PARIS – Early season rust, gale-force wind gusts and two of the more dominant pitchers in the KVAC made for an interesting and at times sloppy mid-day baseball game at the Gouin Sports Complex in Paris on Wednesday.
The Mt. Blue Cougars made fewer costly mistakes and a banged out a few more hits than the defending state champion Oxford Hills Vikings, good enough to take a wind-swept 5-3 win in the season-opener for both teams.
“We’re not the same team,” said Oxford Hills coach Shane Slicer. “I told the boys that. We’re starting fresh. People will still remember what we did last year. We’re going to face the No. 1s, and I think in the long run that’s going to be good for us.”
Adam Gilbert earned the win on the mound for the Cougars (1-0), pitching six innings of two-hit baseball while allowing just one earned run and striking out four, despite throwing 131 pitches.
“He’s been throwing all winter,” said Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin. “He’s a big horse, he won’t pitch again for a week, so that helps us out, and Ryan Givens, who started the year on J.V. came in to close it out and did very well.”
It was tough going for the pitchers in terms of control, too. Gilbert walked seven batters, and while counterpart Chris Jennings walked just two, he was almost forced to rely solely on his fastball in the whipping wind.
“My defense helped me out today,” said Gilbert. “Everybody makes errors in a game, there’s nothing you can really do about it. You just have to worry about the next batter and get that batter out.”
Hitters felt the weather’s wrath even more, and none more than Gilbert. With the bases loaded in the top of the fifth inning, Gilbert stepped to the plate with his team ahead 1-0. He smacked a long fly ball deep to left field, a ball that surely would have been a home run on a calm day. Instead, it fell well short of the fence into fielder Chris Roy’s glove, though even that was an adventure as the wind blew it toward foul territory.
“I had two deep ones (one went foul) and I thought both of them were gone, really,” said Gilbert. “But what can you do. They got knocked down.”
For a while, it appeared the Cougars’ first-inning run by John Moloney on a base hit by Mike Toothaker would stand up. After a shaky opening frame, Jennings settled in, retiring nine of the next 10 batter he faced.
Oxford Hills, meanwhile, struggled at the plate despite many opportunities thanks to Gilbert’s walks and a few Mt. Blue fielding miscues.
“We managed to squeak out a couple of runs,” said Slicer, “but their two runs in the sixth, those were crucial.”
After Gilbert’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0, The Vikings (0-1) responded with two unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead. The Cougars jumped back out in front in the sixth on a string of hits that chased Jennings and added their fifth in the seventh.
Oxford Hills got its third run in the bottom of the sixth, but left the bases loaded after three Gilbert walks in a row.
“Our hitting let us down today,” said Slicer. “We had runners in scoring position a number of times and just couldn’t get the hits.”
Steve Wells led Mt. Blue’s offense with three singles, while Bobby Duley had two singles and a walk. Oxford Hills’ two hits came from Ben Ryerson and Alex Waite.