OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The Patriots and the Norsemen, two members of the Greater Northeast Collegiate Baseball League (GNCBL), faced off at the Ballpark on Sunday afternoon, July 9, with the Patriots emerging the 10-5 victors in the end. Practically the entire Patriots lineup rounded the bases at least once, and Tanner Laberge (Windham, USM) added a two-run homer for the team in the bottom of the fifth for arguably the prettiest hit in an afternoon full of pretty hits.
“It was good to beat those guys, because they’ve got a handful of USM guys,” Laberge said. “We needed to get one on them. Inter-squad rivalry.”
The GNCBL, billed as “Northern New England’s Newest Place for College Summer Baseball,” is midway through its inaugural season. The League seems to have kicked things off right, having attracted plenty of talent and constructed four strong squads: The Nor’easters and the Spartans, and (obviously) the Patriots and the Norsemen. The teams don’t just play one another, though; they frequently match up with opponents from other leagues.
“The League’s been pretty great,” said Patriots head coach Andrew Wood, who lives in South Portland and also helms the Cape Elizabeth High School team in the spring. “I’ve got eight or nine USM guys, a couple St. Joe’s guys. They’re all, you know, Division III, a couple Division I ballplayers. Every game’s been competitive. There’s not one team that’s stacked and one team that’s not, so it all depends on the day.”
Sunday’s win bumped the Patriots to 6-4. As they’d dropped a pair of bouts to the Norsemen earlier in the summer, the triumph was especially gratifying.
“That’s the first time we’ve actually beat this team,” said Wood. “We’ve struggled to get all of our guys here. So today we had 16, 17 guys on the bench, when Sam Troiano’s (South Portland, USM) had a quad injury, Zach Quintal (Eliot, USM), he’s been kind of injured. When everyone’s there full-throttle, we’ve got a pretty good team.”
“We came out, we didn’t make all the plays in the field, we didn’t execute pitches the way we wanted to,” said Norsemen head coach Scott Heath, a Westbrook native, “which led to hard-hit balls. When that stuff happens, the runs start piling up. One error led to another, and it kind of got away from us a little bit and put us in a whole all game.”
“I think we’re right around .500, right around 6-6,” Heath said. “The games that we’ve won, we’ve been able to come out and throw the ball well. Our catcher’s (Mat Smith, Norway, Husson) been doing a great job, getting better from game-to-game-to-game, including pitch-calling. Games we don’t win, an error happens or two and we don’t pitch well.”
The Norsemen jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the top of the second on a two-RBI homer by Amos Herrin (Wilton, SMCC). Heath took a moment to praise Herrin’s play, both at the plate and on the mound.
“Amos swung the bat extremely well today; I was pleased with him,” Heath said. “He’s done a good job, building off what we’ve been working on. He drove in three runs for us today, including a homerun early on in the game. And anytime you’re the starting pitcher in a lineup, it’s difficult and there’s a lot to focus on, but he handled himself really well today.”
But the Patriots battled back in the bottom of the second, Drew Abramson (South Portland, Bentley) and Troiano both rounding to home when Jared Gagne (Dover, NH; St. Joe’s) drove a double to left-center. The team then added three more in the bottom of the third: Kip Richard (Kennebunk, USM) and Anthony Degifico (South Portland, USM) logged back-to-back doubles and Abramson logged a single to grind around the bases and really seize the momentum for the Patriots at 6-2.
One bad play or one bad stretch can get inside a team’s collective and throw them all off, of course, but the Norsemen seemed mostly to keep their cool. Heath emphasized that his squad tries to adopt a one-pitch-at-a-time mindset, and usually succeeds.
“Our philosophy as a team, and this summer, I’m really trying to get through to the guys, is moving on to the next pitch,” Heath said. “A mistake happens, whether it’s on the field, on the mound, at bat, move on. Learn from it and move on.”
Both teams had a quiet fourth, but the Patriots struck again in the fifth, tallying another trio of runs. Degifico singled to start things off, after which Laberge stepped to the plate and volleyed his homer into the woods beyond the left-field wall.
“That was nice,” Laberge said. “It’s been a little while since I got a hold of one like that, for sure. Not since last summer.”
Three batters later, Dylan Turner (Gorham, St. Anselm’s), singled into center-left, but reached second on an 8-5 fielder’s choice that caught Abramson – ahead of him on the bases – out at third. Turner then scored when Troiano blasted a deep centerfield double. 9-2.
“One through nine, our lineup is definitely pretty tough,” Wood said. “When Tanner Laberge (Windham) is hitting sixth or seventh and he’s hitting a homerun, that’s pretty impressive.”
The opponents traded runs in the sixth: Andrew Hillier (Bangor, USM) scored for the Norsemen in the top of the inning and Richard scored again in the Patriots’ ups. It would be the Patriots’ final run of the afternoon. For their part, the Norsemen notched two more – Hillier in the eighth and Connor McGuire (Ellsworth, Husson) in the ninth – but ultimately, the team had simply fallen too far behind though the first half of the contest. 10-5 the final.
Cam Smith (Gorham, Clark) started on the mound for Patriots, throwing three innings. “Cam came in and threw through four innings, did great,” Wood said. But Smith wasn’t the only Patriot to take to the mound on Sunday: Laberge, Troiano, Quintal and Chris States all threw too.
Pitching is a particular strength for the Patriots. “Our pitching is very deep,” Wood said. “I’ve got four or five guys who didn’t even throw today.”
Herrin began the day hurling for the Norsemen; Kevin Carter (Bowdoinham, UMF) relieved him in the fourth. Ethan Nash (Westbrook, UMF) and Brandon Hubbard (New Gloucester, Thomas) also took to the mound for the team.
The Greater Northeast Collegiate Baseball League plays seven-inning games on Tuesdays and Thursdays and nine-inning games on Sundays. The outfit is online at www.gncbl.net; they’re on Twitter at @GNCBLBaseball, and they’re easily searchable on Facebook.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.
Anthony Degifico nears home for the Patriots.