FREEPORT – Zone Three United split a double-header with Highland on Saturday, July 8. Chris Romano logged quite the day for Z3U in the first game Nick Merrill looked especially impressive for Highland in the second as the teams mercy-ruled each other, Z3U taking bout No. 1 12-2 and Highland taking bout No. 2 16-5.
Game No. 1: Zone Three United 12, Highland 2
Z3U—comprising boys from the Gray-New Gloucester, Freeport, Greely, Yarmouth and Lake Region teams—charged headlong into the first inning of the first game, tallying half a dozen runs in their opening ups.
Impressively, they did it with two down: Jack Sawicki and Zach Mann grounded out 6-3 to kick things off before Chris Romano and Joe Defusco both singled and Nick McCann, Jacob Dyer and Shea Wagner all walked. Josiah Rottari followed with a two-RBI single and Aidan Sweeney with a two-RBI double, and suddenly, very suddenly, Z3U were up six-zip.
“Six runs right in the first inning,” said Z3U head coach Erik Winchester. “I think their pitcher (Mike Stewart) started off great, throwing strikes. But we jumped on him early, with a base hit. I think we had a double in there as well. And then he fell apart. I think he walked three straight batters…If memory serves, he literally had 12 balls in a row. To his credit, he stayed in there; he kept fighting.”
“What I expect from my guys, when they see a pitcher that’s struggling,” Winchester said, “is to take advantage of whatever you can…Baserunners, I’m a very aggressive coach, as far as baserunning goes. I like my guys moving, to try and keep those pitchers off-tempo as best they can.”
Z3U hashed three more in the second: Mann, Romano and McCann all scored again. Mann walked and Romano and McCann both belted singles in the stretch.
The team slowed down after that, adding only three more – one in the fourth and two in the sixth – but Highland never came close to catching up, adding just one in the fifth and another in the sixth for the 12-2 final.
“My defense,” Winchester said, “we had a switch in energy, I think it was three games ago. My challenge for this team is get all these guys, [who’ve] played not-together, to come together and quickly build that trust, build that respect. To their credit, they’ve done that. It’s taken a little longer than I hoped, but it has come around.”
Z3U’s newfound chemistry is paying dividends. Not only was their victory over Highland a blowout, it was Z3U’s first win of the season so far, placing them at 1-10.
“The games leading up to this one,” Winchester said, “once we clicked—in the early games, we were getting walked all over, and you could tell everybody was feeling each other out. The last few games that we’ve played, playing stronger teams, they’ve had to earn it, they’ve had to earn the win.”
“That’s all I can ask from my guys,” Winchester said, “is just effort, effort, effort from beginning to end. And that’s what I get from them.”
Romano finished the day 3-4 for Z3U, contributing two singles and a double and scoring three runs. Defusco went 1-4 on that first-inning single and scored once. McCann went 1-4 with a single and four runs; Dyer and Wagner tallied a run apiece; and Rottari and Sweeney each went 1-3 thanks to the team’s opening push.
Luke Neal started on the mound for Z3U, and thus picked up the win.
Meanwhile, Cam Cox went 1-3 on a double for Highland Green. Nick Merrill likewise went 1-3, adding a single. Kyle Brennan finished with a perfect record: 3-3 on a double and two singles. Last but not least, Brendan Emmons went 2-3 on a pair of singles.
Game No. 2: Zone Three United 5, Highland 16
Z3U’s second battle with Highland reversed their first: Highland kicked things off with an enormous opening push and never looked back.
Highland, which largely consists of boys from Mt. Ararat, notched nine – count ‘em, nine – runs in the top of the first. Brennan and Cox opened the swinging with back-to-back singles, before Mann, on the mound for Z3U, gave up his first walk to Nick Merrill, loading the bases. Sam Alexander then reached on an error at third and Cole Bryant and Stewart both singled. Mann gave up his second walk to Kam Labbe at the bottom of the order.
Brennan and Cox next returned to the plate to claim another pair of singles, Brennan’s for two RBIs and Cox’s for one. Merrill followed them with a two-RBI double, and Alexander followed him with a single.
“(We had) pitching struggles right out of the gate,” Winchester said. “I did go and do one mound visit. With Zach, my challenge was controlling his emotions. He’s an unbelievably competitive player. He’s very emotional, he wears it right out there. [But] whether you’re knocking guys down one, two, three strikes in a row, or they’re hitting you all around, the emotion needs to be the same all the time.
“I did get on them once, early in the game, because they were just playing real sloppy,” Winchester said of his boys. “The balls were just throwing all over the place. One of my things, I’m very much a defensive coach, and my big thing is ball placement. You’re throwing to your teammate; depending on what the situation is, the ball needs to be in a certain place. I have a very short fuse when it comes to that stuff. But they settled down.”
Finally, Z3U escaped Highland’s onslaught. The team grabbed a run of their own in the second – Jake Winchester scored on a Wagner single – and they grabbed four more in the third, when Eli Winchester, Romano, Defusco and Jake Winchester all crossed the plate. That big inning, however, would yield their last offense of the day. In fact, Z3U went one-two-three in the fourth and fifth innings, and, but for a walk, would’ve gone one-two-three in the sixth as well.
“Classic, with my guys, just keep on swinging, keep on swinging, keep on working,” Erik Winchester said. “[Highland] got the majority of their runs early in the game, and to me, there’s a lot of game left. Anything can happen. If you just keep putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to work, it’s going to happen.
“We had a great little rally there; Eli Winchester leads off, he’s on with a nice double; Romano comes up, slaps him in; Defusco comes up, back-to-back doubles.”
Meanwhile, Highland added two in the second (Bryant and Alex Larson), one in the third (Hunter Lohr), another in the fifth (Merrill) and four in the sixth (Cox, Merrill, Stewart and Labbe) for the 16-5 result.
Mann finished with a double, as did Eli Winchester; Romano and Defusco each went 1-3 with a double; Jake Winchester went 1-3 with a single, Sweeney logged a single, and Wagner and Rottari went 1-3 with a single apiece.
Brennan finished 2-5 with two singles, as did Cox; Merrill went 2-5 on two doubles; Alexander and Bryant both had singles; and Stewart went 2-4 with a pair of singles.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.
Mike Stewart got into trouble early for Highland in the first game vs. Z3U on Saturday.
The ball eludes Z3U’s Shea Wagner at first, allowing Highland’s Garrett Moody to reach base safely.
Shortstop Nick Merrill leans into a ground ball for Highland vs. Z3U.
Second baseman Chris Romano leaps after a grounder for Z3U.