RICHMOND – As chief rival by enrollment and convenience, if not geography, Richmond is ideally suited to bring out the best and worst in Buckfield.
The best: Five-and-a-half nearly flawless innings and a three-run lead Tuesday afternoon. The worst: A collapse in the bottom of the sixth as Richmond rallied for a 6-3 victory in a showdown of the top two baseball teams in the East-West Conference and Western Class D.
Erik Nash provided the game-winning swat from the ninth hole in the Bobcats’ batting order, belting a windblown, two-run double over the head of center fielder Matt Lowell with two out. Other key moments in the fateful frame included leadoff singles by Brandon Bibber and Glendon Kendrick and a bases-loaded walk by Kyle Lancaster.
Bibber’s base hit with a full count persuaded Buckfield coach Chuck Williams to replace crafty starter Cy Wilkinson, who blanked Richmond on one hit through five innings, with hard-throwing Jamie Henderson.
“What I guess I was hoping for was that the third time through their order, the change in speed might confuse them,” Williams said. “It just didn’t pan out.”
Henderson walked into a tight situation that only got tougher when Kendrick flared one to right and Sam Carter was plunked to load the bases.
Lancaster watched a 3-2 offering miss the zone to push home the first run. Richmond’s confidence continued to skyrocket even after Nate Holden’s sacrifice fly, a strikeout of Josh Brown and a quick 0-2 count on Nash brought Henderson within one swing of escape.
“We were able to make them bring in a pitcher who we like to hit against,” Nash said. “They kind of had us doubting ourselves when they were up 3-0. But everybody on our team is a good hitter, and after a couple of our guys got on base you could just hear the confidence building. Everybody was up out of the dugout and making noise.”
Nash fouled off Henderson’s third pitch before launching one to the fence that easily plated Carter with the tying run. Buckfield nearly pegged Lancaster thanks to Lowell’s strong throw and a pinpoint relay from Wilkinson, who had moved from the mound to second base. The Richmond shortstop evaded Chris Reuter’s tag with a hook slide, however, to land the lead and keep the inning alive.
Isiah Eagles knocked home Nash with a single, then stole second and third before trotting home courtesy of a throwing error.
Richmond’s rally removed an immense burden from the shoulders of pitcher Rob King, who recorded his third 1-2-3 inning of the game on only eight pitches to close it out. King struck out nine and issued only three walks.
“I just hate having people on base, because I start to pitch defensively,” King said. “That (sixth inning) helped a lot.”
Wilkinson fanned eight in his strong stint. Kendrick (2-for-2) reached him for a single in the third and was the lone repeat hitter of the game for Richmond (9-1).
Henderson’s RBI double drove home Justin Dodge in the first inning. Josh Emery’s two-out single in the sixth brought in Lowell and Reuter and seemingly put the Bucks (13-2) in command.
Richmond has tagged Buckfield with both its losses, but a rematch seems likely in the regional final.
“They’re a good team. We’re both good teams,” Williams said. “We always like to get matched up with each other.”