounder to the shortstop hole by Eric White and came up with a strong throw to first to end the inning.
Left fielder Jordan Richards added a diving catch for the Riverdogs in the top of the seventh.
McEwen faced a fate similar to Perry, as the Brewer righthander scattered eight hits while striking out six, walking four and hitting two batters before leaving after yielding a leadoff single to Nolan Turner in the seventh inning.
“He didn’t have his best stuff,” said Morris of McEwen, who threw 103 pitches . “But he just went out and competed and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Brewer, which scored its first run in the second on back-to-back singles by Chase Daniels and Steve Klenowski and a wild pitch by Perry, nearly came all the way back in the top of the seventh.
A walk to Kyle McGeechan, a wild pitch and an RBI single up the middle by Tyler French that closed the gap to 5-2 marked the end of Perry’s night on the mound.
Reliever Derek Amoroso retired the next two batters on fly balls — including the diving catch by Richards on a sinking liner off the bat of Caleb Smith.
Eric White then walked before Daniels lofted what turned out to be a two-run double as Smith and Richards collided in left-center and the ball caromed into left field.
With Daniels representing the tying run on second base, Amoroso got Klenowski to ground out to second base to end the game.
Turner added two singles to Hampden’s nine-hit attack, while Richards and Perry each doubled.
“It’s just like last year when we started getting hot at the end of the year,” said Perry. “We’ve got a few more wins this year, but we’re getting the bats going and that’s good.”