DYER BROOK, Maine — With all but one player back from a baseball team that reached the 2009 Eastern Maine Class D semifinals, Central Aroostook of Mars Hill has championship aspirations this spring.
And nothing the Panthers have done through their first seven games suggests that those aspirations aren’t within reach.
Central Aroostook shook off perhaps its toughest challenge to date Tuesday, pulling away from Southern Aroostook 9-1 in a midseason battle of unbeatens at Putnam Field.
“We knew it was an important game because there were a lot of points on the board,” said CAHS junior righthander Logan McLaughlin, who followed up his no-hitter against the Warriors last spring with a complete-game two-hitter in the rematch.
“Last year we did no-hit them, and we just wanted to come down and shut them down again this year because they’ve always been a good rival for our school.”
This was expected to be a pitchers’ duel between McLaughlin and Southern Aroostook star Dakota Sleeper, but that didn’t materialize as Sleeper was suspended due to a violation of school policy.
Instead, McLaughlin kept the Southern Aroostook batters off balance with his fastball and curve while Central Aroostook capitalized on nine hits and six SAHS errors to score the first runs allowed by the Warriors’ pitching staff this season.
“We really haven’t been challenged yet,” said CAHS coach Brent York, whose top-ranked Panthers have outscored their first seven foes by a combined 93-7.
“We were looking forward to seeing Sleeper today just for the challenge because we haven’t faced really good pitching so far this year, but they still had some guys on the mound who threw well so it was more of a challenge than in some of our other games.”
McLaughlin struggled with his control at times, hitting three batters and walking three, but he yielded just singles to Cody Robinson and Travis Casey during a 90-pitch performance backed by a defense that committed just one error.
“We’ve played really good defense,” said sophomore shortstop Dan Brewer, who was the pivot man on two CAHS double plays. “We knew coming into the game that they were going to hit the ball so we just wanted to play defense, not make errors and get the outs.”
Southern Aroostook (4-1) got a solid start from righthander Pat Goodall, who yielded just one earned run in three innings, that coming after two were out in the top of the first when McLaughlin hit a two-out triple to deep right and scored when Kasey Brewer popped a double down the left-field line.
Central Aroostook added an unearned run in the second on two hit batters and an infield error, then broke the game open with four unearned runs off reliever Chris Casey in the top of the fourth.
SAHS committed two errors and a wild pitch during that rally, with McLaughlin adding an RBI single to right and Brendan York driving home a run with an infield groundout.
Southern Aroostook scored its only run in the bottom of the inning, as McLaughlin walked the first two batters he faced before Travis Casey singled home Goodall from second base.
“We posed no real threat except for one inning,” said 42nd-year Southern Aroostook coach Murray Putnam, “And on those days you tip your hat to the other team.”
Central Aroostook added its final three runs in the sixth, a rally highlighted by Mitch Folsom’s two-run double to center.