HAMPDEN, Maine — After losing his first pitching start this spring, Edward Little of Auburn’s Nate Pushard thought the simple approach would be best as he faced a youthful Hampden Academy club Saturday afternoon.
The senior right-hander couldn’t have been more correct in that thinking, as he pitched a five-hit shutout to lift the Red Eddies to a 1-0 victory at Bordick Park in a Class A matchup that lasted just 76 minutes.
Pushard, who lost to Skowhegan 6-4 on April 25, threw 76 pitches, 61 for strikes, while striking out seven and walking no one, save for an intentional pass issued to Matt Martin in the sixth inning.
“I just wanted to get back to the basics today,” he said. “I think I was leaving the ball up in the zone a lot in my first outing, so I just worked on locating the ball and moving the pitches around.”
Pushard was backed by a defense led by junior shortstop Lew Jensen, whose highlight-reel efforts featured a threat-ending play in the fifth inning. He snared a hard-hit, short-hopper by Ben Huston, then threw him out at first from one knee with a runner in scoring position.
“[Pushard] kept the ball low and made them put it in play, and we made all our plays,” said Jensen, who also drove in the game’s lone run with a two-out single in the top of the third.
Edward Little needed that level of pitching and defense to outlast Hampden junior right-hander Tristan Gardner.
Gardner also yielded five hits and no earned runs while nearly matching Pushard’s economical ways with an 81-pitch complete game that involved just two walks and two strikeouts.
Gardner similarly was backed by solid team defense, with the freshman tandem of Huston at shortstop and second baseman Casey Sudbeck turning two double plays in the first three innings and Martin making several stellar plays at third base.
Hampden mounted the game’s first threat when Jackson Gilmore led off the bottom of the second with an opposite-field single to right, stole second and reached third on a throwing error before an out had been recorded.
But Pushard stranded Gilmore 90 feet from home plate by retiring the next three batters — two via strikeout.
“As a team we’ve been working a lot on maintaining our focus this year, and keeping a calm state of mind and not changing anything big, just attacking hitters like I had been, was the key there,” Pushard said.
Edward Little (2-2) scratched out an unearned run in its next at-bat. Brandon Varney, the No. 9 hitter, reached on an error, was sacrificed to second by Drew Lashua and stole third as Mike Hammond was drawing a walk.
Jensen then fell behind in the count 0-2 before delivering his second single in three innings, this one a run-producer.
“Drew laid down that bunt and got Varney to move up and I put it in play and we scored,” said Jensen, the game’s lone repeat hitter. “[Gardner] threw me a fastball outside and I just shot it over the second baseman’s head and it got down.”
Hampden (1-3) got its leadoff runner aboard in each of the next three innings, including the fifth when Sudbeck singled to left and advanced to second on a sacrifice by Billy Campbell.
Pushard struck out the next batter before Huston sharply hit a 1-0 pitch that Jensen was able to snare on a short hop and threw accurately to first base from one knee to prevent the tying run from scoring.
“I got down to get it and I looked up and [Huston] was halfway down the baseline,” said Jensen. “I had to get rid of it fast and [EL first baseman] Mickey Lawrence stretched and got it.”
Hampden threatened again in the sixth, as Matt Closson had a one-out infield hit to shortstop — a play in which he just beat another throw by Jensen from his knee — and Michael Ward reached on an error.
Gilmore sacrificed the runners to second and third before Martin was intentionally walked to load the bases with two out, but Pushard struck out the next batter to end the inning and retired the Broncos in order in the seventh.