March 24, 2018
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Oxford Hills ends Brewer’s title hopes


       AUGUSTA — The Brewer High School baseball team had used pitching, defense and small-ball offense as primary weapons during its march to Tuesday’s Eastern Maine Class A final.

  But Oxford Hills of South Paris never let the Witches get untracked in the championship game, jumping out to an 8-1 lead through two innings and cruising to a 10-3 victory at Morton Field.

  “They beat us straight up today,” said Brewer coach Dana Corey. “I’m proud that they are going to represent us [at the states], I wish we were, but we came a long way on our journey.”

  No. 3 Oxford Hills, in winning its first regional title since 2005, takes a 17-2 record into Sat-urday’s state final against the winner of Tuesday night’s Western Maine title game between Westbrook and Biddeford.

  “It was a pretty complete effort,” said Vikings coach Shane Slicer, whose team had dropped a 3-1 decision to Brewer during the regular season. “We stole some bases, we pitched, we played defense, we got some hits and knocked out their starter.

  “I didn’t expect this to be lopsided, Brewer’s a great team, but their pitching problems with their ace being hurt probably hurt them a little bit.”

  Fourth-seeded Brewer (14-5) had made its way to the regional final despite being without pitching ace Pat McEwen, sidelined with an ankle injury.

  It may not have mattered who was pitching against Oxford Hills on this day, as the Vikings used 11 hits and seven walks to put the game away early.

  University of Maine-bound catcher Matt Verrier, already selected the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and a finalist for the annual John W. Winkin Award symbolic of Mr. Base-ball, led the Vikings with a double, single and three RBIs.

  Shortstop Cody Hadley and right fielder Jordan Croteau, batting right behind Verrier in the Oxford Hills lineup, each added two singles and two RBIs, while Kyle Farrar also singled twice.

  “Sometimes I’ll try to force things, but when I’m patient and I know I’ve got Cody and the other good hitters in the lineup to drive me in, I’ll take first base,” said Verrier.

  “But today that wasn’t the case. They gave me some pitches, I worked the counts deep in my favor and I was able to drive the ball.”

  The early lead made life relatively easy for Vikings’ righthander Erik Henderson, who scattered nine hits during a 101-pitch, complete-game effort that included three strikeouts and three walks.

  “I was trying to throw everything low and mix up my pitches, and pretty much everything was working for me,” said Henderson. “My curveball was really breaking off today, and my fastball was going in pretty hard.”

  Henderson was backed by a defense that committed just one error and turned a key double play to end a Brewer rally in the fifth inning.

  “Who wouldn’t want to pitch in that game if the defense is going to play that well?” Slicer said. “We got a little tight in the last game against Cony [making four errors], but overall we’ve been playing great defense.”

  Oxford Hills played small ball of its own during its first at-bat, with leadoff hitter Nate Du-bois leading off with a bunt single down the third-base line off Brewer starter Kyle McLain.

  Walks to Andrew Keniston and Verrier loaded the bases before Hadley hit a two-run single to left-center to give the Vikings a quick 2-0 lead.

  McLain retired the next three batters to avoid further harm in the inning, but Oxford Hills was just getting started.

  After Brewer pulled within 2-1 in the second on singles by Tyler Desjardins, Nick Moore and Colby Small, the Vikings sent 10 batters to the plate and scored six runs in the bottom of the inning.

  Verrier and Ethan Davidson each had a two-run single to left and Croteau also drove home a run with a single to left to highlight the six-hit rally.

  Verrier added an RBI double with two outs in the third to give Oxford Hills a 9-1 cushion, and Henderson made that lead stand up by holding Brewer to one run over the next four in-nings.

  When Brewer did score a run in the fifth, he escaped a bases-loaded, one-out situation by getting Joey Bartol to ground back to the mound for an inning-ending double play.

  “That offensive cushion really relaxed everybody, and then they made some great plays and Erik pitched great,” said Slicer. “He threw strikes, and when he got in trouble in one inning we got the double-play ball.”

  The Vikings scored their final run in the sixth when Hadley was hit by a pitch by Brewer reliever Jordan Smith, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a single to center by Cro-teau.

  Mr. Baseball finalist Eric White delivered Brewer’s final run in the seventh with a two-out triple to drive home Blake Birmingham, who had walked.

  White also singled to lead the Witches’ offense, while Smith had a solid relief outing on the mound, allowing two runs on four hits over 4¤ innings.

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