Cheverus starter Conner MacDonald delivers a pitch to Gorham’s Ben Nelson to begin Friday’s season opener. The Rams won, 5-2.
G- 120 000 2- 5 8 0
C- 002 000 0- 2 3 4
Prescott doubled to left, King scored.
Drew singled to center, Curesky and Nelson scored.
Cimino scored on wild pitch. Ray scored on balk.
Roop tripled to right, Prescott scored. Loubier reached on infield single, Roop scored.
G- Loubier, Prescott, Roop
G- Curesky, King, Nelson, Prescott, Roop
C- Cimino, Ray
G- Drew 2, Loubier, Prescott, Roop
Left on base:
Sladen and McDonald; MacDonald, Ray (7) and O’Donnell
Sladen (W, 1-0) 7 IP 3 H 2 R 2 ER 1 BB 4 K 2 WP 1 HBP 1 Balk
MacDonald (L, 0-1) 6 IP 5 H 3 R 0 ER 2 BB 5 K
Ray 1 IP 3 H 2 R 2 ER 3 K
PORTLAND—On a windy and chilly afternoon, Cheverus baseball coach Mac McKew knew that the team who made the fewest mistakes would prevail.
Unfortunately for McKew, his Stags made more.
Hosting Gorham in the teams’ mutual season opener Friday, Cheverus surrendered an unearned run in the first inning, then permitted two more in the top of the second to dig an early hole.
The Stags answered in the bottom of the third, scoring a pair of unorthodox runs of their own, on a wild pitch and a balk.
Cheverus couldn’t quite catch up as Rams starter Jacob Sladen proved hard to hit and in the top of the seventh inning, Gorham tacked on two more runs, thanks in part to an over-run fly ball, and went on to a 5-2 victory.
Sladen went the distance, three different Rams had two hits apiece and Gorham handed the Stags, who made four errors, an Opening Day loss for the first time since 2009.
“We had two dropped fly balls and made three or four errors in the infield,” McKew lamented. “We talked before the game about the best defense winning the game. We knew there wouldn’t be a lot of hitting. We were by far the worse defensive team.”
Cheverus had a terrific season in 2017, winning 17 of 19 games and reaching the Class A South Final before losing to Falmouth. The Stags were hard-hit by graduation and are expected by many to come back to the pack this spring.
Gorham is also coming off a great year, going 15-3 and reaching the semifinals where they lost to Cheverus. The Rams lost some college-caliber talent as well, but expect to remain a contender.
Last spring, the Stags won the regular season meeting, 3-0, in Gorham, then eliminated the Rams in the semifinal round of the tournament, 5-1.
Friday, on a 48-degree afternoon, with the wind howling at over 20 miles-per-hour, Gorham took advantage of its opportunities to beat Cheverus for the first time in four tries.
Stags starter Conner MacDonald retired shortstop Ben Nelson on a ground ball to first and centerfielder David Drew on a fly ball to right, which rightfielder Maxx St. John caught on the run in foul ground. MacDonald then got third baseman Kyle King to hit a routine ground ball to second base, but Justin Ray couldn’t come up with it and King reached to extend the inning. That proved huge, as after King stole second base, catcher Brogan McDonald walked and second baseman Will Prescott went the other way and doubled to left-center, scoring King and moving McDonald to third. MacDonald avoided further damage by getting leftfielder Lucas Roop to look at strike three, but the Rams were ahead to stay, 1-0.
In the bottom half, shortstop Griffin Watson flew out to center on the first pitch, but Ray was hit by a pitch. The Stags couldn’t take advantage, however, as St. John looked at strike three and designated hitter John Welch grounded out to second.
Gorham added to its lead in the top of the second, thanks to more Cheverus largesse.
After MacDonald fanned rightfielder Trevor Loubier, designated hitter Joey Curesky walked, then stole second. First baseman Trevor Gray looked at strike three, but Nelson reached on a throwing error by Watson, putting runners at the corners, then Nelson stole second. Drew followed with a single up the middle and Curesky and Nelson came home to make it 3-0. Drew stole second as well, but MacDonald stranded him, getting King to ground out to second.
Sladen made quick work of the Stags in the bottom of the second, getting first baseman Andrew DeGeorge to watch strike three, catcher Hayden O’Donnell to ground out to second and leftfielder Nate Lapoint to ground out to short.
Gorham threatened again in the third, but this time, MacDonald worked out of damage.
After McDonald beat out an infield single leading off, Prescott sacrificed him to second. Roop then hit the ball into the gap in right-center, but Cheverus centerfielder Cam Dube ran it down for the second out. Loubier kept the frame alive with an infield single, but Curesky bunted back to the mound and MacDonald threw him out to keep the deficit at three.
Then, in the bottom half, the Stags got their bats going and got back in the game.
Leading off, third baseman Chris Cimino singled to left-center. Cimino moved up to second on a Sladen wild pitch. After Dube flew out to left, Watson grounded out to short, moving Cimino to third. Sladen was on the verge of escaping the inning, but another wild pitch allowed Cimino to score. Ray then doubled to right-center and took third on St. John’s infield single. The hosts then got a break as Sladen was ruled to have balked and Ray came home to cut the deficit to one. Welch had a chance to deliver the tying hit, but St. John was picked off at second to keep the score 3-2.
In the top of the fourth, Gray struck out and Nelson lined out to third, but Drew reached second when Dube couldn’t hold on to his fly ball. This time, the error didn’t cost Cheverus, as King grounded out to third.
In the bottom half, Sladen caught Welch looking at strike three, got DeGeorge to fly out to left and O’Donnell to fly out to right.
Gorham threatened again in the fifth, as after McDonald grounded out to third, Prescott struck out, but strike three eluded O’Donnell, so he reached, then took second when Roop singled to center. MacDonald kept the deficit at one by getting Loubier to fly out to right and Cureskey to ground back to the mound.
The Stags went in order again in the bottom of the frame, as Lapoint grounded out to short, Cimino bounced out to first and Dube lined to right, where Loubier made a diving catch.
MacDonald had his best inning in the top of the sixth, getting Gray to ground out to short, where Watson made a terrific throw from the hole, Nelson to ground out to third and Drew to pop out to second.
With the top of the order due in the bottom half, Cheverus had a great chance to pull even or go ahead, but Watson, after getting ahead in the count 3-0, flew out to center, Ray watched strike three and St. John flew out to center.
Gorham got some separation in the top of the seventh, thanks in part to the elements.
With Ray on to pitch, the first two Rams went quietly, as King grounded out to Tanner Laflamme, who replaced Ray at second base, and McDonald struck out. Prescott kept the inning alive with a single up the middle, then he stole second. Roop then lifted the ball to right where St. John raced in, but he over-ran the ball which was blown past him and it fell for a triple, which easily plated Prescott with an insurance run. Loubier followed with a single up the middle to score Roop. Curesky apparently struck out to end the inning, but strike three was in the dirt and O’Donnell’s throw to first was high, keeping the inning alive and putting runners at second and third. Ray finally escaped by fanning Gray, but Gorham had a 5-2 lead.
Sladen then closed it out in the bottom half.
After Welch grounded out to first and DeGeorge popped out to second, O’Donnell kept hope alive by walking on a 3-2 pitch, but Lapoint grounded out third, bringing down the curtain on the Rams’ 5-2 victory.
“We grinded it out,” said Gorham coach Chuck Nadeau. “We took advantage of more opportunities than they did. It wasn’t a great day for baseball, but it’s spring in Maine, so what do you expect?The kids are used to it. It’s the same for both teams.”
Gorham got two hits apiece from Loubier, Prescott and Roop. Drew drove in two runs and Loubier, Prescott and Roop had one apiece. Curesky, King, Nelson, Prescott and Roop all scored. The Rams left 10 runners on base, but stole five bases.
“We try to put as much pressure on the other team as we can,” Nadeau said. “At this level of baseball, you want to get runners on base and put the ball in play. Generally, if you do that consistently, good things will happen.”
Sladen won his first varsity start, allowing two runs on three hits in seven innings. He walked one, fanned four, hit a batter, balked once and threw two wild pitches.
“I was throwing my off-speed pitches pretty well and I hit my spots with my fastball and they couldn’t hit it,” Sladen said. “My defense played very well. They helped me a lot.”
“We’re trying to build a pitching staff,” Nadeau said. “For Jacob to go out and give us that kind of performance, that was really encouraging. I’m really happy for him. He was cruising. He threw three pitches for strikes.”
“(Sladen) did a good job mixing up the ball,” McKew said. “He kept us off balance all game.”
Cheverus only mustered three hits and stranded two runners. Cimino and Ray scored runs.
MacDonald took the loss after giving up three unearned runs on five hits in six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Ray surrendered two runs on three hits in an inning. He fanned three.
“We had opportunities, but we couldn’t get a big hit,” McKew said. “We were evenly matched teams.”
Gorham has its home opener Tuesday against Biddeford, then travels to Hadlock Field Thursday of next week to face Portland.
“We have a big boost of confidence right now and we’ll keep rolling,” Sladen said.
Cheverus, meanwhile, is also back in action Tuesday, at Sanford. The Stags then have a home showdown versus preseason favorite Thornton Academy Thursday.
“We just have to move on to play Sanford and Thornton Academy,” McKew said.