HERMON, Maine — The Class B North baseball race is developing into a deep battle for the top spots, with five teams boasting no more than two losses at the midpoint of the schedule.
The Hermon Hawks, regional finalists a year ago, are one of those teams, with a season-opening five-game winning streak before dropping back-to-back outings against Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and Ellsworth.
Coach Matt Kinney’s club continued its climb back from that brief downturn Friday, using the two-hit pitching of junior right-hander Alex Applebee and flawless defense to avenge its earlier loss to Ellsworth with a 6-0 victory.
“We have a lot of work to do but the kids are starting to get it,” said Kinney, whose club is now 7-2. “We took a couple of losses but these last couple of games they’ve really started to make the adjustments and improve.
“Overall we’re a little younger than we were last year but we’re gaining some experience. We got knocked down a little bit but are coming back pretty strong.”
Ellsworth, which had defeated Hermon 5-0 last Saturday, had its own four-game winning streak halted in the rematch and fell to 5-3.
“We love the competition,” said Applebee. “We love knowing we have to come out and compete every day and that we just can’t walk through these games.”
Applebee, pitching out of the stretch throughout the game for personal comfort, struck out seven, walked two and hit a batter while throwing 83 pitches.
“The big thing with Alex was he threw strikes, he didn’t work from behind too much and I think when you do that you give yourself a chance,” said Kinney. “He was efficient and he mixed his pitches well, but the big thing was he was getting ahead.”
Applebee did not allow another hit after yielding Chris Barnes’ two-out single in the top of the second and reached a three-ball count on just three batters.
“In the bullpen I could really feel my curveball and changeup, my offspeed stuff, working well and me and [catcher] Christian [Greener] were just on the same page,” said Applebee. “He was calling a lot of off-speed first pitches because we knew they were going to swing at a lot of first pitches.
“And my defense did a lot of work out there. I can’t really say this game is on me, it’s all on them.”
Hermon’s defense not only was errorless, but often spectacular. Center fielder Matt Leach and left fielder Garrett Trask each made diving catches while shortstop Zach Nash came up big with a backhanded play on a ground ball into the hole and Keith Pomeroy deftly handled a pair of challenging plays at third base.
Hard-throwing Ellsworth sophomore right-hander Matt Burnett proved tough to hit early in the contest, but Hermon scratched out an unearned run in the bottom of the third before breaking the game open an inning later by sending nine batters to the plate.
Pomeroy led off the Hermon third with a bloop single to center, then was sacrificed to second by Trask before moving to third on Mark Mailloux’s groundout to second and scoring to make it 1-0 on an overthrow after Leach’s grounder to third base.
Nash was hit by a pitch to begin a five-run uprising in the fourth inning, with a single by Greener and back-to-back infield hits by Applebee and Kent Johnson driving home Nash and leaving the bases loaded with no one out.
Pomeroy then struck a two-run double to deep center field to make it 3-0. A one-out fielder’s choice grounder by Leach soon plated Johnson, with a throwing error on the same play enabling Pomeroy to score the game’s final run.
Pomeroy and Applebee each doubled and singled to pace Hermon’s eight-hit attack against Burnett, who struck out eight, walked one and hit three batters in six innings.