HOWLAND, Maine —There’s no secret as to why the Stearns of Millinocket baseball team awaken this morning as the top-ranked team in Eastern Maine Class C.
After their 7-0 victory over previously undefeated Penobscot Valley of Howland on Wednesday, the unbeaten Minutemen now have allowed just three runs and committed a mere four errors — through six games.
How about that pitching and defense?
“I knew that defensively we’d be solid and that pitching-wise we’d compete in every game, but I didn’t expect it to be to this extent,” said Stearns coach Brandon Portwine. “The pitching has been dominant, and defensively we’ve made some spectacular plays, but what we really instill in the kids is to make the everyday play and to throw strikes and we’ll be alright.”
Stearns replaced Penobscot Valley as the No. 1 team in the Heal Point ratings thanks largely to the two- hit pitching of junior righthander Maxx Bouchard.
Bouchard retired the Howlers in order just once, but he also faced as many as five batters in an inning only once as he bore down with runners on base.
“I was just trying to locate my fastball,” said Bouchard, who threw 96 pitches while striking out three batters and walking five. “My curveball was working pretty good, so I just tried to mix it up and keep them off-balance because they’re a good hitting team.”
The shutout was the second for Bouchard this spring and the fourth straight for the Stearns pitching staff, which hasn’t allowed a run since a 3-2 victory at George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill on April 26.
“That was pretty big for us, that’s four shutouts in a row,” said Bouchard, who yielded just a first- inning single to Tyler Brzozowski and a third-inning single to Derek Bellevance.
“I’m not taking anything away from Howland though, they’re a good team, and I’m not going to lie, I was nervous coming into this game because I’ve played them before.”
Bouchard was backed by a defense that turned two double plays and made just one error, that coming in the final half-inning with Stearns holding its seven-run cushion.
“[Bouchard] threw strikes, and we hit the ball right at them,” said Penobscot Valley coach Ernie Gerrish. “They made good defensive plays, they didn’t throw the ball around, they were solid defensively and it was their night.”
Penobscot Valley (6-1) got a solid pitching effort of its own from starter Dylan Worster, who allowed just two runs on two hits over five innings of work.
The Howlers’ righthander faced the minimum six batters over the first two innings before Stearns manufactured a 2-0 lead in the third on two walks, an outfield error, a balk, a wild pitch and an RBI double to deep center by Bouchard.
“I was just thinking a line drive up the middle, and [Worster] gave me a fastball on the outside part of the plate and I went with it,” he said. “I didn’t try to do too much with it, I just let the bat do the work.”
Bouchard preserved that tenuous lead until Stearns could supply some insurance offense in the final two innings.
Ryan Hibbs opened the sixth with a single to center. He went to second on a wild pitch and scored when the throw to third on his stolen-base attempt went into left field.
Jon Dumas followed with a two-out walk, then stole second before scoring when leadoff hitter Dylan Bouchard doubled to left to make it 4-0.
Stearns added three runs after two were out in the seventh. Charlie Tapley walked and Ryan Hibbs singled before older brother Derek Hibbs singled both runners home. Derek Hibbs went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Brandon Bouchard’s single to left.