BANGOR, Maine — It was a long-awaited showdown between the top two teams in the Penobscot Valley Conference Class B baseball ranks Saturday.
And surely the ride back to Aroostook County felt short and was sweet for the Presque Isle Wildcats, who rode the pitching of Ryley Norton and Saul Nunez to a 6-2, 5-0 doubleheader sweep of John Bapst at the Winkin Complex on the campus of Husson University.
“We came down today with the mindset that we were going to play and try to win as many games as we could,” said 28th-year Presque Isle head coach Tim Olore, whose team improved its record this spring to 11-1 while John Bapst fell to 10-3.
“In the worst scenario we wanted to split, but we really wanted to win two.”
Norton, a senior, and Nunez, a sophomore, combined to allow two earned runs on nine hits — all singles — over 14 innings while striking out 10 batters and walking three in front of a defense that committed just two errors.
The pitching was awesome,” said Presque Isle senior shortstop Wilder York. “We always know that Ryley and Saul are going to go the distance, we count on them to do that. Then we put on the defense, and we’re pretty tough to beat.”
In the first game, Norton scattered six hits during a 96-pitch complete-game effort, while Tyler Seeley had three singles and Evan Waddell drove home three runs to pace Presque Isle’s 10-hit attack.
Norton relied heavily on his slider to strike out six batters while walking three.
“I could find the zone today, and it was one of those good days when I could feel it out there on the mound,” said Norton. “In my only loss I gave up one loss against MDI last weekend, and I pretty much felt the same way today.”
Norton was backed by an errorless defense keyed by the shortstop-third base combination of York and Nunez, who combined to handle nine chances flawlessly.
“It’s been like that all year,” said Norton. “We’ve only had errors in about one game this year. We’ve got a bunch of guys who have played about every inning for three or four years, so we’ve got experience and it’s showing.”
John Bapst, already reeling from the loss of starting pitcher Nolan Webber to a nonbaseball injury Friday, got additional bad news when hard-throwing senior Max Andrews pitched just two innings Saturday before leaving the game with an apparent hamstring injury suffered while he grounded out to third in the bottom of the second.
By that time, Presque Isle had a 3-0 lead.
York drew a one-out walk in the first inning, stole second and scored on two wild pitches to give Presque Isle the game’s first run.
Nunez led off the second with a single to right center and Jonah Stephenson singled to right with two outs before both runners scored on an infield error.
Bapst reached Norton for a run in the top of the third on an infield hit by Lucas Wardell, a one-out single by Andrew Catlin, a groundout by Shawn Curran and a wild pitch.
Curran, in relief of Andrews, nearly escaped a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the bottom of the inning with a line drive back to the mound that he turned into a double play.
But Waddell followed by blooping an opposite-field double to shallow left field that Catlin couldn’t make a play on, allowing both Jacob Player and Seeley to score to extend the Presque Isle lead to 5-1.
“I thought it was going to hang up enough for him to catch it,” said Waddell. “He slid to catch it and just didn’t get it and it rolled behind him and I was able to get the extra base out of it.”
Presque Isle scored its final run in the sixth on a suicide squeeze by Waddell that plated Player from third, while Josh Storgaard had an RBI single in the seventh for John Bapst.
In the second game, Corey Belanger and Stephenson, the 8-9 batters in the Presque Isle lineup, combined for five hits, three runs scored and two RBIs to back the three-hit pitching of Nunez.
Stephenson singled and scored on a single to center by Nunez in the third inning to snap a scoreless tie, then tripled home Belanger after he had singled home a run to spark a four-run fourth-inning uprising against John Bapst right-hander Evan Pelkey.
“Coach gave me the green light to go for it,” said Stephenson of his triple, a sharp line drive down the left-field line. “I got to first and I’m looking, and then I just put on the jets and started running.”
That cushion was more than enough for Nunez, a rangy right-hander who combined his fastball and curve with remarkable control — he required just 65 pitches for his complete game, throwing 50 for strikes.
“I tried to do the same thing I always try to do, throw strikes,” said Nunez. “My curveball worked pretty good today, and I went with the fastball a lot. And my defense played good.”