AUBURN — St. Dom’s approach of bleeding the count, bunting, running, shucking, jiving and running some more is a little bit like one of those summer thunderstorm warnings.
Great that you know it’s coming. But you’d better be ready to do something about it.
The Saints used a walk, three stolen bases and a line-drive single Monday to score two runs in the bottom of the first inning. That aggression put Dirigo in catch-up mode all afternoon and helped make St. Dom’s the 8-2 winner of an MVC baseball showdown.
Even before facing Hall-Dale in the second half of an unusual noon-twilight holiday doubleheader, St. Dom’s (13-2) secured the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Western Class C playoffs.
Defending state champion Dirigo (14-2) dropped its second game in four days and will go in No. 2.
“The last two weekends have been playoff atmosphere games,” St. Dom’s coach Bob Blackman said. “We needed to win a close game. We needed to finish against a good team (after close losses to Wiscasset and Telstar). That was as important as anything for us.”
St. Dom’s finish was even more impressive than its introduction. The Saints sent 11 batters to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, chalking up five runs to break open a 3-2 pitchers’ duel.
Alex Parker cranked his second double in as many innings to the same gap in right center field, ushering home two runs with two out.
“We like seeing pitches. Sizing up early sets us up at the end of the game,” said Parker. “I had the right approach when I went up to the plate. The pitch was on the outer third, and I just drove it to the right spot.”
Parker drew a leadoff walk on four pitches and scored a run in the first.
Joe Bryant — who cracked an RBI single, stole second and third and scored on a Kurt Johnson groundout for the second first-inning run — supplemented Parker with a two-run single in the sixth.
St. Dom’s also scored on a fielder’s choice that produced an errant throw to the plate with the bases loaded.
“You give a team seven unearned runs, it’s going to be very hard to win,” Dirigo coach Ryan Palmer said. “But we fought to the end. We’ll take the blame as a coaching staff for not having our team ready for their trickery and their delayed steals and all that stuff.”
Saints lefty Johnson took advantage of the early cushion, stranding Dirigo four runners in the second and third innings. Three of those Cougars were abandoned in scoring position.
Johnson allowed only five hits, struck out four and walked none. He surrendered an RBI single by Caleb Turner in the second and a resounding triple by Arik Fenstermacher to score Spencer Ross in the fifth.
“It helped us with confidence, because we’re a young team with three sophomores in our lineup and one freshman,” Johnson said of getting the early lead. “Confidence is key for them and the whole team.”
St. Dom’s also used its speed and guile to grab an insurance run in the fourth.
Johnson legged out a leadoff infield single. Fenstermacher then appeared to have Johnson picked off first base, but Dirigo’s secondary throw sailed slightly wide of the bag and off a glove, leaving Johnson safe at second.
Jimmy Theriault’s groundout to second advanced Johnson, and the senior hurler raced home on Drew Gosselin’s sacrifice fly to right.
“We had a game plan. We stuck to it all the way through,” Blackman said. “We felt we could run. That was part of it. I was a little surprised that they didn’t run a little more than they did. We helped that. We threw over a lot. That kind of kept them in control there.”
Ross registered the only steal for the Cougars.
St. Dom’s drew six walks and a hit batsman against Fenstermacher, who struck out six over the route.
Ben Holmes, Chad Snowman and T.J. Frost had singles for Dirigo, which gave up a late lead and fell 8-7 to rival Mountain Valley on Friday.
Dirigo and St. Dom’s will meet in the MVC championship Monday, June 7 at Hippach Field in Farmington. Often viewed as a exhibition, that game now is a crucial momentum-builder for the Cougars.
“We’re going to attack it. We can’t have one of those games where we’re just going to come out and have fun,” Palmer said. “We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and have a good week of practice. I told the guys there’s a still a lot of baseball left to be played.”