HAMPDEN, Maine — With the postseason just a week away, high school baseball teams are looking to solidify their positions in the standings and prove they can rise to challenges.
The Messalonskee Eagles did so Friday against Hampden Academy.
With both teams bound for the postseason, it was an opportunity to show what could be expected from each team in a playoff atmosphere and the Eagles seized the opportunity as they earned a 10-3 victory.
The teams played fairly even until Messalonskee broke the game open with a seven-run fifth inning.
Hampden starter Dillon Corliss kept his team in the ball game into the fifth, but lost his momentum after Messalonkee’s Zach Mathieu lined a single directly into Corliss’ upper thigh to lead off the inning.
Corliss was able to walk it off and stay in the game, but the Eagles were able to take advantage of the weakened pitcher and defensive lapses.
Messalonskee sent 10 men to the plate following the play, scored seven of them, and capitalized on five Hampden errors.
The game was tied 2-2 until Gage Landry reached on an error that brought home Mathieu to give the Eagles the lead.
Jake Dexter then hit an RBI single and Travis St. Pierre added a two-run double to extend the Eagles lead to 6-2. Devin Warren’s RBI single to left, followed by consecutive scoring errors, upped the lead to 9-2.
Eagles coach Ray Bernier believed the bats were not the sole reason for the surge of offense in the fifth.
“I think the defensive effort was key,” Bernier said, noting a diving catch Landry made in center to strand two men in the fourth as the main catalyst.
While his team’s defense was clutch, St. Pierre believed it was his team’s mental toughness and persistence that helped them finally break through.
“We just kept pushing and waited for that big inning,” he said
“We always have that big inning where we break out and capitalize.”
Messalonskee tacked on its final run in the sixth when Landry scored on a Trevor Gettig fielder’s choice, making it 10-2.
Gettig got the scoring started in the first with an RBI single and St. Pierre added a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Gettig and Jake Dexter led the way for the Eagles with two hits apiece, while St. Pierre contributed three RBIs.
The Broncos took advantage of early struggles from Eagles starter Reid Nutter who issued a bases-loaded walk to Logan Steward in the first inning, cutting Messalonskee’s lead to 2-1.
Fred Knight tied the game up in the third with an RBI single, but Nutter settled down after that and silenced the Broncos offense.
Bernier said Nutter struggled with getting comfortable on the mound, but had faith in his starter.
“When he gets himself in trouble he seems to battle at it,” said Bernier.
“His experience has helped him keep a mental focus out there,” he added.
Hampden’s Cooper Antone picked up an RBI single in the sixth to make it 10-3 and give hope for a rally, but Eagles reliever Jake Dexter ended that, pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings to seal the victory.
Antone and Knight led the Bronco offense with two hits and an RBI each in the loss.
The Eagles improved to 10-5, while the Broncos slipped to 8-7.
It was the fourth straight win for Bernier’s Eagles, but he sees plenty of room for improvement on the offensive side.
“Our batting approach was mixed throughout the game” he said, but added that the team made strides to correct things during the game and will clean things up before the postseason.
“The last four or five games we’ve been comfortable and pleased with our play, so we will see where it takes us,” he added.
St. Pierre believes the team can take their recent success into the playoffs, as long as the bats stay strong.
“We can go deep,” he said. “If everybody puts the ball in play like we have, then we’ll have plenty of chances.”